Arlis Reynolds grew up in the Freedom Homes, a tidy tract nestled in Costa Mesa’s Westside.
She attended local schools — Pomona Elementary, Victoria Elementary, TeWinkle Middle and Estancia High — and spent her free time playing with friends in nearby Canyon Park or exploring the neighborhood, which she still believes is “one of the best-kept secrets in Costa Mesa.”
A lot has happened since those days. Reynolds grew up, jetted to the other side of the country for school and to start her career, then returned to the city.
Now she’s settled in the same neighborhood — in fact, she lives next door to her childhood home.
“We joke about having a family compound here now,” she said.
After all the time she’s spent learning and growing in her community, Reynolds now is in a position to play an active role in determining its future. On Tuesday, she officially became the Costa Mesa City Council representative of District 5, which covers the downtown area and roughly half the Westside.
“This has been my home for life,” said Reynolds, 34. “Even though I lived on the East Coast for school, Costa Mesa and District 5 have always been home for me, so it’s neat to now be in a position to both help solve problems and design the future of the city.”
After graduating from Estancia in 2002, Reynolds went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering.
Though she was hitting the books on the other side of the country, Reynolds for a time lived what her friends jokingly called a “bi-coastal lifestyle” as she made regular trips to Costa Mesa.
She began her professional career at an electric and gas utility company and later moved to a consulting firm, the Cadmus Group, which specializes in clean energy and energy-efficiency programs.
Reynolds moved back to Costa Mesa in early 2015 and found it largely familiar to when she was growing up. But that’s not to say there aren’t differences or that all the changes have come with wide community support.
The Westside, she said, has been singled out for “targeted growth” in recent years “by people who don’t live on the Westside … and I’m guessing don’t spend a lot of time on the Westside.”
The 2016 passage of Measures AA and Y — which, respectively, require voter approval of some potential projects in Fairview Park and proposed developments that meet certain criteria — “was really indicative of the broader community’s feeling about the direction of development in Costa Mesa,” Reynolds said.
A proposed development inspired Reynolds’ initial foray into local politics. Shortly after moving back to Costa Mesa, she joined the fight against the Banning Ranch project, which called for building 895 homes, a 75-room hotel, a 20-bed hostel and 45,100 square feet of retail space on land in Newport Beach that abuts the Westside.
The proposal was fiercely controversial, with critics contending it would destroy environmentally sensitive habitat and coastal land that should be preserved as open space and would further clog nearby streets in Costa Mesa with traffic.
The lengthy and ultimately successful campaign against that project taught Reynolds an important lesson: If you care about something, be prepared to roll up your sleeves — especially “when you recognize the value of saving something and can picture the negative impacts of a change.”
Having council members elected by voters in designated areas rather than citywide, she said, “was a specific call for someone on the Westside” to step up.
Reynolds said the prospective voters she met connected with the fact that she had grown up in the neighborhood. It also helped, she said, that she could communicate with native Spanish speakers throughout the district.
During the campaign, Reynolds — who has served on the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission since 2017, most recently as vice chairwoman — said she came across many who felt detached from City Hall “and didn’t believe that their issues would ever be paid attention to.”
“I do feel sort of a personal responsibility to prove them wrong because I did ask for their votes,” she said. “So I want to try to find ways to ... keep our City Council connected with the community and responsive to the community, because that is our job at the end of the day.”
A major component of that, she said, will be working with residents to chart the city’s path, not dictating to them what the future will look like.
Some of the things she feels need to be addressed in her district are everyday issues. For example, she said, some areas aren’t well-lighted at night, some intersections don’t seem safe to walk across, and speeding is common on some streets.
On top of that, she said, the council will have to tackle bigger-picture issues such as local homelessness, reducing crime and implementing forward-thinking development practices, all while being fiscally conscious.
It’s a weighty list, but she’s looking forward to the challenge.