Our city budgets aren’t just a way to keep track of how our tax dollars are spent.

They are also expressions of our community priorities and values.

So what does it say about Santa Ana when the city spends 53% of its budget on police rather than on youth programs and services?

As a youth leader, the message this sends to me is that “arrest and punishment” is Santa Ana’s primary approach to community safety, instead of prevention. Youth lose out when punishment is prioritized over other safety priorities such as: schools, job training, health centers, and after school programs.

Two years ago, I joined my mom as a volunteer with local nonprofits that address our residents’ most immediate problems. As we spoke with residents about the problems they were facing, we would hear about the lack of parks as well as the rising poverty rates.

I started to ask my own classmates about the problems they were seeing in Santa Ana and, again, multiple things came up. Youth lack spaces where they can study. They lack spaces where they can play. Our schools have horrible infrastructure — even the restrooms are unsanitary to use. To put it shortly, youth feel neglected and undervalued.

It became evident that youth need a voice at City Hall, a voice that would push our elected representatives to invest more in youth. As part of Resilience OC, I joined 12 other youth from across Santa Ana to talk about the need for the City to direct some of the spending on punishment towards positive youth programming. Despite our advocacy efforts, Santa Ana’s City Council Members recently voted to cancel a program that would have invested $500,000 in local youth programs like youth centers and after school programs–which are severely needed in Santa Ana.

Recent data compiled by the Advancement Project California indicates that the City of Santa already spends $12K on each arrest of a young person, while only spending $143 per youth on positive programs. Not only is this bad governance, it’s a direct neglect of Santa Ana’s youth and the City’s future. It sends a message that young people are not a priority and that there is little hope for us.

One of the most valuable programs we could offer youth in Santa Ana is career training. We need youth centers where youth can go and learn about the different career opportunities that exist after high school and that can offer youth employment or internship opportunities for youth in the summer. The youth are ready to give back and improve our community, but unfortunately many don’t know how or feel like the opportunities currently don’t exist.

Our advocacy will continue.

Local organizations are coming together to bring the #SchoolsNotPrisons event series to Santa Ana on April 1st.

The event merges music, the arts and youth activism to draw attention to the fact that real safety comes from investing in health, education, and our youth. It is an opportunity for youth across Santa Ana, and even Orange County, to participate in the event and show your support for more investments in youth programs.

As a student, poet and community activist, I’m proud that young people and our nonprofits are finding creative ways to build positive spaces and opportunities for youth–it’s up to our city representatives, now, to match and exceed our efforts with real investments in youth.

Alba Piedra is a Junior at Santa Ana High School & youth member of Resilience Orange County

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

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