Downtown Wellness District on Santa Ana Council Agenda

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Santa Ana City Council members Tuesday night are scheduled to discuss a proposed downtown “wellness district” that would affirm the area’s Latino character and focus on the mostly working-class residents who live in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Activists with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities have been advocating the district since December, when economist Jeb Bruegmann presented a study funded by the California Endowment that found Central Santa Ana residents to be a largely untapped economic resource in the downtown.

According to Bruegmann’s study, the city could bring in an additional $137 million in spending to the downtown by creating a Latino business corridor that focuses on bringing back customers from residents who, despite living so close to the downtown, have been lost to big-box retailers.

But not all are sold on the idea. Some new residents and businesses have expressed reservations that it could exclude newcomers who have been the primary clientele of the artisan eateries that are popping up around downtown.

And Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos in the past said he had “18” issues with the original 19-point resolution.

The proposal for a wellness district comes amid a years-long battle over gentrification of the downtown core. A slew of new restaurants and shops have opened in recent years and turned it into a hipster haven.

Meanwhile, some longtime Latino merchants and residents feel they are being pushed out, and activists argue that city leaders should focus on people who call Santa Ana’s urban core home.

Their solution is the wellness district, which, if executed correctly, will avoid alienating newcomers while addressing the health needs of Central Santa Ana residents.

Among other things, the district would brand Fourth Street — seen as the frontlines of the gentrification battle with its Latino businesses adjacent to new eateries – as “La Calle Cuatro,” which is the Spanish translation of the English street name.

It would also require the city to lease publicly owned lots to Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities for the operation of community micro-farms, identify property for a Latino mercadito to host local artisans and craft-makers, create a city office of immigration affairs, and implement infrastructure to make the downtown more walkable and bicycle friendly.

There are indications that the once icy relationship between the activists and business interests might be thawing.

The first section of the wellness district resolution calls for fostering a “healthy, vibrant,” and “authentic Latino” downtown character, while “remaining inclusive to commuting, visiting and newly settling populations.”

In the past, the activists have staged protests against newer businesses that sell alcohol. But in Bruegmann’s presentation, he noted that alcohol consumption, particularly at restaurants, is a pillar of North American culture and should accompany even a Latino-focused, wellness district.

And Ryan Smolar, a consultant with Downtown Inc., the business group that typically represents the new downtown bars, restaurants and shops, acknowledged at Bruegmann’s presentation that the majority of the downtown’s purchasing power remained with Central Santa Ana residents.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek