Opening Night for Political Theater at Santa Ana City Council

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The Santa Ana City Council gathered this week at the Heritage Museum of Orange County to hold its meeting under the soft glow of the early evening sun, surrounded by Victorian-era homes and flower gardens.

It was against this backdrop that the curtain seemed to officially rise on the Santa Ana City Council’s season of political theater.

The players assumed their roles when the subject turned to the park-poor city’s addition of 22 acres of open space. Some members of the council majority — which is seeking to oust longtime Mayor Miguel Pulido — credited one another and residents for the achievement.

“You have policy makers up here that are listening to the community,” Councilwoman Michele Martinez said after a nine-minute announcement video that revealed the city will be increasing the ratio of open space from 0.9 acres per 1,000 residents to nearly 1.5 acres.

Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez subsequently revoked that credit.

“All of it came from a vision of councils from way back when,” Alvarez said, including a “green-light from the mayor.”

Such not-so-subtle jabs show that a contest has begun for control of the mayor’s seat, occupied by Pulido since 1994. Alvarez is Pulido’s only ally left on a council that has turned against him in recent weeks.

Tinajero has called the consolidated opposition to Pulido the “Santa Ana Spring,” a reference to the Middle East uprisings that have toppled longtime dictators in Arab countries.

Not much council business was conducted at the meeting, as the agenda was light. The council majority instead took the opportunity to showcase its campaign themes, including increased transparency at City Hall.

A majority of residents attending the meeting held up sunflower-decorated pens to show their support of a sunshine ordinance intended to achieve such a goal. The ordinance would, among other things, require that the city publish public officials’ calendar appointments, a lobbyist registry and public meetings before development projects come before the City Council.

Some members of a community coalition pushing for the ordinance have been growing anxious that the ordinance might not be approved as city staffers take longer than anticipated to review it.

Councilman David Benavides, the council-majority backed mayoral candidate, said the city had already increased transparency by listing upcoming meeting agenda items on the current meeting agenda. Among the issues listed is the sunshine ordinance.

“We are committed. It’s here. It’s in writing,” Benavides said.

Pulido also pitched a transparency idea, saying that city officials should consider ways to better notify residents that private contractors instead of city employees will be issuing parking citations beginning Sept. 4 for cars parked on street sweeping routes.

“The more ways we can communicate, the better,” Pulido said.

Martinez and Tinajero said that Benavides would be announcing a proposal to fund maintenance of the city’s expanding parkland. Benavides proposed that revenue from cell tower leases that now goes to the general fund be earmarked specifically for park upkeep. About 15 cell towers near city parks could generate $400,000, Benavides said.

Pulido quietly departed before the meeting had ended. And although the mayor frequently departs early, Tinajero said that Pulido left because he has lost clout.

“The fact that the mayor left early shows that the he knows he can’t get things done,” Tinajero said.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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