Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 30
Lompoc gets healthyA new city policy encourages better eating and exercise habits for employees and residents
BY JEREMY THOMAS
The city of Lompoc can count itself among a growing number of cities making a commitment to healthier living, resolving to promote community gardens, offer wholesome choices in vending machines, and facilitate workplace wellness.
On Sept. 18, the Lompoc City Council passed a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) resolution, part of a state initiative aimed at improving physical activity and encouraging healthy food habits in city government. The program is funded by healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente and organized by the League of California Cities and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
Lompoc City Council member Ashley Costa championed the resolution in light of her work with the League of California Cities. At its recent annual conference, the league made it a priority for each one of its 400-plus member cities to join the movement. Costa said she brought the campaign back to Lompoc not only as a result of the decision, but also because the campaign offers the city a “wealth of resources” in the battle against obesity.
“I believe in what it’s promoting, which is creating a healthier environment in your community through particular land use, healthy food access, and employee wellness,” Costa said.
The effect on land use, Costa said, includes the ability for any city-owned vacant parcel of land to be used for a community garden, until needed for other projects. In doing so, Costa hopes the city will “start a culture” of private property owners willing to follow suit.
The resolution also requires half of all vending machines at city facilities and community centers, as well as snack bars at city events and functions, to be comprised of healthy foods. The best part, Costa said, is the steps taken require little to no city funds.
“When it comes down to money, we propose nothing that would cost anything to the city of Lompoc, and in fact what you’re looking at doing is saving money—especially with healthcare costs—in the long run,” Costa said. “I understand with some people it’s ‘feel good,’ and I think that’s great, but getting down to brass tax, money was considered, and it’s a smart fiscal decision as well.”
So far, 135 other California cities have adopted HEAL resolutions, but Lompoc is the first to take up the cause in Santa Barbara County. Costa said she’d like to see the campaign spread to other local municipalities and affect policy decisions similar to past anti-smoking resolutions.
“Many times you have to lead by example,” Costa said. “We, the community and the council, need to stay engaged to ensure that this isn’t just an idea that stops here, but that it’s actually implemented, and implemented successfully.”
HEAL campaign director Charlotte Dixon, who also works for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, visited Lompoc to present the initiative to city officials. Dixon said the campaign supports cities in creating more opportunities for residents and employees to get physically active and gives them access to healthy food through resources, policies, and information.
HEAL is tracking the campaign’s effect on cities. Since HEAL began in 2008, Dixon said, 33 cities have adopted 67 specific policies incorporating health into their general plans. Anecdotally, she explained, the campaign has had a positive effect on increasing biking and recreation, community gardens, and creating pedestrian-friendly environments. And beyond the health benefits, Dixon said, HEAL is beginning to see co-benefits with economic development.
“One of the main threads at the Lompoc council meeting was the topic of downtown revitalization and creating a pedestrian-friendly downtown, and that’s right in line with creating healthy, walkable environments,” she said. “What were seeing with this approach is a win-win-win.”
Dixon added she was thrilled to add Lompoc to the list of cities to join the campaign is hopeful to bring it to other cities in Santa Barbara County. She’s had discussions with city officials in Santa Barbara and some in Santa Maria have also expressed interest. HEAL, she said, is committed to working with officials to help determine each city’s specific health goals.
To figure out Lompoc’s needs, HEAL is working with the Healthy Lompoc Coalition, a nonprofit collective of health educators focused in part on ending child obesity. Judy Taggart, community health manager for Healthy Lompoc, supported the resolution as a “natural fit” with the group’s existing Safe Routes to School program, and its ongoing efforts in the areas of healthy food access and promoting physical exercise.
“I would like to have health become a policy driver in every policy in Lompoc,” Taggart said. “There’s a whole host of good things that can happen by improving things that also improve health. I’d love to see this become a foundation for more a lot more health-centered programs that are citywide.”
The HEAL resolution will provide city employees and residents with more opportunities to engage in physical activity, she said, such as mapping out walking paths around city facilities. Taggart said she hopes for a spillover effect with local businesses.
“We wanted to pick realistic changes that could be done with a minimum financial impact,” Taggart said. “We wanted to show that creating healthy choices doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.”
While Taggart cautioned that details are yet to be worked out and the changes wouldn’t happen overnight, she said the coalition has formed a group to determine how to implement the new policies. Already the city’s decision to adopt the policy is drawing positive reviews from health-minded organizations, such as the Massage School San Diego, which on Sept. 26 handed the city its Step Forward award for breakthroughs in the healthy living industry.
“It’s nice to be recognized for doing something that’s forward-thinking,” Taggart said. “There are really some great folks around here doing good work.” ∆
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas at email@example.com.