Communities In Action: Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Socioeconomic differences and health disparities bisect Rancho Cucamonga, CA into two communities with distinct needs. Healthy RC, a city–community partnership, is working to bridge that divide through authentic community engagement.

In Rancho Cucamonga, people of color represent a significant proportion of the residents, with Latinos comprising more than one-third. Socioeconomic differences and health disparities also bisect the city into northern and southern sections, with the south facing significant barriers to accessing opportunities for healthy eating and active living.

To address health disparities like these, Rancho Cucamonga formed a partnership called Healthy RC in 2008 to create “healthy minds, healthy bodies and a clean, sustainable earth.” Over the years, the Healthy RC model has sustained its involvement in the community through a comprehensive approach that builds community capacity and resident leadership to engage with multiple sectors, including city staff, elected officials, and professional and partner organizations.

Healthy RC has not only created strong, supportive relationships where the government serves residents, but where residents are also influencing decision-making from the grassroots up. When Rancho Cucamonga received Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) funding, the partnership was able to inject health into city processes, elevating the level of collaboration both internally and within the community. A small team, the Healthy RC “core team,” comprised representatives from every department and division of the city and allowed them to get together to talk about how health was impacting their work.

“One of the things that allowed us to be successful was that our team was strategic. We wanted to make sure that we understood what health and wellness meant to us, and we made sure that we had a vision for that internally, and got all of the departments on board. And even down to where we housed it—how we decided not to politicize it, not tie it to any one elected official—has had a huge impact on the success of this initiative.”
—Michael Parmer, former Project Coordinator for Rancho Cucamonga’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership



The success of this city-community partnership began by first including residents in early assessment and data collection processes. Rancho Cucamonga’s HKHC partnership had discovered that farmers’ markets were not zoned in the southwest area of Cucamonga, the area with the least access to healthy eating and active living opportunities. The team reached out to the community to address this disparity.

Healthy RC staff developed a farmers’ market subcommittee made up of community residents and city leaders. The committee interviewed market managers, conducted site visits at markets in nearby cities, and connected over the phone with other HKHC sites which were also working with farmers’ markets. To ensure that future farmers’ market sites accurately reflected the community’s desires and needs, the partnership also conducted focus groups with residents. These primarily Spanish-speaking residents shared that the two main barriers to their buying healthy food were access and cost.

Meanwhile, the city’s Geographic Information System (GIS) department launched a mobile app that, in addition to providing general City information, allowed residents to take pictures of infrastructure needs and submit those directly to the city’s response services. Youth and local residents even provided feedback on how best to tailor some of the application’s features. Rancho Cucamonga also uses GIS as a tool to prioritize resources and redesign communities. For example, Healthy RC used GIS to locate neighborhoods that had limited access to grocery stores or lacked green spaces and infrastructure that would have enabled residents to walk and bike safely. After identifying community needs, the City held forums that allowed residents to map out amenities and challenges and then develop strategies to improve their neighborhoods.

“[Residents] were involved in a lot of data collection, really trying to get the Southwest Cucamonga voice out. And I think that’s where you see the benefit of authentic community engagement, because … having that voice means we’re able to look at this with a completely different lens and really have a ‘Health in All Policies’ approach.”
—Michael Parmer



Healthy RC worked to build trust and capacity in resident leaders, viewing them as vital partners in the work. The Campeones para la Comunidad (Community Champions) and the Healthy RC Youth Leaders programs provide opportunities for local residents to gain skills and capacity for meaningful engagement through public speaking, public policy, leadership development, and team building. Providing this training to adult and youth residents has built sustainable community capacity for policy and environmental changes. It has also generated a deeper level of ownership and sustainability around the Healthy RC community change goals.

With this approach, city officials and leaders view themselves as conveners and stewards, and citizens view themselves as partners and change agents. Community members identify important issues and determine how to address them, and the city responds with resources and support. This type of authentic partnership is achieved by intentionally developing relationships; offering capacity-building training and resources for adults and youth; and ongoing engagement through council workshops and neighborhood meetings.

“Really think about how you’re engaging residents. It needs to be authentic, it needs to be meaningful, and you need to commit to that. Sometimes that’s a scary thing, because stuff bubbles up that you might not be prepared to deal with. But you need to. And I think once you relinquish some of that control and transfer some of that power to the residents, they are the ones who will hold you accountable, and they are the ones who will ensure the success of the program. It starts with building trust within the community.”
—Michael Parmer

Healthy RC was housed in the City Manager’s office. To help sustain the momentum that the initiative was developing in the community, the City Manager created three staff positions to support the work: two funded through the HKHC grant and the other through the City’s general fund. Those staff members served as key facilitators among community members, city staff and elected officials, and they built trust within all parties. They sought opportunities for those leaders to connect to local, regional, and national networks to share their stories of healthy community change and learn from others in the movement.

On the ground, Healthy RC also continued to integrate community members, especially residents from southwest Rancho Cucamonga, into the community change process with visits to city hall. Through these visits, Campeones para la Comunidad could meet the mayor, visit each of the department offices, and learn how those departments work together, all in an informal setting. Those trips made the process of political advocacy less daunting and communicated to residents that the city’s government was their government. To deepen this message, Healthy RC also brought department staff to meet with the Campeones para la Comunidad and Health RC Youth Leaders.

Although HKHC ended in 2014, those trips to City Hall still continue. As new community leaders join the healthy change movement, the periodic visits allow the network of empowered residents to grow and build on successes from years past. Michael Parmer explained, “One of the other things we’ve done is to leave our titles at the door. When we meet with the community, it’s not ‘city staff’ talking to ‘residents.’ It’s a much more equitable exchange, and real conversation happens.”

