Rebeca Armendariz recently completed terms on the Gilroy Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Committee. While the fourth-generation Gilroyan said she wasn’t able to benefit the community as much as she had hoped, her time on those boards gave her a valuable education on such governmental topics as planning and housing.
Now, Armendariz is running for city council, where she sees an opportunity to effect change in the community.
“I’ve been active in my community since I was a kid,” she said. “I’ve worked with different groups and mobilized people from different segments of the community when I felt there was injustice.”
Armendariz is a founding board member and current president of CARAS, a nonprofit that focuses on advocacy, service and cultural events such as the Cesar Chavez Champions Awards and the Gilroy Tamal Festival. She also served on the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission.
Armendariz is a founding member of Gilroy Growing Smarter and was co-chair of the Yes on Measure H campaign in 2016, which established an urban growth boundary line for the city.
Housing and homelessness are two issues that go hand-in-hand and are among the top issues facing the city, Armendariz said. Part of the solution, she said, is to provide more homes, but it’s far from easy.
“It’s not cheap,” she said. “It’s not easy to get through the bureaucracy.”
Armendariz said the county has made “real effort” to battle the issue with the voter-approved Measure A in 2016, a $950 million bond that is intended to provide affordable housing. Gilroy needs to make housing and homelessness a greater priority, she added.
Gilroy can begin to do so by “decriminalizing poverty,” according to Armendariz.
“I don’t believe in criminalizing the homeless,” she said. “It’s a waste of time for our police officers, and it’s expensive for our community to do that.”
Through her work with CARAS, Armendariz said she hears from those who are homeless and those who are “marginalized” about their run-ins with specific officers, saying they feel helpless to address it. The city council has not done enough to hold police officers accountable, according to Armendariz.
“Having officers who are properly vetted and held accountable for their actions is a matter of public safety,” she said.
The city also needs to allocate more funding to domestic violence and mental health support services, rather than relying on police officers to respond to those potentially dangerous situations, Armendariz said, adding that many officers throughout the country are dying in the field responding to such calls they are not equipped to handle.
“We expect officers to be domestic violence specialists, we expect them to be counselors and mental health specialists,” she said. “It’s not working.”
Recovering from Covid-19, both from health and business standpoints, is also a top priority of Armendariz’s. She said the city should consider using its reserves to help keep residents from going homeless or hungry during the pandemic, as Gilroy cannot rely on the state and county to do so.
“It’s time to work outside our comfortable confines and do what’s necessary for our residents’ livelihoods,” she said.