Santa Clarita’s Neighborhood Approach Builds Trust and Community Involvement
The City of Santa Clarita won the Award for Excellence in the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics and Community Involvement category of the 2012 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence. For more about the award program, visit www.HelenPutnam.org.
The City of Santa Clarita (pop. 180,000) launched a partnership with the community to proactively address crime, gangs, graffiti, blight and quality-of-life issues in the neighborhood known as East Newhall. Densely populated with almost 1,500 residents living in a 24-block radius, the neighborhood is home to many low-income Hispanic immigrant families. Most of these residents do not speak English and are often fearful of local government and law enforcement personnel.
Santa Clarita set out in 2010 to develop a collaborative, hands-on approach to building community trust, enhancing public safety, increasing resident involvement and bridging cultural divides in East Newhall.
Building Solutions Through Collaboration
The city began by establishing a monthly meeting at the local community center, where Spanish-speaking residents could share concerns and get to know city staff. A Neighborhood Services Team composed of law enforcement and city staff played a vital role in the effort to connect with the community. The team members met one-on-one with residents on a regular basis to follow up on concerns expressed during the monthly meetings.
Representatives from other city divisions, along with local service agency representatives, also helped as needed. The team collaborated with residents to develop local civic leaders, foster understanding among neighbors, build bridges between residents and team members and cultivate trust.
The Neighborhood Services Team also worked with residents to address gang activity and public safety concerns. Using valuable community input, the team created a map showing where gang members lived and congregated. This information was shared with the Sheriff’s Department Gang Unit, resulting in surveillance and arrests.
As the city and law enforcement focused on reducing gang activity in the area, the Newhall Community Center stepped up its efforts to keep youth off the streets by offering additional free after-school programs, including homework help, music, boxing, dance, cheerleading, arts and crafts and field trips.
These efforts laid the foundation for transforming the neighborhood and empowering residents to effect positive change.
Neighborhood Improvements and Decreased Crime
Santa Clarita’s Neighborhood Services Team and outreach program produced significant results. By taking action on public safety issues and enhancing youth programs in East Newhall, the team gained credibility and created momentum for support.
Crimes including homicide, robbery and grand theft decreased 34 percent in 2011, while vandalism, narcotics offenses and weapons charges decreased by nearly 20 percent. East Newhall also saw other changes related to the quality of life. For example, more than 80 percent of residents who received citations for code violations came into compliance, compared with earlier attempts that achieved less than 40 percent compliance. Before and after photos of the properties where code enforcement resulted in improvements reflect a renewed pride of ownership. In a relatively short time East Newhall was transformed with freshly painted houses and new landscaping. Residents removed debris and disabled vehicles, which were a common sight on many blocks. The area has become more vibrant and attractive.
Santa Clarita hosted its fifth annual Community Pride Day in East Newhall in April 2011 with a 50 percent increase in attendance. More than 250 volunteers participated in various neighborhood beautification projects. For the first time since the event’s inception, there weren’t enough tasks to keep residents busy — there was no graffiti to remove and very little trash to pick up. Instead, volunteers planted flowers, removed unsightly chain-link fences and graded a trail leading from the community center to a local park.
A Formula for Success
The Neighborhood Services Team and outreach plan succeeded due to several key factors.
The team and program focused on building relationships. By listening and being responsive to residents’ concerns, city officials and local law enforcement personnel were able to strengthen the neighborhood’s capacity to create positive changes and improvements.
The program cultivated trust and bridged prior communication gaps between residents and the city. As a result, neighborhood leaders emerged and East Newhall was transformed into a safer, stronger community.
Collaboration and resource-sharing were critically important to the program. The population of Santa Clarita increased by more than 45,000 people from 2000 to 2010. This growth combined with a depressed economy resulted in scarce resources both for residents and the city. Santa Clarita pooled the resources and expertise of residents and staff from multiple agencies to efficiently and effectively address vital issues of public safety and well-being.
“Through community engagement and one-on-one interactions, Santa Clarita is not only educating residents to value the importance of their community but also helping to establish a community team-oriented culture. We’re all in this together,” says Mayor Frank Ferry.
As times have changed, so has the city’s need to create neighborhood-specific services. Santa Clarita is inspiring change by acting as a partner and a resource to neighborhoods, rather than attempting to impose improvements through fines and punitive measures.
“Cities are in the unique position of being able to collaborate with multiple stakeholders and share resources to provide programs and services for communities in need,” says City Manager Ken Pulskamp. “By using a hands-on, neighborhood-oriented approach, staff helped build community relationships and develop trust between the residents of East Newhall, the city and local law enforcement.”
Contact: Hope Horner, community services administrator, City of Santa Clarita; phone: (661) 250-3718; email: email@example.com.