By Rebecca J. Garcia
The role of a Mayor is to provide leadership in the adoption of policy. Policy is a law, regulation or procedure that provides direction to better serve the community. I was excited to provide leadership as Mayor of Watsonville. I identified four goals I wanted to accomplish in hopes this would create a stronger community. Those goals were to (1) create a Health in All Policies ordinance, (2) address housing, (3) improve our Climate Action Plan, and (4) support Local Artists. Covid-19 had an impact on reaching those goals. In addition, there was also social justice unrest. I may not have completely reached these goals, but unexpected opportunities occurred that I hope will result in a more unified community.
The intent of Health in All Policies is to create a healthier community when addressing areas of housing, transportation, business and safety. In February the Watsonville City Council adopted a resolution to take a Health in All Policies approach that would incorporate health considerations into decision-making across all departments and policy areas within the City. The next step was to meet with staff to incorporate this resolution into our updated Strategic Plan. However, with the pandemic, strategic planning was put on hold. I am hoping we can start the process in 2021.
Another goal was to implement a staff housing recommendation to create a Housing Mediation Program to provide tenants and landlords a neutral platform for resolving problems such as non-payment of rent, lease issues, nuisance issues and housemate disputes. Because of the pandemic the initiative was put on hold. However, since the pandemic began we have been able to successfully implement an emergency rental housing assistance program that helped hundreds of Watsonville families remain housed. As we begin our Strategic Planning process I will advocate for more of an emphasis on the need for housing, especially affordable housing. In the meantime, the Council has approved affordable rental housing developments on Miles Lane and Atkinson Lane/Freedom Boulevard. We are also in negotiations with Habitat for Humanity to develop 7-9 affordable units for sale on Airport Boulevard.
Public Works was able to obtain a grant to revise our Climate Action Plan originally adopted in 2015. I and council members Francisco Estrada and Aurelio Gonzales have been able to give input to the development of our new Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). The adaptation will be based on the 2020 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) which prepares the community for floods, fire hazards, sea level rise and beach erosion. Climate change has an impact on all of these. Our plan process will address climate mitigation, climate adaptation, stakeholder and community engagement, environmental justice, and establish a 2030 CAAP web application. In the most recent report to the Council, the community had responded to 273 surveys in English and Spanish to indicate their concerns about climate change in Watsonville. More surveys and community meetings will continue as our new plan is developed.
In February I met with two local artists and invited them to consider co-sponsoring a community Arts Festival in the Plaza in the fall. They would determine the content of the Festival: paintings, sculpture, dance, music, poetry, vendors and food. Again, the pandemic put a hold on that festival. However, the City has supported the arts in several other ways. More recently we assisted the virtual celebration of Sept. 16, Independence Day for México. The City assisted in the filming and editing of videos of the many performances. For Día de los Muertos the City provided a grant to a local artist who placed a series of wood cutouts that were placed in the Plaza. Our Census team also partnered with local artists to commission temporary murals at the Plaza and Ramsay Park to raise awareness about the importance of being counted. There is a lot more the City can do to support our local artists. Consequently, the City has begun to work closer with Arts Council Santa Cruz County to provide more opportunity for art in Watsonville.
Two opportunities occurred that I never imagined. Soon after the initial shelter-in-place order went into effect, I heard that cities in the Bay Area were passing moratoriums to prevent housing evictions. I thought if they can do it, why can’t Watsonville do it? I am pleased to say Watsonville became the first city in the county to do this.
When George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement began, we had two peaceful protests in Watsonville. However, I knew there were some concerns about police service and social equity in the community because of the many emails I was receiving. I immediately asked to meet with our City Manager and our Police Chief to talk about the need to have community forums about policing and social justice. Council member Estrada joined me in this conversation and we agreed to have an Ad Hoc Committee and involve COPA in obtaining input on this issue. We have selected 12 community members to the Ad Hoc Committee and have hired neutral facilitators to lead the meetings. So far, COPA has had four “house meetings” to obtain community input on the positive and negative experiences with the police department. This is going to be a long-term process that will fall under the leadership of the new Mayor and council members.
My year as Mayor has been challenging, but I am grateful for the support I have received from the community, staff, administration, council members and my family. I have two more years in my term on the City Council. That will be two more years for the community to support me in attaining all my goals.
Mayor’s Update is a recurring column from Watsonville’s Mayor, Rebecca Garcia. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Garcia at [email protected].