Changing Huron for the better

Rey León will be sworn in as mayor of the city of Huron at the John Palacios Community Center on Dec. 14.
Rey León will be sworn in as mayor of the city of Huron at the John Palacios Community Center on Dec. 14.

Rey León has been fighting for Huron, ‘The heart of the Valley,” as he calls his home town for more than 20 years.

And this week, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, León will be sworn in as mayor of the city of Huron at the John Palacios Community Center.

Born in Fresno and raised in Huron, León is proud to represent Huron as the new mayor.

León received 481 votes or 75.87 percent of the votes on Nov. 7, winning the election with a little more than three fourth of the votes.

His victory, León said, is his supporter’s victory, and “together, we will change Huron for the better.”

Some people would consider Huron to be kind of isolated from Fresno, but to León, “we are in the middle of everywhere, the heart of the valley and why not, the heart of California.”

León said Huron is only a couple of hours from the coast, the mountains, the Bay area and Southern California.

The 44-year-old graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chicano Studies with an emphasis in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.

He is the founder and executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement and Policy Project, also known as Valley LEAP, a Latino valley based environmental non-profit organization.

Since 1994, León has been organizing to improve the quality of life of Huron residents. That year he organized the first health fair in the town while being back in Huron during a summer break from college. He returned every summer the following years while in college to continue to organize the health fair.

“Huron has a proud history,” he said.

As major, León wants to improve the safety, the economy as well as advancement and beautification of the city of Huron.

Some of his proposals include the placement of more street lighting in areas that need it the most as well as improving alleys, streets and gutters; increase the number of police officers with training in community policing; develop attractive, safe and healthy spaces for community to use; more youth programs; achieve its own school district and high school; infrastructure for bicycles to encourage healthy exercise and clean transportation; provide workshops on university improvement for parents and students; have murals through out the city with positive message; planting of more trees for shade in hot summers and cleaning of streets; job training and employment development programs; employment of residents in constructions projects; and the development of an economic plan to create more jobs and healthy small business.

León describes himself as a person who doesn’t give up, kind and courteous, trustworthy, committed and a leader.

He has focused his work on environmental and transportation justice, air quality, climate change, energy, green jobs and community development.

For many years, León has been working to ensure that “environmental justice principles are advanced in the regions institutions and culture.”

He is the founder of the San Joaquin Valley Regional Green Jobs Coalition which counts on more than 300 members and he is also the co-founder of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.

As co-chair of CVAQ, León said he helped advance some of the greatest victories for air quality in the Valley including the ending of agriculture industry’s exemption from the clean air act and the placement of two public members, a doctor and a scientist, onto the region’s air pollution control district.

With his many years of experience in the advocacy and oversight field, León provides a strong network that allows him to bring the skills and resources to Huron on his new capacity as mayor, he said.

León keeps himself pretty busy as he is sits on various boards and committees including the Center on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies and member of the California Air Resources Board Environmental Justice AB 32 Advisory Committee.

For 20 years León has been organizing in the Valley, and for the last 11 years he has been advocating and successfully building coalitions, community capacity, advancing public policy; placement of the first PM 2.5 air quality monitor on the West Side of the Valley, systems change; developing the first ever environmental justice strategy and committees for both the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the Fresno County Council of Governments, he said.

Most recently, León said an Environmental Justice Planning Project and Report for the farmworker community of Huron was completed where more than 30 projects to improve mobility, access and safety were identified in the town including the construction of a roundabout to make State Route 265 safer as traffic goes through town and the construction of a multi-modal culturally relevant pedestrian refuge to improve pedestrian safety.

As a community leader, León said he listens and works with people to create the vision for a better community in Huron.

Through his non-profit organization León continues to organize with the grassroots, grasstops, agencies and other partners to promote sustainable development, clean energy alternatives, green jobs and reduction of pollution and GHG’s in concentrated clusters of poverty in the central San Joaquin Valley.

León’s passion has been working with Valley communities to achieve environmental and climate justice and has received many awards and recognitions for his work including the Activist of the Year award by the Environmental Justice Coalition of Rural Pueblos for Economic Development among others.

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud