Thursday, August 08, 2013

Michele Martinez speaks about Improving Santa Ana

One of the cool stories I got to do this summer was an interview with Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez. An excerpt of the interview which made it to print follows.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, 31, says great changes are coming to the city – especially when it comes to health. The city is making major strides, she said, in increasing park space and in its commitment to a resolution passed by the City Council in 2011 that advocates for policies that improve residents' health. Here's what Martinez, who also serves as the director of the Alliance for a Healthy Orange County, had to say.

Q. Does the city receive state or other funding for health-related programs?
A. We really don't have any funding sources for health programs. What we've done is used our public works, planning and parks and recreations departments. They have all collaborated to get grants, whether it be for bike lanes or walk and bike studies. We also partnered with the school district to get Garfield and Willard and Walker community centers. So we have the parks and the community centers that during the day the schools utilize and at night the community then takes over. We got state grants for that.

Q. How is the city addressing walking and biking?
A. We as a council made a commitment to integrating complete streets in the city. We passed a resolution. We are also updating our circulation elements which will include a bike and pedestrian master plan, for the first time ever. It's our commitment to active transportation.

Q. How does the city recognize those that promote healthy lifestyles?
A. We've had a committee in place for the past two years, of nonprofits and businesses, that gives input in how to move the city forward. It was instrumental in creating a smoke-free park zone. (She also points to Active Living in Santa Ana, Safe and Active Living United District, and Building Healthy Communities as key health groups.)

Q. What's being done to increase the number of parks in the city?
A. We knew that we were going to have issues, such as the lack of open space, that created issues with kids being overweight – and another issue is the safety component. There is a gang problem and drug problem in the city because it's an urban city and so that also affects the quality of life of young people and their families. (Some) are scared even with the park access that they do have. So we are having to address these issues all at once. We are addressing them with a holistic approach, with a partnership with the school district (and) the various nonprofits, because at the end of the day, we know that the city government can't do it all, it has to be a collaborative effort, a personal effort from the residents themselves.

Q. Why are plans being put into motion now?
A. As the director of the Alliance, I am going back and asking, 'What is it that this city accomplished? What is that other cities accomplished? If they haven't gotten anywhere, what can my organization do to help them?' We realize that there are issues with funding, we know cities have taken a big hit. So we have these city regulations from several years ago. We're saying let's backtrack because we need to keep out in the forefront. Santa Ana has been a model for the county. Being a council member for the city, I have the opportunity to hold my city accountable and to ensure that we are moving in the right direction and really setting some policies that can be a model that we make a commitment to. The fruits of labor have really come to the forefront for Santa Ana because of the dedicated staff that we have and also my colleagues on the council and their commitment to public health.

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