Santa Ana City Council members Monday night unanimously decided to have two more back-to-back community meetings to receive additional comment on the city’s five-year strategic plan, a document that when finished will guide policy making based on residents’ priorities.

The council considered three options.

The first, preferred by activists who have lobbied for more transparency at City Hall, would have added five community meetings in different sections of the city. Council members said, however, that would cost too much — about $67,000.

Instead they settled on an amended version of the second option, which called for one more community meeting to report on the results of a residents survey and to hear additional comments. The council amended the option to include a second meeting on the same day.

Councilman Sal Tinajero, noting the differing work and family schedules for the city’s heavily blue-collar and Latino population, asked for the additional meeting “so that everyone is included and everyone has an opportunity.”

The strategic plan is a requirement under the city’s sunshine ordinance, a law passed in October that mandates more government transparency and community participation.

The ordinance, strategic plan and other initiatives such as a general plan and zoning code update, which hasn’t been done in decades, is part of a push by the council majority known as the Santa Ana Spring.

“Where we are right now is a good place, because we’re talking about exactly what we wanted to see, which is better community engagement,” said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento. “This has never happened, where government is trying to reach out to you. … This is a very, very welcome conversation.”

If the first community meeting on Aug. 10 was an indication, the council’s adoption of the sunshine ordinance and the organizing of a grass-roots activists coalition — the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development or SACReD — has led to something of a civic awakening. Approximately 180 residents packed the forum that day and expressed their visions for the city’s future.

Councilman Roman Reyna favored the first option, asking why settle for less? “Let’s invest more on the front end. In the long run it will be beneficial to our community,” he said.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez said that while she shares Reyna’s commitment, the city must adhere to the its bare-bones budget.

“All of you have asked for more input, and I agree we need more input, but we need a process …,” Martinez said. “The moment that we change a process, we get in trouble. We start to go in 10, 20 different directions. And that’s been a problem in Santa Ana. We’ve had no planning. We’ve had no vision.”

The charge by Management Partners, the consultant assisting the city on the strategic plan, is $6,500 per meeting, which is added to the cost of city staff time, according to city officials.

Council members also decided to have an ad hoc City Council committee of Martinez, Reyna and Councilman David Benavides to review the potential costs of having the two additional community meetings. The committee, appointed in April, has been working with staff and the consultant on outreach for the strategic plan, according to a staff report.

The next steps include surveys of residents and employees, a workshop with the city’s executive management team and a daylong meeting of the council and management to review the results of community feedback and begin crafting the plan’s framework.

The final stretch to prepare, publicly review and approve the strategic plan will occur by January, according to a city timeline.

About 50 SACReD activists gathered outside the council chambers after the vote and celebrated what they described as another victory in improving city democracy.

“What happened today more than anything is we won an opportunity to keep negotiating,” labor leader Julio Perez told the circle of activists.

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