At a Friday night party in the San Pablo Senior Center, dancers swinging to “Johnny B. Goode” can be overheard speaking Tagalog from the Philippines, Mandarin as well as Cantonese from China, and, of course, Spanish and English.
San Pablo is a kaleidoscope of people. Residents of Hispanic or Latino descent now make up the majority, with 57 percent of the population. Two out of three residents speak a language other than English at home and 45 percent were born outside of the United States.
Diversity is part of the legacy of San Pablo, a stagecoach stop during the Gold Rush, and the city has taken intentional steps to make the community as inclusive as possible and across many areas. By improving interactions, the city hopes to become a more cohesive place to live.
Some efforts have been small, but meaningful, gestures to build connections. To bridge the generational gap, the senior center makes a point of bringing young visitors to mix with older members, programming activities like a top chef-style cooking competition with intergenerational teams or a tutorial on how to take cellphone selfies.
“There’s a disconnect between generations that we are trying to bring together,” says Vicky Voicehowsky, the senior center recreation supervisor.
The city, meanwhile, tries to remove barriers so as many residents as possible can participate in planning meetings or forums on issues that affect them. It holds events at multiple times and different venues, often offering childcare and food, as well as translators. “By including every sector of the community, we actively engage our residents and encourage them to be a part of the decisionmaking process,” says Greg Dwyer, the city’s director of community services.
Other initiatives in San Pablo have been more deliberate attempts to foster a deeper sense of connection for the well-being of everyone. On that front, the San Pablo Police Department has led the way.
The department was the first in the region to offer free certified emergency response training in Spanish, a clear example of how the city’s commitment to being inclusive is a benefit for not just a few, but for everyone. San Pablo sits on an earthquake-prone fault line and has two refineries within eyeshot, so having the Spanish-speaking majority trained in safety procedures would help the community at large in the event of an emergency, says Brian Bubar, a commander in the San Pablo Police Department.
By equipping people with the skills they need to take care of themselves and their neighborhoods, “it builds a sense of ownership, and that partnership is strengthened,” he says.
The emergency training is just one piece of a broader community policing approach, which includes locating officers within the middle school, offering youth programs, and sponsoring a Community Police Academy, which gives anyone an up-close look at how the police department works. Once a week over the course of 10 weeks, the department opens its doors for talks and demonstrations, such as showing a K-9 unit or taking participants on ride-alongs. Not only does that give people a better understanding of policing, it also gives the department insight into what the community is thinking.
“We want to hear how the community wants us to police them,” says Bubar. “If we have a community that feels safe and can work, play, live, then that community is going to thrive.”