“We all have a perspective and we all have responsibilities, and that’s what we talk about more than titles and balance of power.”
—Michael Parmer



The information gathered during community-led research laid the groundwork for a development code amendment that required approval from City Council. This amendment set out to: increase areas of the city zoned for farmers’ markets (including southwest Cucamonga); develop a minimum criteria for what could be sold at farmers’ markets (for example, requiring at least 75% of items sold to be produce or value-added products); and minimize Temporary Use Permit requirements and permit cost for farmer’s markets, which would streamline the process for launching and operating them. Subcommittee members representing community-based organizations and local residents voiced their opinions in support of the ordinance, and ultimately, the City Council unanimously passed it.

Through an extensive community needs assessment including community forums, focus groups and key informant interviews, residents also identified community gardens as one of the strategies that could increase access to healthy food in their neighborhood in addition to the ongoing work around farmers’ markets.

Healthy RC worked to identify potential garden sites through a feasibility study, initially targeting areas of the city where opportunities for healthy eating are less accessible. While the initial sites identified in Southwest Cucamonga proved to be unfeasible, a robust and active community garden was developed at a nearby affordable housing complex, and a larger community garden was implemented in 2015. In addition, the partnership championed a new ordinance that promoted community gardens by allowing them in most locations throughout the City and waiving associated fees. Rancho Cucamonga City Council unanimously adopted the ordinance, establishing a sustainable local policy that will facilitate all aspects of community gardens now and in the years to come.



Passage of the farmers’ market ordinance led to the development of two new farmer’s markets in the city, as well as a mobile market, Mobile Fresh, which is operated by a local nonprofit organization. This has helped increase residents’ access to healthy and locally-grown produce. Cucamonga farmers’ markets have seen an overall increase of sales and a greater number of southwest Cucamonga customers than in previous years. The partnership is now undertaking an extensive evaluation of the farmer’s market ordinance through resident focus groups, interactive customer surveys, and interviews with market managers and farmers—continuing the essential practice of community engagement.

Youth leaders and the Campeones para la Comunidad group have led healthy policy change efforts by connecting learning to action. The Campeones para la Comunidad residents used advocacy strategies like community assessments and focus groups in Spanish to secure a $389,194 Safe Routes to School grant award and the adoption of the city’s farmers’ markets and community garden ordinances. The Healthy RC Youth Leaders assisted in the development of the policy language and recommendations; conducted a park assessment project utilizing Photovoice and GIS skills and technology; and made assessments to monitor compliance with a healthy vending policy.

The community leadership programs have also continued to grow. For example, the Healthy RC Youth Leaders program completed its first major recruitment push in 2015 and was overwhelmed with 300 applicants. Ultimately, 14 spots were offered, and the program continues to balance demand with capacity.

“We see resident-lead ownership all the time. Really, they’re the first ones out, whether it’s an event or an activity. But they’re also the ones really helping to drive some of the change that we’re seeing. The Community Champions and youth leaders are still extremely involved and at the table for all important policy decisions.”
—Michael Parmer

This multi-level engagement and partnership continued during the development of The Road Map for a Healthy Future in Rancho Cucamonga. Hundreds of community members dedicated thousands of hours to establish the priorities and strategic directions that informed this document. Adopted by a unanimous vote of City Council in March 2014, it will serve as Healthy RC’s strategic plan with specific roles for city and community members to fill through the implementation and sustainability of the plan.



The community engagement work and impacts from policy changes have led to a broader shift around a culture of health in Rancho Cucamonga at two different scales.

Internally, the city staff have changed the way they operate. They now approach large-scale policies in teams, with multiple departments collaborating to address health and wellness. Mike Parmer explained, “When this first started, we looked at health from a healthy eating and active living lens, but [now] our definition of health has broadened to the larger public health lens.” That collaborative shift is apparent in the city’s long-range policy documents, like the general plan and circulation master plan, where health is woven throughout. Rancho Cucamonga is now in the process of working with an evaluation team to measure the culture change that has occurred.

Other departments are also starting to take notice of how the community has been engaged within those processes, and how services, policies, and systems have been enhanced by making Healthy RC more community-led.

“Now we’re seeing departments not just looking to the City Manager’s office for guidance, but starting to build their own capacity to address public health.”
—Michael Parmer

Externally, the culture around health in the community has shifted, with residents considering how systems interact to produce health outcomes. For example, when city staff and the Healthy RC Steering Committee members and partners began developing the Healthy RC strategic plan in 2013, there was an intensive engagement process with the community. In a city of 180,000, one in five Rancho Cucamonga residents were reached. In addition to healthy eating and active living, which were still top priorities, residents identified seven other areas of focus that incorporated broader, social determinants of health:

  • Education and family support
  • Economic development
  • A clean environment
  • Disaster resiliency
  • Healthy aging
  • Mental health
  • And Community safety, which included housing, violence-free neighborhoods and an increased community awareness about a culture of health.

The business community has also supported Healthy RC, even attending the partnership’s steering committee meetings. In one case, a developer with a longstanding relationship with city staff included the Healthy RC logo on the second slide in a presentation, and framed the rest of the presentation around Healthy RC’s principles and values.

“If a developer has an understanding of health and wellness—that it really matters to the community—and they’re incorporating it into their designs and conceptions for future development, then I feel like we’re making an impact. And a significant one at that.”
—Michael Parmer


*Throughout this story, references may be made to Active Living By Design. In April 2018, the organization adopted its new name, Healthy Places by Design.

If you’d like to learn more about how Healthy RC implemented principles within Healthy Places by Design’s Community Action Model, please contact Michael Parmer  at  or Joanne Lee at

June 2016