SANTA CRUZ — Beginning in the new year, the city of Santa Cruz will begin putting public health in the driver’s seat when it comes to city policy.
The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously gave final approval at its last meeting of the year to a new “Health in All Policies” ordinance, the fruit of a nearly year-long effort shepherded by outgoing Mayor Martine Watkins. The new law mandates that the city consider ways of addressing health concerns — particularly public health, equity and sustainability — in its decision-making. The council will review a proposed roadmap for implementing the policy at an upcoming meeting and future city body agenda reports will include a section analyzing how Health in All Policies was considered.
Watkins on Dec. 10 cited her work on the ordinance, including a citywide listening tour and community surveys, as one of the major accomplishments of her year at the head of the council.
“And I am so proud of our commitment to move the Health In All Policies Initiative forward, which we had the second reading this afternoon of that ordinance, because it holds really truly unlimited opportunities to integrate preventative policies, to increase government efficiency and to factor community well-being into every single decision that we make,” Watkins said. “And I will continue to champion that initiative moving forward.”
Policy in action
Watkins cited examples of where the city was already considering Health in All Policies initiatives in creating a children’s fund for grants and to offset parks and recreation program fees through cannabis business fees, and the council’s early work toward the creation of a city child care impact fee.
Findings of a related city community survey showed Santa Cruz scored high marks for its use of sustainable alternative transportation and the opportunities it offered to the public to participate in community matters. A summary of the survey’s findings showed, however, that the city scored just “fair to poor” on issues related to affordable housing, affordable access to childcare and quality physical and mental healthcare. Respondents also reported experiences of unfair treatment due to their demographics.
During a council study session on the Health in All Policies topic in June, city analyst Casey Hemard admitted that she initially questioned what role city government could have in what is typically a county priority area. Hemard said she realized later that city government, too, can make an impact in the area, such as with the city’s passage of an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.
The World Health Organization’s definition of health goes beyond disease or infirmity to include physical, mental and social well-being. Tina Yuen, senior planner for the Oakland-based national nonprofit ChangeLab Solutions, told the council during its study session that the idea is to work collaboratively and to include health considerations across sectors and policy areas.
“No one sector can really solve this problem alone,” Yuen said. “It is really an all-hands-on-deck kind of approach to really address some of these really difficult and entrenched problems.”
Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, much like state government, have already adopted their own version of Health in All Policies initiatives. Santa Cruz Health Services Agency spokeswoman Corinne Hyland told the council in June of how community members are allowed to purchase food with their public assistance benefits, such as CalFresh or SNAP, California Food Assistance Program benefits and cash aid benefits, at local farmers markets.
“But then we’ve also taken it even a step further at some of our farmers markets, and allowed for double market match,” Hyland said. “So, if you have EBT dollars, you can get them doubled to $10. So, if you spend $10, you get an additional $10 to spend at the farmers market, creating equity to those who are lower-income in our community.”