Election night 2018 marked a new beginning in Costa Mesa. Our city’s first districted election—in which we selected council members by district rather than at-large—reshaped the council and brought several important firsts. For the first time, we have two city councilmembers from the underrepresented “westside” Costa Mesa. We now have not one, but three Latino councilmembers. For the first time, we have both a female and a Democratic majority. We also elected our youngest-ever councilmember, a 23-year-old who grew up in the Costa Mesa, along with two millennials for a total of three city councilmembers under 35 years old. For the first time, the Costa Mesa City Council reflects the people we represent.
As a homegrown Costa Mesan and graduate of our local public schools, I am so proud to be part of a new city council that is committed to community engagement and collaborative problem-solving. In our first three months, we have tackled homelessness head on. We carried out a strong public education campaign to demonstrate the value of a “housing first” approach to solving homelessness. We conducted direct outreach, community meetings and one-on-one conversations to address the concerns of residents. We directed staff to expedite a bridge shelter to house and provide critical services for people experiencing homelessness. Now, we are less than two weeks away from opening a temporary shelter, and we are in the process of acquiring a facility for a permanent shelter. I am proud of our comprehensive plan and how quickly our staff worked to achieve our goals. But I am most proud of how our decision to invest in these shelters was met with overwhelming public support.
As our shelter solutions take shape, I’m looking forward to working on the priorities our new council has set based on our residents’ input and needs. Those priorities include sustainability (both economic and environmental), public safety, affordable housing, investment in active transportation, neighborhood beautification and community engagement.
The last in that list—community engagement—is a passion of mine and my primary focus for my first year. I want to reframe the mindset at City Hall to one of customer service, where all of our residents are treated as valued “customers.” I want our residents to remember that our local government works for them and that our ability to serve them well depends on their level of engagement. My goal is to encourage city council members and staff to proactively engage with residents in the community and experience the city the way they do each day. Breaking the barriers of communication between residents and councilmembers is also a priority and I am focused on ensuring that our constituents know how best to contact us. I want every resident to have attended at least one city event during the year, to feel heard and respected, and to be registered to vote.
This type of community engagement doesn’t just help our local government be more effective. It also builds stronger communities. When residents engage with our government on specific issues, they also get to know each other.
One of my favorite moments in January came at the end of a tense neighborhood meeting organized by residents concerned about our proposed homeless shelter. A resident had reached out to me with questions, and I asked if he would gather his neighbors so the Mayor and I could meet with them in person to discuss their concerns. On the day of the meeting, the Mayor and I entered a living room packed with more than twenty people, some angry and some on the verge of tears. The residents battered us with questions, and we answered each one as thoroughly as we could. Following an hour of Q&A, most began to understand what the proposal entailed, why it was an important project and how the proposal would improve our community.
As the group began to disperse, a beautiful thing happened. The residents began to introduce themselves to each other. I heard several acknowledge that they had never really talked even though they had lived on the same street for years. I heard one person suggest that they organize a block party so they could all come together again under more fun circumstances.
These connections—neighbors becoming friends—are the change that will make our communities stronger. Through direct outreach, community events, and several conversations, I hope to facilitate more moments of connection in 2019.