Empty seats at meetings were as common as those who spoke at public hearings: Almost non-existent.
But for some time now, authorities have been forced to set up speakers outside of the meeting hall for those who cannot fit inside the room, and the lines of people who wish to participate in these hearings sometimes stretch all the way out to the hallways.
“We have tried to get the community involved, and we have seen a great response”, said Genaro Valenzuela, one of the parents who, along other residents and teachers in Baldwin Park, started a campaign to engage residents in what happens at schools in the district.
Through the site “AdoptAdistrict.org”, this group of almost 100 members seeks to promote citizens' participation in meetings and public hearings - something that historically has not been the case in predominantly Latino communities such as Baldwin Park.
In other cities with large Hispanic populations, like Bell, this lack of civic engagement were a major factor that allowed some city officials, who now face criminal charges, to embezzle the city through exorbitant salaries.
Although Baldwin Park has not faced problems of that kind, Mayor Manuel Lozano said in an interview with Patch that one of the biggest challenges faced by the city is to get its residents involved in civic matters and in the decision-making process.
“It is very important [to get involved] because their voices must be heard, that is the only way to improve things in this country”, Lozano emphasized.
During the last two City Council meetings attended by Patch Latino, citizen participation during the public hearings has been very low, or almost null.
According to Valenzuela, that was the same situation during School District meetings, but starting on March 27, when things started to change.
“Before, residents didn't know what was happening, and the decisions were made only by unions and the school board”, explained Valenzuela. “All of that have changed and we hope that citizen participation will continue to grow”, he added.
The voice of Adopt A District has grown to such a point that members recently had a special meeting with district representatives, to ask for changes in the way that the district does community outreach.
There were many suggestions, ranging from the use of an automated phone call system to including information on the organization's website. To date, all these suggestions are still pending.
“I think that we got off to a good start. Now more than ever it is very important to make our voices heard”, said Valenzuela in the last post on the website. “Don't let others influence the way that you and your children will experence the future, but be a part of that decision”, he added.
For more information about Adopt a District in Baldwin Park, contact Genaro Valenzuela at 323-821-7712 or visit www.adoptadistrict.org