Santa Ana just got an additional $64 million in federal Coronavirus bailout money in the bank this summer and city officials are planning to spend a good chunk of it on community services and programs.
City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to appropriate the second half of the $128 million in COVID relief money as well as approve their updated “Revive Santa Ana” Initiative – the city’s plan on how to spend the close to $130 million in federal bailout dollars.
“Really glad that this second bundle of money is here, and really we’re just appropriating the second – I guess $64 million is what it is – so I see that as a good thing,” said Mayor Vicente Sarmiento at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Community leaders in Orange County and Santa Ana are expressing support for the way city council members allocated the money.
Santa Ana resident Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente said the way the city is using the money for services like increasing food access and rent assistance programs is a good reflection of the needs of the community in Santa Ana.
“Those are definitely big community needs that were exacerbated, especially during the pandemic, you know, we’ve seen that rents are increasing, and housing has become a huge issue,” Vicente said in a Wednesday interview.
The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal bailout bill that is sending $350 billion to state, local, territorial and tribal governments.
The U.S. Treasury Department issued their final rules on how the money can be used this year including: replacing lost revenue, investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, premium pay for essential workers and COVID public health responses.
The final rules went into effect on April 1.
Santa Ana received its first half of their allocation in 2021 and the second half in June.
Officials there are investing the entirety of money in their “Revive Santa Ana” plan intended to provide COVID-19 relief through resident resources like rental assistance, as well as food access and greater access to libraries.
Hector Bustos, the communications director for Chispa – a local community organization – said in a Wednesday interview that investing in public health is much needed.
“Santa Ana was one of the cities that was most impacted by COVID-19 and this impact really, really opened our eyes to see a lot of the issues that a lot of our community members are facing,” Bustos said. “The city council really assessed the needs of the community.”
Marisol Ramirez, director of programming for OC Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), said in a Wednesday interview other cities should pay attention to Santa Ana’s spending priorities.
“We would have loved to have seen this happen, for example, in the City of Anaheim – a plan of this magnitude to really invest in local libraries, improving education, as well as direct services, during a time when we’re still recovering, post pandemic,” she said.
“I think we’ll see the improvements in decades to come for Santa Ana and its people.”
Ramirez said such community spending produces an overall benefit for residents.
“When you invest in communities like this, you see crime decrease, you see families happier, because they’re thriving, not only in meeting their basic needs, but they’re also thriving financially,” she said.
The money is being split between five spending buckets – the bulk of which is going towards “critical infrastructure.”
City officials are allocating over $51 million dollars towards critical infrastructure including $16.5 million to transform the city’s main library and $14 million to renovate the city’s community centers. $3.5 million is also being used towards broadband access.
Over $34 million is being allocated towards public health and safety, which includes over $11 million for additional park space in the city and over $5 million to boost property compliance programs.
Santa Ana’s commercial property compliance program is intended to revitalize commercial properties impacted financially by the pandemic and the money would go towards anti-graffiti measures, landscaping and irrigation, lighting and paint improvements and more.
The public health and safety allocation also includes $1 million for enhanced security at parks and over $3.1 million on rapid response homeless services.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Councilman Jonathan Hernandez suggested a $1 million increase on the plan’s funding for mental health services, which would bring the total to $2 million.
“Recently, somebody took their life at El Salvador Park and anytime somebody feels like there is no other way out it’s a tragic loss for our community and mental health continues to be an ongoing topic of conversation,” he said.
Councilman Phil Bacerra pushed back on moving money around in the plan to increase mental health funding.
“I wouldn’t support increasing only because I would want to see what that’s going towards,” he said. “I appreciate looking at trying to bring more money to the subject matter. I’m not opposed to the subject matter but I think that we also have to consider what the county provides.”
While the council appropriated the second tranche of money, spending the money on individual initiatives and programs will require additional approvals by the council.
According to a city video on what’s been done with the money so far, the city has purchased space on Flower and 10th streets to build a new park.
Over $22 million is being used on direct relief programs for residents including food assistance, rent assistance, business assistance, youth programs, digital literacy education and sexual assualt intervention.
Of that money, over $14 million is going towards an emergency rental assistance program, which according to a city staff presentation is not ARPA funded.
According to the city video, Santa Ana has launched a resident stimulus program that provides $300 prepaid gift cards to certain low income households.
“That was really, really critical because a lot of our communities are undocumented residents, and those were going out towards the lowest income neighborhoods and when the California stimulus came out, a lot of undocumented folks were exempted from that,” Vicente said.
They also have a business program grant which connects business owners to business seminars and allows them to apply for a $1,000 grant. According to the video, 140 businesses have taken part in the program.
Santa Ana officials are also allocating $10 million to beef up city reserves.
Lastly, $8.2 million is being used towards pandemic recovery with close to $4 million being allocated for sanitization & prevention.
The sanitization and prevention program of right of ways in the city involves cleaning of parts of the city with high foot traffic multiple times a week, according to the city video.
Vicente said while the ARPA funds are temporary, he hopes investment in the community will continue.
“I am definitely hoping that we look at the impacts that these programs have had and what these fundings have had and just really hoping that we can continue investing in our community,” he said.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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