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HEAL Goes To Central California!

HEAL Goes to Central California!

Authors: RoAnn Viloria, Patti Hatzistavrakis, Leigh Ann Lopez 

HIPHI Healthy Eating + Active Living (HEAL) Coalition coordinators recently participated in a California Central Coast Mobile Tour, which took place from April 15 to 18, 2024. This journey spanned from San Jose to San Luis Obispo, allowing them to explore the built environment, housing infrastructure, and active living facilities of several key cities in Central California.

Our diverse group included Healthy Eating + Active Living (HEAL) Coalition coordinators, county planners, and engineers, all of whom brought unique perspectives to the tour. Together, we explored Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay, and San Luis Obispo, learning from local experts about their innovative approaches to fostering happy, healthy, active communities.

The Mobile Workshop commenced in San Jose with a visit to the mixed-use community Rivermark Plaza. The development features a variety of housing styles, open green space with playground equipment, and a school. It is also within walking distance of various retail shops and restaurants. It is an excellent example of how to develop a community that combines a livable environment with basic societal needs. 

Following this excursion, we headed to the quaint town of Santa Cruz. Over lunch, we engaged with local officials on the economic development and revitalization of downtown areas. Topics included how they provide support services to houseless people, how the Downtown Ambassador program provides information to residents and tourists, and the improvements they are making to ensure affordable housing is available within this walkable area. Many of these priorities are also a consideration for Hawai‘i communities and could be applied to make our small towns more accessible to those who live, work, and visit. 

On a second day in Santa Cruz, we took to the streets for a ten-plus-mile bike ride to gain a different perspective on the use of streets by non-motorized vehicles. During the ride, we encountered a variety of use paths, from designated bike lanes to multi-use trails to sharing the roadway with motorized vehicles. It was an eye-opening experience that underscored the value of clearly designated lanes, wayfinding signs, and proper signaling for cyclists.

Our next stop was Monterey, which provided insight into the usefulness of a multi-use path that ran parallel to the main street. This path affords cyclists and walkers a safe space to navigate the length of the main street and connects them to downtown areas for additional shopping, restaurants, and places of business. We had breakfast at Alta Bakery, a prime example of restoration efforts to maintain the area’s heritage while expanding it for reuse by the public. The complex features an edible garden and a center courtyard open to all, making it a haven for the community. We also visited a local neighborhood park, Oak Newton, to discuss the operations and collaboration between county departments to provide upkeep to this safe and welcoming environment.

Following Monterey, we arrived in San Luis Obispo (SLO) just in time for the weekly downtown farmers’ market. Each Thursday, SLO closes several city streets to enable food and produce vendors the opportunity to sell their goods to the community. Complete with entertainment, the market boasts the ability to use EBT for purchases and features a bicycle valet, which is a draw for many as a way to reduce the need for street parking. For those working to improve food access in Hawai‘i, seeing a successful EBT element in this market was inspirational. 

After leaving SLO, we drove to Santa Maria to meet with the folks who run Bici Centro, a bicycle shop that invests in bike education and skill-building for the area’s youth. Currently, they go into schools and teach children of all ages about bike safety and maintenance. They are working to expand the curriculum and hope to partner with Physical Education teachers to adopt the lesson plan on a larger scale. In addition to the educational piece, they offer in-shop positions to youth interested in building skills as a bike mechanic. These two opportunities have proven beneficial to the young people and the greater community.

The Mobile Tour concluded in beautiful Santa Barbara, with a tour of the main street closed to vehicular traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presently, the community is working to determine the future of this bikeable and walkable main street and whether to make it a permanent part of the street system. Many cities in the United States have taken this approach and are contemplating similar decisions. Although it created a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists, some businesses are not keen to make the closures permanent. For those on the trip, it presents an option for select streets within our communities to become safer, which we should consider seriously.

The California Central Coast Mobile Workshop provided a valuable learning experience for all participants. The tour gave us insights into the practical relationship between the built environment and public health and facilitated collaborative learning and idea exchange among diverse participants. The trip offered a comprehensive overview of various locations, providing valuable insights into mixed-use housing, homelessness, climate change, historical restoration, adaptive reuse, and post-COVID-19 developments. The examples and experiences shared during the tour have inspired us to develop potential actionable next steps for Hawai‘i, encouraging the implementation of community-engaging processes and promoting equity and inclusion. Overall, the Mobile Workshop deepened our understanding of creating livable, accessible, and sustainable environments. We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this collaborative learning experience and look forward to applying our newfound insights to create positive change in our communities.

Leigh Ann Lopez

Leigh Ann Lopez

O‘ahu HEAL Coordinator
Patti Hatzistavrakis

Patti Hatzistavrakis

East Hawai‘i Health Eating + Active Living Initiative Coalition Coordinator
RoAnn Viloria, MPH

RoAnn Viloria, MPH

Maui, Molokai and Lānaʻi HEAL Coalition Coordinator
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