Milpas on the Move column by Sharon Byrne
By Friday afternoon, we’ll know whether we’ve won a national competition for Neighborhood of the Year 2013.
Lorraine Cruz-Carpinter forwarded me the call for entries from Neighborhoods USA. Lorraine runs the city’s Looking Good program. She gets people to sign up as Adopt-a-Block captains to keep our blocks litter and graffiti-free. She also runs the city’s giant annual clean-ups. Thus she scales up to hundreds of volunteers working to keep our city clean, probably the highest return-on-investment employee in this city.
I realized the Milpas Community Association could be a good fit for the competition’s focus on social revitalization, given all the struggles we’d had, how we stayed unified on fixing the neighborhood, and how the entire community pulled together for the holiday lights and parade last year.
So I wrote up our story, and sent it off.
And I got a letter back.
Neighborhoods USA, headquartered in Minneapolis, put us in the top 5 finalists nationwide for Neighborhood of the Year 2013.
Not because everything is perfect – it’s not. We made the finals because Milpas is indeed revitalizing due to a strong community-based grassroots effort for the past 2+ years. There’s a new sense of connectedness and neighborliness, and neighborhood pride.
There’s a lot to be proud of in this neighborhood:
- The Egg McMuffin was invented at the Milpas McDonald’s.
- Milpas hosts many family-owned businesses that have been here for decades, with one in constant operation for 100 years.
- Franklin Neighborhood Center completed a stunning mural, under the leadership of Ricardo Venegas. This is also where the neighborhood came together for the first time at a contentious Franklin Advisory Committee meeting in August of 2010, and decided that we had something worth fighting for.
- Kids are playing softball again in the Cabrillo ballfield – a welcome sight in our former Ground Zero.
- We have great schools with amazing principals that care deeply about our kids.
- We have incredible restaurants. Super Rica was named one the top 25 Mexican restaurants nationally by Food and Leisure Magazine. Los Agaves, Your Place and The Habit consistently win Best of Santa Barbara. El Bajio won the trophy for the city’s best Menudo.
- Our community police officers hosted the first citywide Menudo competition, at Franklin Elementary. Our beat cops live in our neighborhood, and are invested in our community. We’re proof that community policing works.
- SBHS was named one of the top 10 most beautiful schools in the US, is the 3rd oldest in California, hosts the state’s longest-running school newspaper at nearly 100 years, and is home to the defending US champs in cheerleading! Go Dons!
- The Eyeglass Factory puts on Kids Health Day, and gives out free eyeglasses and exams to kids. We give away kids’ bikes at that event, thanks to John Dixon of Tri County Produce, hands-down the best produce market in this city.
- We started a Halloween Trick or Treat on Milpas, and the merchants really turn it up for the kids.
We got our holiday streetlights back up, with huge community support, including Milpas businesses, the Sentinel, Franklin PTA, Casa de la Raza, Boys and Girls Club, and Casa Esperanza.
- We throw a holiday parade featuring youth and cars. This year is the parade’s 60th anniversary.
Boys and Girls Club just won the city’s Spirit of Service Award for Clean Community. They always bring out masses of kids for the clean-ups, and teach them how to take ownership of their neighborhood.
- Casa De La Raza gave us a home for the holiday parade team, and welcomed us to throw a party to greet our beat cops to the neighborhood.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe, shepherded by Father Marin, cranks out the best tamales at Fiesta. The hall, historic home of Franklin Elementary School, has been a great place for us to work on some of our toughest issues.
- We have our own column!
- North Milpas now hosts The Shop for great coffee and food, owned by Eastside residents. Let’s hear it for another local business on the street! Ami (also an Eastside resident) of Jack’s Bistro holds down South Milpas, and always smiles a greeting when you walk in.
This really is an incredible neighborhood, when you step back and look at it.
All the marches, neighborhood clean-ups, meetings, meetings, and even more meetings, Planning Commission and City Council hearings, graffiti removal, neighborhood watch efforts, community policing, and holiday efforts…
Where else have you seen business owners, residents, community organizations, and schools work together with the city to make the area better?
All that effort applied for sheer love of our neighborhood has led us to this point.
To those that worked so hard for so long on this area, and gave so much, you already are winners. You already are the Neighborhood of the Year.
Way to go, Milpas-Eastside neighbors!