The SanTana city council may soon become a boy's club, but not if Ana Urzua Alcaraz has anything to say about it. She's running for Angelica Amezcua's soon-to-be vacated seat in the crowded Ward 3 race where Mexican Ned Flanders Jose Solorio is considered a front runner. As campaign coordinator for Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, Urzua has already been working to better the city. But she's seen the community's concerns ignored far too often to know they need an advocate at council.
"My work over the last few years has informed me of the needs that exist in our community," Urzua tells the Weekly. "The vision that we have is for healthy neighborhoods." The 29-year-old activist can be found all over SanTana where everyday people are discussing affordable housing and the benefits of what a fully realized "wellness district" in the city's downtown would bring.
The Weekly profiled Urzua back in 2014 where she recounted her upbringing. She immigrated from Mexico to SanTana at two. Urzua honed her future leadership skills as a teenage volunteer with El Centro Cultural de Mexico, fighting with Florida's Coalition of Immokalee Workers when they demanded dignified wages at Taco Bell's Irvine headquarters.
Urzua then attended UC Irvine, where she earned a degree in Anthropology in 2008, graduating cum laude. Her thesis on gentrification and displacement in SanTana gained Malinowski and Ruth Fulton Benedict Award honors. After school, she continued to focus on her hometown first with Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) and now with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities. Urzua can count SanTana's Sunshine Ordinance in 2012 and Wellness Resolution among the grassroots accomplishments she helped make happen.
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It's that activist bent that made running for city council seem like a forgone idea. "I never really decided to take that step into electoral politics," Urzua says. "I always felt that social change comes from the ground up." Knowing that Amezcua, who won election as a virtual unknown, planned to give up her seat motivated Urzua. "She's one of only two council women," Urzua says. "I think its really important not to lose women representation in decision making." There's also the chance that Michele Martinez, the other woman on council, might vacate her seat if elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
If Urzua finds herself on the dais, change will still come from the bottom up on issues she cares about. Strengthening the city's affordable housing options, violence prevention programs for youth, permanent homeless shelters and ending the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract with the city for use of its jail form part of her platform.
Urzua is also the second candidate in this year's election to emerge from the ranks of downtown SanTana's El Centro Cultural de Mexico, where she teaches son jarocho and performs with house band Son del Centro. Valley High School teacher and activist Benjamin Vazquez is challenging Miguel Pulido's decades-long reign as mayor. "As folks who have grown here in Santa Ana, we've brought solutions to the council for necessary changes in the city," Urzua says of Centro activists. "Now we are bringing forward candidates for council."
In Ward 3, Urzua faces six other challengers, including Solorio who gained the Democratic Party of OC's endorsement last week. "Being the only woman on the ballot offers things that none of the other candidates bring," she says."What's valuable to me is the endorsement and vote of the people."