Faced with a childhood obesity crisis and the highest cancer rate in Contra Costa County, San Pablo embraced a collective vision to address health disparities, becoming the first city in California to add an optional health-conscious planning element—Health Element—to its General Plan. Representatives from all sectors of the community participated in the development of the Health Element, which was adopted in 2011 and focuses on a variety of factors affecting health, including access to health services, nutrition and the quality of physical environments.
Residents, nonprofit organizations and government entities formed the Childhood Obesity Prevention Task Force, which collaborates with stakeholders to develop strategies that encourage the community to “Eat Smart, Get Moving.” To increase access to healthier foods and provide a safe gathering place on the weekends, the city established the San Pablo Farmer’s Market. In recognition of the need for healthy activity and mobility for residents of all ages, the city conducted the San Pablo Avenue Complete Streets Study, funded by a Caltrans Environmental Justice Transportation Planning Grant for $6.2 million, which seeks to improve multimodal access and safety along a busy regional corridor. Additional outcomes of the Health Element include the construction of the West County Health Clinic, which led to increased access to health care services and the creation of about 200 new jobs, and the development of three recreational spaces to reduce crime and provide opportunities for physical activity.
Civic Engagement Strategies
Public awareness and input was essential to the development of the Health Element to ensure that public understood the problem and realistic and achievable goals were set. Participation from all sectors of the community came through public workshops, the General Plan Advisory Committee, Planning Commission and City Council meetings, and by partnering with other organizations such as Contra Costa County Health Services.
To improve multimodal access and increase safety along a busy regional corridor, the city underwent a Complete Streets Study. To ensure that the final plan recommendations would be relevant and supported by the local community, San Pablo partnered with its neighbor and regional agency, the City of Richmond and Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS), to engage residents, stakeholders and partner agencies. The civic engagement process included CCHS reaching out to schools, community groups, neighborhood councils, and public programs, in addition to canvassing the neighborhoods around the corridor. CCHS held a series of training sessions on the principles and practices of complete streets, environmental justice, healthy and safe built environments process to give stakeholders the knowledge needed to better participate in the decision-making process. Residents and stakeholders were invited to visit the corridor with the Project Team and participate in a series of three bilingual community workshops to first voice their needs and challenges and develop possible solutions, then evaluate the city’s proposed plans that included median improvements, bicycle lanes, speed feedback signs and other safety features. The project was award the full funding amount of $6.2 million.