On Apr. 14, Pitzer in Ontario (PIO), a social justice-oriented academic program for Pitzer College students based in the City of Ontario, opened its new location to the public. The program pairs Pitzer students with community partners to promote social change in the region.
Pitzer has sold the residential property on H Street where PIO formerly ran its classes and moved to a downtown storefront they have named “CASA Ontario.” The academic director of PIO, Susan Phillips, and the mayor of Ontario, Paul Leon, both spoke at the open house for CASA last week, highlighting their partnership and revealing their different opinions regarding how best to enact change in the community.
Phillips noted that in order for PIO to run successfully, it needs a strong alliance with the city. At its former location, PIO ran a volunteer bike cooperative out of the garage. While this technically violated city code, the city decided to allow it.
“They wanted to support us until we got up and running and could find a more suitable location, which is what we are trying to do now,” Phillips said
The city has also provided PIO’s community partners with resources from Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone Grants, funded by Kaiser Permanente. The city just recently received another $1 million grant, which Phillips said could continue to support PIO community partners.
“Everything we have done has hinged on the productivity and the success of our relationship with the city,” Phillips said.
While it has been a successful partnership, PIO and the city of Ontario do not always agree on strategies for addressing unhealthy conditions in the city. Some students reacted negatively to the Mayor’s comments in his welcome speech during the open house last week, assuming that he was promoting gentrification.
In his speech, Leon said, “you can’t load people up with resources…you have to lead by example.”
In an interview with TSL, he added, “resources are advantages…you have to sew in order to reap.”
“I knew the Ontario council was conservative, but I didn’t expect [Leon] to be so blatantly conservative,” wrote Anna Leopold PZ ‘17, who is currently participating in PIO, an email to TSL. “He spoke about gentrification as being good for the city and kept saying that us, meaning the wealthier class, can act as an ‘example’ for the poorer people and show them how it’s done. By it, I believe he was alluding to living a healthier life.”
On the other hand, PIO's website emphasizes the importance of collaborating with Ontario community members.
“Efforts are informed by long-standing relationships with community organizations, city agencies, nonprofits, and also by Ontario’s community organizing wing, which works with local youth organizers to identify and address pressing community issues,” the website states.
As a response to community feedback and the fallout from the economic recession in 2008, PIO started a bike cooperative and an organic community garden with Ontario residents.
While they may have differences in opinion, members of PIO are hopeful about the possibilities for future collaboration with the City of Ontario.
“We are in a little bit of a tricky spot with the city council. We have the same goals, but maybe different ways of getting there,” Phillips said, “We all want healthy communities, and we all want people to have good jobs. With the new opening of CASA Ontario, I am hoping that our productive relationship will only increase at this point.”
Phillips noted that one of the next goals is to find a new space for the program’s bike cooperative. They hope to find a new space downtown with the help of their neighbors and with the city’s support.