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It's Time That Santa Ana Kept Its Promise to Its Young People

Good, clean recreation is an investment for the city that would end up paying more than it would cost.

April 19, 1998|JESUS MONTES | Jesus Montes writes from Santa Ana

Santa Ana residents are still feeling the squeeze. In the past, Santa Ana developed too many high-density apartment complexes and failed to reserve adequate land for permanent public parks and open space. Then in the 1980s, a dramatic increase in population reduced the city's ratio of parkland from 1.7 to 1.2 acres per thousand residents.

This is what I learned in my work with the Orange County Congregation Community Organization. OCCCO has a track record for being a catalyst for positive change. OCCCO is a grass-roots, interfaith community organization of 50,000 families with a mission to unite low- and moderate-income families in order to improve the quality of life in Orange County. Over the past three years, we have worked to implement a Youth Action Plan for Santa Ana. As a result, Family Support Centers, neighborhood-based homework centers, community-based policing programs and youth internships are now serving our community.

Although we applaud Mayor Miguel A. Pulido Jr. and Chief Paul M. Walters in their efforts to bring community-based policing to our neighborhoods, better policing strategies are only part of the solution. We now need their leadership in providing some of the best crime prevention measures: after-school activities, recreation areas and a good education. Santa Ana has the youngest population of any city over 100,000 in the United States. Our residents are young, energetic and resourceful. They need outlets to channel their energy and talents.

Recent studies show a rise in gang membership despite the drop in crime rates. If we do not provide positive options for our youth, they will be faced with gangs and delinquency. Santa Ana falls sharply behind other cities of comparable size in parks and community centers. Cleve Williams, director of parks and recreation, points out that cities with comparable numbers of student population such as Oakland and Minneapolis have 100 and 110 parks and 27 and 50 community centers respectively, compared to Santa Ana's 38 parks and eight centers.

Overcrowded living conditions make it hard for our young people to sustain good study habits. Recreation activities in safe, protected areas are not available, which is a major concern to parents who must work to make ends meet. Our children need and deserve adequate school facilities, homework centers and ample green space.

Unfortunately, much of the city's resources have been spent on responding to crime rather than preventing it. Santa Ana's checkbook ledger betrays the slogan of "Education First" and making our youth the top priority. We've built a new police station. Now it's time to invest our city's resources in creating a future of hope for our youth.

The crisis is, in part, due to a poor sense of reality by city leaders who are making critical decisions. And this will not change by relying on poorly attended council meetings broadcast over cable TV. It will change by following the example of hundreds of OCCCO leaders in Santa Ana who meet face to face with elected and appointed officials in order to engage in dialogue over the future of this city. OCCCO is reviving the all but forgotten national tradition of citizenship and civic participation and teaching new immigrants as well as longtime residents the power of democratic action.

First, the city of Santa Ana needs to make good on its promise to build the new Delhi Community Center. Leaders from the Delhi community have been working closely with the city since 1990. They have conducted numerous surveys and held countless meetings with Santa Ana government leaders. The Recreation and Community Service Agency assigned it a top priority, and working construction plans were drawn up. The city pledged that work on the Delhi Community Park and Center would start before Easter of 1997.

However, the Delhi Community Center and Park exists on paper only. City officials have told the community there are no funds available. Planned budget expenditures for the 1997-98 fiscal year indicate that the park and community center have been shelved. The failure to fund construction has made Delhi residents angry, but all of Santa Ana will suffer.

In addition to the Delhi Center, the joint-use agreement between Santa Ana schools and the city is a huge step in the right direction and should be supported. The future of Santa Ana lies in the investment in our neighborhoods.

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