Community Site: Valencia Park Voces Unidas (United Voices of Valencia Park)
Lead Organization: OC United
Community Problem: Community safety/high-crime
Grant Cycle: Implementation Year 1
Coach: Christian Ponce
Date: November 25, 2019
This brief is intended to capture and summarize one example of a community building and exercising their power. It is also meant to highlight lessons that were learned during this particular power-building journey.
The City of Fullerton has been working desperately to find ways of supporting the growing homeless population’s transition from living on the streets to more safe and stable housing options. Fullerton’s City Council directed City staff to work with a local Orange County Organization to identify a location for a navigation center focused on connecting homeless suffering from mental health disorders and/or substance use with recuperative services
The CBI Core Team (Voces Unidas) learned that the process of identifying a location was streamlined to get the navigation center running as soon as possible - a benefit to the organization and the City . This process, however, sacrificed transparency and respect for the Valencia Park (CBI) neighborhood. In short, there was no opportunity given to share the proposed location or discuss the proposal with the neighborhoods residents. The City staff and/or organization staff simply selected the Valencia Park neighborhood as the “optimal location” for a navigation center. Moreover, this decision was not disclosed publicly until one week before the City Council vote to initiate contracts and grant the conditional use permit.
Once the Valencia Park community learned of the decision, Voces Unidas worked in partnership with the CBI lead agency (OC United) to voice both their support for the navigation center as critical step in helping homeless transition from living on the streets in their neighborhood into long-term housing, and their dissatisfaction with the selection process. Community members felt disrespected in not being notified that the center was going to in their neighborhood near their homes, schools, and childcare centers. There was no transparency or evidence that residents’ priorities had been taken into consideration. Valencia Park residents reached out to their City Council representative to express their concern and demand inclusion. Neighbors attended the City Council meeting to again voice their support for the navigation center, and similar resources for the homeless, but to also express deep concern for the lack of communication and transparency. In response, the City coordinated a last-minute meeting with directors of the organization overseeing the navigation center and the community to allow neighbors to ask questions and share their concerns.
The residents of Valencia Park Voces Unidas now have a better understanding of who, how, and where decisions are made. In this case, decisions were made without community input, and were not completely beneficial for neighborhood families. One key takeaway for residents was the awareness that it isn’t by chance that their community has been in distress. On the contrary, their community has suffered because decisions are made without their participation, by agencies and individuals who do not take into consideration residents’ thoughts and concerns.
Another key learning for the CBI Lead Agency and Core Team is the need for communities to develop a strategy for keeping up to date on current or future City Council agendas (and key commissions and committees). This will ensure that community members are aware when there are issues that might affect their neighborhood and give them the opportunity to engage in discussions before decisions are made. Community members need to make firm and consistent efforts to protect their interests. They cannot depend on the City leaders and staff (or philanthropies) to take the initiative and seek their participation.
Another lesson is the need for neighborhood stakeholders to keep decision-makers accountable for decisions or issues that might negatively affect their community. Decision-makers cannot be allowed to pass the responsibility, or fault, to the others, especially when these “others” are not present during discussions. For Valencia Park, in the future, Core Team members will try to ensure that all decision-makers are in the room to have discussions on the process and rationale for their decisions.
A final lesson is that you will likely not get what you need unless you ask, and you cannot ask unless you are invited or demand a place at the table. Once established as a recognized stakeholder, the residents of Valencia Park were able to get most of their concerns addressed to their satisfaction. This was both a surprise and a motivation for getting and staying involved. They learned that they can and did have an impact!
City Council Woman Jennifer Fitzgerald noted the oversight in not communicating with Valencia Park residents and mandated that the organization operating the center must have ongoing communications with the residents of Valencia Park. The Valencia Park Voces Unidas also asked Mrs. Fitzgerald to attend one of their community meetings to discuss the navigation center and other matters important to the neighborhood’s work.
The meeting with Council Woman Fitzgerald demonstrated residents’ organizing and mobilizing power on an issue that directly affects their homes and families. Neighbors shared directly with the Councilwoman their concerns, feelings of being disregarded, and desires moving forward. The discussion led to the Council Woman asking to meet on a regular basis with the community. She also agreed to participate in a community forum aimed at getting input from residents on the navigation center’s operation plan. The Council Woman heard residents’ concerns and worked to ensure the organization overseeing the navigation center also incorporated/listened to their concerns and recommendations. In the end, the navigation center administrators created a resident advisory committee comprised of community members from the Valencia Park neighborhood, with the goal of establishing a process for ongoing direct communication.
The organization overseeing the development of the navigation center acknowledged their mistake in not going to the community before purchasing the building to house the navigation center. They did not give residents respect or the opportunity to support their efforts, which the community was prepared to do despite being left out of the process. The navigation center’s directors apologized for their failure to discuss the issues with them. They listened to the residents’ concerns regarding safety, security, pedestrian and auto traffic, and a complaint process. They agreed to a range of mitigation strategies to reduce potential negative impacts on the neighborhood and promised to continued communication to ensure any community concerns are heard in a timely and responsive manner.