PROFILE: Michele Martinez – Santa Ana City Council Member

michele 2    “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

It should come as no surprise that Latinas Represent, an organization that wants to bring more Latinas into the world of politics, asked Santa Ana city council member Michele Martinez to take part in an online webinar. After all, she’s a certified rarity: An elected Latina. Which is why she has both personal and political reasons for being on so many regional boards. Personally, she hates gender inequality. “A lot of these boards were exclusive clubs for the good ol’ boys.”

Politically, she’s doing something about it. “I serve on as many boards as I can to help make sure we have a voice on anything that impacts our community.” A belief summed up in her ten oft-repeated words: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Elected to the Santa Ana City Council in 2006 with a reputation for pushing for more government accountability, Martinez not only stated a familiar campaign promise to “Restore trust,” she actually delivered on it. That’s not to say every single resident is now in love with City Hall. But Martinez , who is also a SoCA Latino Policy Center Board Member, insists the results convinced her that any political office looking for an infusion of trust can find it in three basic steps:

  1. Open your doors. A city’s front door is its official website. Visit the City of Santa Ana online and there’s a welcome mat in the form of a hard-to-miss tab labeled “Open Government,” a guide to public access.
  2. Listen closely to those who aren’t happy. That’s a gentle way of putting it, as far as members of the Santa Ana Collaborative for Responsible Development (SACReD) were once concerned. “When we first met, they didn’t trust us at all,” Martinez explains. “They were very angry when we explained certain things they wanted in an affordable housing plan were up to the developer, not us.” Several months later, there was an opportunity to take Step 3.
  3. Invite them to partner with you to find solutions. “We reached out again and said, ‘Trust us enough to help develop a sunshine ordinance,’ which makes transparency the law of the land and a permanent change for the better. We’re now required to give specific budget updates several times a year, from first drafts to budget projections. Residents aren’t shy about offering input. They’re participating. That’s never happened before.”

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