Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark Discusses Goals
by Dianne Anderson
Wearing both hats as Tustin Mayor and a city council member, Letitia Clark is ready to roll on her goals, most of which entails tackling the same urgent issues facing cities across the nation in the months ahead.
First on her agenda is being as proactive as possible with the recovery from COVID, rather than being entrenched in a response effort.
“I think that everyone thought that 2021 was going to come, and a magic light switch was going to turn on and things would immediately get better, but we have a long road ahead of us,” said Clark, who was also Mayor Pro Tem last year.
Clark, recently re-elected for a second term on the city council, had hoped that she would be elected Mayor, but that seat wasn’t guaranteed.
Tustin, like most small cities in Orange County, does not have independently elected mayors, rather one-year rotating mayoral positions with council members selected through the support of their colleagues. She is officially the Mayor until December 2021.
As part of preventing COVID-19 spread, she wants to expand testing and find efficient ways to roll out the vaccine with best practices, implementing mask requirements. She wants to support businesses to hold them accountable to ensure that best business practices are firmly in place.
She is encouraged with the passage of AB 685 (Reyes) implemented this January requiring businesses to contact their employees if someone has the virus, even if they hadn’t contracted it on the work grounds.
She said getting information out to the business community is key.
“We all have to warn each other when they have been exposed, but a lot of companies are trying to figure out how do I properly inform my employees?” she said.
Driving around the city, she sees more closure signs. Another concern is around real estate and vacancies as many businesses have closed down, or that the city could suffer lost revenue down the line.
“We own a lot of property even within the city so vacancies are a huge issue. We have a large community of small businesses. We have 300 nonprofits but there are a lot of small organizations and companies that are deeply impacted,” she said.
Access to funding is critical for survival and she is prepared to go after all available resources.
About half of all businesses are in danger of closing statewide, but recently Gavin Newsom called for over $1 billion in assistance for small businesses, including the $575 million in addition to the existing $500 million in support through California’s Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant.
“My focus is trying to tap into any county, regional, state and federal funds that we can get a hold of, and making sure we funnel through some of the programs we’ve already been able to start through grants and loans programs for our small business,” she said.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently announced $10 million on tap for local businesses impacted by the pandemic, and another $2 million approved for her area.
“We want to get those in the hands of business owners to where it will be most effective and they can keep their staff employed and doors open until we can get to the next phase of this pandemic,” she said.
For Tustin as well as cities across the nation, she is hopeful that the funds trickle down soon. She is encouraged that President-Elect Biden’s cabinet nominations are experienced professionals with a good understanding of what’s needed to fuel local economies, especially disadvantaged and underserved communities.
“That gives me solace that we are starting to see people in place, very competent and community-minded to help us get through what could be a continued crisis,” she said.
For Orange County, less than 2% Black, there’s always the other elephant in the room. She grew up there, and says that she had a great childhood.
But with everything going on lately, she recognizes that she is leading a community that is not so diverse, and that comes with some obvious misconceptions. During her campaign, she saw some disturbing comments.
Considering how many important issues to worry about lately, graffiti doesn’t seem like much, but she said there could be negative connotations that go with being a Black mayor. As soon as she was selected, she made clear to her staff that any graffiti must be handled right away.
“In this environment a lot of texting and emailing allows people to say some cruel things when they’re not face to face,” she said. “I told the staff that I’m very sensitive about graffiti.”
Health and sustenance of the city and its businesses take priority. She said she doesn’t want race to be the narrative, but feels an obligation to speak out against injustice.
A couple of weeks ago an Asian woman was called a racial slur related to COVID-19. The perpetrator wasn’t a Tustin resident, but Clark called the woman to reassure her that bigotry is not tolerated in her city.
“I want to represent a city that welcomes everyone and doesn’t stand for racism and bigotry and she appreciated that call. With things like that, I feel that I have an obligation. Of being a minority, I have to speak out and can’t turn a blind eye,” she said.
Among her numerous posts and positions, Clark has served as Executive Director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Orange County Chapter and the government affairs director for the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors. She was a government relations manager for the American Red Cross, legislative aide to the Georgia General Assembly and New Orleans City Council, she is a Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sister, along with service on several other nonprofit boards.
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