More than 200 Santa Ana residents showed up Saturday morning at the Southwest Senior Center to comment on a range of city issues from community services and housing to public safety and business development.
Some residents talked about the need for community policing. Others said Santa Ana needed more focus on youth programs and job training. There were several for and against the city’s planned streetcar project.
As residents spoke, city officials wrote their opinions on large paper sheets, easily consuming dozens of them. The youth education and recreation topic alone received more than 100 ideas scribbled on yellow Post-its.
It was all part of a process that is new to Santa Ana: a strategic plan.
The five-year plan, essentially a city vision shaped with feedback from residents, is a requirement of the sunshine ordinance, which mandates greater transparency in city government and more community participation.
Saturday’s exercise was a demonstration that the sunshine ordinance, at least to some degree, has brought an awakening in civic engagement.
Ruby Godinez, a coordinator at the Corbin Family Resource Center, said she became interested in her local government after civic engagement classes with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, a program funded by the California Endowment.
“All of the grassroots organizations and residents are fed up, and they want to participate,” Godinez said.
But there have also been fumbles along the way.
The strategic plan deadline was supposed to coincide with the passing of the two-year budget in June. But infighting earlier this year among members of the City Council, largely over the firing of City Manager Paul Walters, delayed the process.
Some complained that the strategic plan should have been adopted first so that the budget would be based on the community’s priorities.
Specifically, activists with the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development and Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities wrote a letter to the city urging council members to first engage the community in a 20-year visioning process so that the strategic plan could flow from that larger vision.
The letter also asked for more community meetings to craft the strategic plan.
“A 5 year strategic plan that informs the City’s budget priorities should involve more than a single two-hour community meeting,” the letter reads.
City officials assured residents that they were listening to residents regarding their priorities.
The next steps include obtaining additional feedback through focus groups and a community survey; workshops with executive management and the City Council; and finally a draft implementation action plan to help the city achieve its goals under the vision, according to Cathy Standiford, a former Santa Ana assistant city manager and partner with Management Partners, the consulting firm assisting Santa Ana with the strategic plan.