Santa Ana plans to open city commissions and boards to non-citizens — making it possibly the first city in Orange County to welcome all residents to participate in such groups regardless of their immigration status.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove the requirement that anybody appointed to a commission, board or committee has to be eligible to vote. The new rule effectively opens those roles to non citizens, including people without legal immigration status.

A second vote at a future meeting is needed to finalize the change.

The move is meant to strengthen community engagement and encourage participation from more people in the city, according to a city staff report.

Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said Wednesday he believes Santa Ana is the first city in Orange County to take this step. Sarmiento said he hopes other cities will follow Santa Ana’s example and “allow all their residents to participate in their city government.”

Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan explained her support in an email Wednesday: “We have many noncitizens who work, live, and volunteer in Santa Ana. They have incredible life experiences, ideas, and skills that we should be utilizing to make the city a better place for all residents.”

Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza wrote in an e-mail: “People should be appointed to boards/commissions based on their experience, expertise and qualifications, not on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or citizenship.”

Santa Ana is a predominantly Latino city and a number of residents don’t have legal immigration status. Overall, the unauthorized immigrant population in Orange County is estimated to be more than 300,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington D.C.

Two of Santa Ana’s 10 boards already do not require members to be qualified voters: the Youth Commission and the newer Measure X Citizen Oversight Committee.

A year ago, the Measure X committee, which tracks how the city spends new sales tax money, was the first in Santa Ana to include a resident who is a noncitizen. Council members appoint residents to serve on groups, such as the Planning Commission and the Board of Recreation and Parks. Sarmiento appointed to the Measure X committee Carlos Perea, a non-citizen with a temporary protective immigration status known as DACA.

Perea called the council’s move “a great step to ensure all residents have a voice and a seat on the table.” He wrote in an e-mail that he hopes more council members “seek to encourage more undocumented residents with the qualifications and experience to apply for these positions.”

In another action, the City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to mandate a $4 an hour bump for grocery and pharmacy workers during the pandemic.


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