Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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Don’t tell Theresa Sears that you can’t make a difference.

I first got to know the longtime Orange County good government activist back when Voice of OC launched in 2009 amidst the intense battles over privatizing the OC Fairgrounds. She was part of a group of activists who gathered more than 50,000 signatures opposing the sale and later became a central leader in the effort to keep the fairgrounds as a public asset, which was ultimately successful.

I remember thinking at first that there was no way simple residents would likely fight back the forces of the market, especially real estate interests.

Theresa and her colleagues showed me I was wrong.

They made their argument, put it in front of public officials again and again and kept working to keep the general public updated and active.

I still remember writing one story back in 2012 about Theresa’s 820-day wait on a public records request, one of the longest I’ve ever seen.

Yet their persistence paid off.

Toward the end of that fight, I recall talking to Sears, who was semi-retired, about joining Voice of OC to grow an Opinion section that was grounded in community residents talking about our civic life.

We talked about growing the most grassroots-oriented Op-ed Section in America – a daily conversation centered around the most important local public policy issues facing Orange County.

That’s why we named her post, Involvement Editor – it’s the only one of its kind in today’s newsrooms.

Her goal is to get people involved.

With her great smile and boundless positive energy, Theresa has worked since 2015 to grow our Op-ed section by bringing in and welcoming a host of diverse voices from all sides of the political spectrum.

Since launching the Opinion section in the fall of 2015, we have published more than 350 Opinion pieces featuring local residents’ voices on a wide array of controversial topics. In every case, we’ve always strived to also include opposing views – with the ultimate aim of fueling an informed and diverse debate on key quality of life issues.

Theresa is the perfect fit for working with both sides.

At any event, you’ll easily find Theresa connecting with Republicans, Democrats, developers, activists, city staff, environmentalists…

She’s the kind of person who spends her free time at her city hall as well as other public agencies and policy events all over town.

Theresa wants everybody at the table. Talking. Connecting. Arguing.

Her goal is good government.

That’s why she is such a great fit for Voice of OC.

She believes passionately that people can make a difference.

If you need proof, don’t just depend on the tale of the OC fairgrounds. Look around the county, Theresa insists.

In her own backyard, an open space parcel referred to as Barham Ranch today remains open space – instead of housing – because Theresa and others insisted that proper planning rules be followed. They ultimately won.

Other places like East Orange also have a ton of open space because local residents like Theresa got involved and active and fought to engage with the Irvine Company about how development in their area would proceed.

Saving another 51-acres of recreational open space in Orange, known as Ridgeline, also required that Theresa and other residents battle all the way up to the California State Supreme Court. A fight, again they won.

Other activists, Theresa notes, in places like Huntington Beach’s Bolsa Chica and the Upper Newport Bay also successfully fought to have development in their backyard match their community priorities.

Now, Theresa often notes that when it comes to development, activists also need to focus not just on saying no but insisting on good planning.

And engaging.

There can be win-win deals, she argues.

It just takes the public to be at the table, early on.

That’s the kind of ethos Theresa has brought to the Voice of OC Opinion section, a place where all perspectives on policy are welcome.

Topics have covered everything from redistricting battles to the Great Park gardens to Irvine’s anti growth initiatives. Everything from Vietnam to the OC jail abuse scandal, the OC Veterans Cemetery, the Heroes Hall veterans museum, the Museum House development in Newport Beach, the controversy over renaming Fanning Elementary school in Brea, short term rentals in Anaheim, TCA toll road expansion plans in South County…the list goes on and on.

Virtually every community has been reached.

For those that can’t send an Op-ed, Theresa will often publish their press releases along with also publishing important releases from key government agencies on issues of public importance and monitoring our daily civic calendar section.

Theresa recently put together a simple writers’ guide for submitting Opinion stories to Voice of OC to make it easier for people to submit compelling stories that get their issues heard.

In 2018, we’re also launching an effort to offer groups civic training seminars on topics like writing Op-eds and Theresa will be key to connecting people to those efforts.

We’ll also be continuing to focus on hosting public policy events, such as a Jan. 26 panel forum with the South Orange County Economic Coalition on the rising costs of public safety in county contract cities featuring Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and a host of city and union officials.

Now, while people like Theresa are deeply passionate about public involvement and keep working around the clock, it does take financial resources to be able to maintain this platform where readers can get equipped with the tools to engage their government in real time.

Note that we don’t charge for posting press releases or our public news feeds or for Op-eds.

We depend on readers like you.

So please consider donating now.

For the next two days, until Dec. 31, there’s a special chance for you to make a big difference for the newsroom — as every tax deductible donation up to $1,000 to Voice of OC will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a special fund, NewsMatch, led by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

We are super close to meeting this year’s NewsMatch goal — only $13,000 away from hitting the full match amount that we’re eligible for.

But there’s only two days left.

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