Santa Ana Council Approves Wellness Resolution

Santa Ana activists celebrate City Council vote on wellness district. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

Santa Ana activists celebrate City Council vote on wellness district. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

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After months of back-and-forth between activists and Santa Ana officials, the City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a “wellness” resolution aimed at preserving the city’s Latino identity and supporting community health.

The resolution brands Fourth Street as Calle Cuatro, and calls for the establishment of a mercadito, community microfarms and a committee to promote economic development. It represents a scaled-back version of a nearly 20-point resolution activists had originally proposed.

Nonetheless, activists were jubilant about the decision and celebrated their victory outside the council chambers, gathering in a circle to cheer their efforts and listen to testimonials from people who helped lobby for the resolution.

“I think more than anything we’re really proud of this community driven process that has pulled together Santa Ana’s best,” said Ana Urzua, campaign coordinator with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities. “[Council members] did well in taking leadership from the community.”

Activists began lobbying for the resolution after a study by urban researcher Jeb Brugman found the city isn’t doing enough to cash-in on its Latino identity.

According to Brugmann, the largest potential customer base for the city’s downtown businesses are the mostly Latino and working-class Central Santa Ana residents. The study found that these consumers make 32 percent of their “wellness” purchases in the area, a figure that could be boosted to 46 percent with a wellness district.

The study, commissioned by the California Endowment, defines wellness goods as items like groceries, meals, health and personal care products.

The resolution is also seen as a countermeasure to the gentrification wave that has swept downtown Santa Ana and created a rift between working-class Latinos and the more affluent businesses and residents who have moved into the area in recent years.

Critics have said the resolution smacks of reverse racism and would be unwelcoming to non-Latinos.

The unanimous vote to approve the resolution comes just two weeks after council members were sharply split on the issue, with some council members voicing concerns about subsidizing a mercadito, a small marketplace where local merchants and residents could sell their goods.

Councilman Sal Tinajero pointed out that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been invested in opening up the artisan food hall known as Fourth Street Market. He questioned the wisdom of publicly subsidizing potential competition.

A city staff report states there would be no “direct city cost” for supporting the mercadito, only a $2,100 land use certificate permit.

This week, all seven council members supported the resolution.

To implement the Calle Cauatro branding, Fourth street signs would be altered to include the sub-designation “Calle Cuatro,” and Plaza Santa Ana, the public square at the corner of Fourth and French streets, would be changed to Plaza Calle Cautro. The sign changes will cost $9,800, according to a staff report.

Also, soliciting proposals for use of city property as micro-farms is estimated to cost $5,000. The land parcels are to be at least a half-acre.

Mark McLaughlin, speaking on behalf of Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce President David Elliott, questioned whether the council should wait before passing the resolution until city officials finish their work on an economic plan. He also said the city already has an economic task force, and, instead of creating a new committee, new members should be added to the existing body.

At Councilman Vincent Sarmiento’s suggestion, council members opted to form a separate committee consisting of seven members and to exist for 12 months. Sarmiento said he would like the committee to be comprised of representatives from small or micro-businesses, and have it work collaboratively with the existing task force on an economic plan.

Councilman Roman Reyna said he glad to see residents coming together to call for the resolution.

“That’s democracy in action,” Reyna said.

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