The city of Santa Ana, California, unanimously approved an $80 million COVID-19 relief plan, the first portion of the $128 million it’s set to receive as part of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
The plan, dubbed “Revive Santa Ana” seeks to provide local residents with more access to green space, food and housing, the internet, and homeless services. It will also fund a memorial for Orange County residents who have died from the virus.
City officials have said the city was hit particularly hard during the pandemic due to a lack of resources, and the city is using some of its ARPA funding to conduct a study looking into creating its own health department.
“$128 million doesn’t just drop in our lap,” Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said during a July 20 council meeting. “There was a lot of hard work, a lot of advocacy that was done, and we’re approving a budget that’s larger than some cities’ general fund budget.
“Any one of these things on a standalone item, we’d be just praising the source where we got the funding from. I just hope this doesn’t get lost, because as much money as this is, these line items are so embedded with hard work and delivery of such positive services.”
City staff essentially divided the ARPA funding into five expenditure categories: recovery from the pandemic, direct assistance programs, public health and safety, critical infrastructure, and fiscal health.
In terms of pandemic recovery, the city plans to spend $5.4 million on helping residents and businesses return to normal. Spending plans show Santa Ana will spend $1 million on mental health support services, including Be Well OC and a free mental health hotline.
Its COVID-19 memorial, which will be under the purview of the arts and culture commission, will cost $200,000. The city wants to spend an additional $2 million on communication methods such as digital signs at neighborhood parks and informational kiosks.
The city is also spending $3 million on assisting small businesses and artists struggling to stay afloat, $4 million on grocery gift cards and a basic income program for harder-hit areas, and $1 million on youth violence and sexual assault prevention programs. Another $1 million will be used for early childhood programs, and $500,000 will be spent on afterschool youth sports programs.
A public health and safety budget totaling $16.3 million includes $7.8 million for the expansion of green space and other activities such as a seasonal ice rink near city hall. Another $1.5 million will be used to upgrade park restrooms.
Health food access, rapid response homeless services, enhanced security for parks, and an enhanced collaborative enforcement for shopping centers will each receive a $1 million boost.
Councilman Phil Bacerra said he liked the idea of building an ice rink at the civic center.
“What a great way to take back a space that hasn’t been welcomed hasn’t been really accessible, and to bring families and the community and even on a seasonal basis,” Bacerra told the council. “I think this is a great way to really activate that space.”
About $21.25 million is earmarked for critical infrastructure. The city plans to spend $8.5 million transforming its central library and improving library accessibility. About $3.5 million dollars will be spent on conducting a study to determine broadband access deficiencies.
The city will spend $3.5 million on fixing sidewalks, alleys, traffic, and resurfacing areas. It will spend $1 million providing 250 neighborhood street lights, and another $1 million resurfacing city-owned parking structures.
The majority of the city’s $10.1 million fiscal health budget will go toward repaying itself $8.98 million for hotel visitor tax and business tax losses due to the pandemic. There will also be legal support services and an unemployment fund for city employees due to COVID-19 at $500,000 each.
“This is something that really makes me feel like all of us are very blessed that we can do this,” the mayor said. “Other communities don’t have the ability to do this, and we’re delivering it to those families that need it the most.”
Sarmiento noted during the meeting that the public helped guide the process of how the money would be best spent.
“I just want to thank everybody who did hard work up here, thank our advocates who helped us get this money, and all the staff and public who came and did this,” he said. “Let’s not forget that the public guided this process, I remember seeing all of us at community meetings and neighborhood meetings listening [to the public], and let’s remember, there’s some agencies that received more money than us and didn’t ask for a single public comment on how they spent the money.”
The city so far has only received its first tranche of $64.18 million from the federal government and will be receiving the remainder next year. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Treasury has not fully laid out all the guidelines of how the money can be spent, with staff indicating they expect the spending plan to evolve.