Two Downtown Inc. Board Members Resign Over Gentrification Issue

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Monday, August 1, 2011 | Two board members of Santa Ana’s downtown promotional organization have left the board of directors, citing lack of promotions for the mostly Latino Fourth Street merchants.

Raul Yanez and Adolfo Lopez, the only two Mexican immigrants who were on the Downtown Inc. board, say that for the past two years the rest of the board ignored their requests for promotional activities that would cater to a Latino clientele.

“If I’m treated like a kid and told to be quiet, I say see you later,” Lopez said.

The departures are the latest news to rock Downtown Inc., which has been faced with accusations from some Latino merchants that its aim is to gentrify the downtown and force Latino businesses out of the area. Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez at a recent council meeting called for a detailed audit of Downtown Inc.’s finances.

Yanez officially sent his resignation letter to the organization last week after losing his temper and storming out of a recent Downtown Inc. board meeting. Lopez said he simply stopped showing up to board meetings two months ago.

Yanez says he felt betrayed by the board because he had been asking for an expansion of the monthly downtown art walk, an evening event that draws large crowds mostly to the restaurant and bar scene on Broadway. He wanted events to include the part of Fourth Street between Broadway and Sycamore, which includes properties he owns. Yanez said there was always support expressed for the idea but he’d been told there wasn’t enough money for the expansion.

Yanez said his frustration overflowed when he saw board members considering an expansion of the art walk into Fourth Street’s East End, formerly known as Fiesta Marketplace. Most of East End is owned by Irving Chase and his son Ryan Chase, and both sit on the board’s executive committee.

“That did it to me. I felt like I was cheated. I felt offended. I felt like I was being ignored,” Yanez said.

Lopez said he left the board because it was becoming increasingly clear that the organization’s vision was not to promote the existing businesses but to change downtown into an area that appealed to a different demographic.

“Every board meeting was a fight,” Lopez said. “It really didn’t make any sense. I had a different understanding of what Downtown Inc. is for.”

Downtown Inc. Executive Director Vicky Baxter insisted that Yanez’s request to have the art walk run to Sycamore was simply too expensive to accommodate. The Chases are spending $75,000 of their own to have the art walk include East End, Baxter said.

East End has a newly renovated promenade adjacent to the Yost Theater, but the westerly part of Fourth Street doesn’t have the facilities to handle what Yanez was asking for, Baxter said.

“What he [Yanez] wants to do is going to require a lot of work with the city,” including shutting down part of Fourth Street, Baxter said.

Funding for Downtown Inc. is uncertain. The organization’s board of directors has proposed shrinking the special property tax district that funds Downtown Inc., a response to resistance from nearly 60 property owners who signed a petition demanding an end to the special tax.

Baxter said that in light of uncertain funding, the organization couldn’t take on any additional expenses.

“Everything’s sort of on hold right now, so it just didn’t happen fast enough for Raul,” Baxter said.

Baxter said Lopez left the board not because of a disagreement about the role of Downtown Inc. but because he was behind on his property tax payments, which are tied to the special assessment that funds the organization.

If a board member isn’t paying the assessment fee, Baxter said, then he is ousted from the board.

“The board had no choice after all payment plans were ignored,” Baxter said.

Lopez dismissed Baxter’s contention that he was ousted from the board for not paying his property tax bill. “I could have paid, but I didn’t want to pay because I didn’t like the way it was going,” Lopez said.

Baxter said that the organization has tried daytime promotional activities but has had little success in stimulating sales for the merchants.

She said one daytime promotional series, Fiestas Calle Cuatro, cost Downtown Inc. $26,000. The outdoor music concerts held last summer did little to help the merchants’ sales, Baxter said.

“Everything we do goes through a review, and it has to show dollars,” Baxter said.

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