Three city officials met at APU to discuss issues the city faces and what makes it great
An Azusa City Officials Panel was held in the Cougar Dome on Sept. 19. The event was sponsored by the Center for Student Action (CSA) and the Azusa Scholars Program at APU. The panel was composed of City Mayor Joseph Rocha, City Manager Sergio Gonzalez and Lt. Rocky Wenrick, who were each selected to give their perspectives on the city and its issues.
Although the event was organized by CSA and the Azusa Scholars Program, it was senior communications major Darincka Vargas who suggested the idea for the event. As an SGA senator and a member of the Scholars Program, Vargas said she wanted to create an event that would promote discussion and pride in Azusans.
“Coming in from a city onto campus is kind of a bit of a culture shock,” Vargas said. “I realize that we kind of live in an APU bubble … I thought it would be really great to have city officials come onto campus and kind of dispel any misconceptions about the city and kind of be able to enlighten students a little bit more about the city that’s in their own backyard.”
Vargas said she hoped this event would encourage students to be more involved in their city and not take their position as scholars in the area lightly.
“We have such a beautiful city and so many resources and so many things that we offer but a lot of students on campus don’t know about it — and they’ll go four years without knowing about it,” Vargas said. “When I got elected into the position of the senator, I [decided] ‘It is my responsibility to ensure that students are being connected and then are coming in to the city of Azusa.’”
Rocha expressed hope that APU students, as well as anyone living in the city, would be compelled to help others make Azusa a better place for all. As the founder of the Azusa Scholars Program, Rocha has continued to spread this message across the city from elementary schools to colleges. He believes it is not only a civic responsibility, but a religious one as well.
“Everything I do is to enhance the Lord, not man,” Rocha said. “Being a mayor is nice, but being a son of the Lord is better.”
Rocha orchestrates and participates in community service events, public speaking events and family gathering events. Some of the topics are difficult for people because they involve issues of mental illness, self mutilation and suicide. One of the recent events Rocha participated in was a “Get Up and Walk” event which aims at bringing children and parents from Azusa together to walk around a field and talk. According to Rocha, this is meant not only to give an opportunity for families to bond, but also to fight the obesity crisis in America by encouraging children to exercise.
Rocha also emphasized the importance of contributing to these events.
“When you come, you have to work. When I come, I work,” Rocha said. “Elenor Roosevelt said, ‘Do not ask of others what you’re not willing to do yourself,’ and that’s one of our strongest mottos and one of our strongest beliefs.”
After informing the audience of events occurring in Azusa, the panel discussed a few issues and benefits of the city.
Wenrick said the city’s population has become increasingly diverse racially, and while this is beneficial to the culture at large, it can create some hardships for the police department.
“The ethnic community is much more integrated now … We’ve seen a big influx in different kinds of people,” Wenrick said. “Some of them speak different languages, which has become a problem for the department, so we might have to hire someone who speaks Mandarin … we just have to be culturally aware.”
Wenrick said that as he gets older, he appreciated the community in Azusa more and finds the best part of his job is not catching criminals, but building communal bonds between officers and civilians.
“We take care of the community, and the community takes care of us,” Wenrick said.
Gonzalez and Wenrick discussed a few issues that the city faces. Namely, they focused on a lack of funds for the police department and other city ordinances. They also discussed homelessness and gang violence. According to Wenrick, Azusa civilians should not be worried about gang activity.
“Unless you’re standing out on the corner at three in the morning, there’s nothing to worry about,” Wenrick said. “Most of the issues are between rival gangs.”
Gonzalez said the three issues the city needs to work on most are housing, homelessness and criminal justice reform. These are issues brought upon by the state, he said, but which greatly affect the city. According to each of the panelists, none of these issues will be easy to solve, but with the help of people, including APU students, the city can begin to see a positive change in the future.
“The other thing that makes the city different, and I’ve spoken to my colleagues about this, is we do not disrespect each other even if we don’t agree with each other, because we have students in high school who are required to watch [the city council] meetings, and if they see us acting like that, they’re going to think it’s okay,” Rocha said. “In Azusa, if you’re down, we lift you up.”