Smolar: Downtown Inc. is About Community Collaboration

A recent opinion piece by Clara Turner, OCCORD Researcher, raised questions about Downtown Santa Ana’s 2016-17 annual review entitled “A Year of Partnerships,” which Downtown, Inc. drafted in partnership with the Santa Ana Business Council (SABC). Turner argues that Downtown, Inc.’s strategy described in the review isn’t necessarily good for the community. We respect Turner’s concerns, and we wish to continue this dialogue.

About Downtown, Inc.

First, we should remind readers who we are and what we do. Downtown, Inc. and Santa Ana Business Council (SABC) are 501(c)6 non-profit agencies managing Santa Ana’s downtown Business Improvement District (or “BID”). A BID is similar to a cooperative: Each business within the BID contributes funds, and businesses decide, by Board vote, on the BID’s direction. Downtown, Inc. and SABC work together to serve hundreds of businesses located within the BID boundary of downtown Santa Ana.

Downtown, Inc. and SABC are responsible for picking up trash and dumped items, washing sidewalks, and reporting graffiti. Downtown is the city’s #1 reporter of graffiti because our crews walk through downtown every day. We also produce events such as Artwalk and, more recently, the Santa Ana Street Breakfast, Savor Santa Ana, the Santa Ana Media Summit, Boca de Oro Art & Literature Festival, Arts Roundtables, and many other projects and events, made possible by our partnerships with an ever-widening circle of community groups.

Our annual report was prepared to inform the City, our local downtown businesses, and the community about our work. It is an open invitation to collaborate. Our top priorities this year include: Accountability with the City; leadership in the local creative economy (something that Santa Ana Unified School District is our lead partner on); increased communication; and shared culture to work closely with the community.

Downtown’s Potential for Community Benefit

Turner suggests that Downtown, Inc. and the wider community seem to exist at natural odds, as if downtown is, by its nature, incapable of serving the needs of the community. On this, we disagree. We are a nonprofit that serves businesses of and for the Santa Ana community. Many of our businesses are run by Santa Ana residents, employ Santa Ana residents, and cater to Santa Ana residents. Many downtown property owners and businesses have been in Santa Ana for 50, 80, or 100 years. Our BID subcontractors live in Santa Ana, and many grew up here. Downtown’s new internship program recruits Santa Ana youth employed through the Public Library’s Seeds to Trees Youth Workforce program.

In recent years, Downtown, Inc. and SABC have cultivated a strategy of collaboration. Collaboration multiplies our service impact and value, without costing our businesses an extra dime.

We titled our annual report “A Year of Partnerships” because we believe that a behavior and culture of collaboration is downtown’s best strategy.

Downtown, Inc. is uniquely privileged to invite both businesses and community to remarkable collaboration. Together, a BID and a community group can create bold ideas, launch new projects, and apply for grants to serve mutual benefit for the community as well as small businesses.

It is not so strange to envision downtown Santa Ana and community leaders like Clara Turner and OCCORD can have common ground. For example, OCCORD’s goals include “Good quality jobs with benefits; job training to maximize the local workforce; affordable, accessible housing for working families; healthy, livable neighborhoods; and quality, affordable child care for all.” Considering these aims, a BID could explore a partnership with OCCORD to launch great training programs with downtown businesses. A BID could support innovative childcare programs for downtown business employees and owners because they are parents too, paying the same high costs for childcare. More than anything, questions like these – and the creative answers they spark – depend on collaboration.

A Case Study: Homelessness

Turner raises concerns regarding Downtown, Inc.’s interest in homelessness and other issues. We welcome this dialogue.

Homelessness is acutely felt downtown. Many of our businesses are the first faces that the homeless meet each day. Local shopkeepers and hostesses often act as first responders to the needs of our homeless community. Social services simply don’t exist at the scope required to effectively serve our local businesses.

Downtown Inc. and SABC have become leaders in addressing a sensible approach to homelessness. Both groups are active participants in Project Homelessness which has fought for decriminalization, housing first, SNAP EBT, and successfully supported the Courtyard Homeless Services Center. SABC Consultant Madeleine Spencer is a long-time leader of the group Project Homelessness and has collaborated with the ACLU and Anaheim Poverty Task Force to push for sensible local and statewide policies. I am personally a member of the Homelessness Task Force of Anaheim’s Los Amigos to address issues linking the I-57 riverbed and downtown Santa Ana. Through Los Amigos, I was fortunate to have helped a member of OCCORD by connecting with shelter and a lawyer to help with immigration status issues in the face of immediate eviction.

Beyond helping with immediate relief, Downtown, Inc. is actively involved in making sure housing becomes available for the homeless and very-low income. We are monitoring the new 77-unit Orchard project coming online, and the downtown Restaurant Association recently voted to ask the County to build more housing for the homeless. We also recently connected Santa Ana College to the Courtyard to start teaching Life and Employability skills onsite. We believe that a path to end homelessness requires collaboration.

A Case Study: Creative Economic Development

Turner opposes creative economic development strategy, and bases her argument on research about Richard Florida, a well-known urban theorist. To understand Downtown, Inc.’s unique approach, a little background information is required here: Santa Ana Unified School District won local control of its funding a few years ago and launched a robust community outreach process that engaged over 5,000 residents in 26 community meetings. SAUSD found that parents and families throughout the district prioritize art in our schools. A creative economy in Santa Ana that grows and attracts talent is a shared desire of the wider community. Downtown collaborates with SAUSD to help make this happen.

We believe we should use our privilege to create pipelines for the community to use downtown as an economic ladder. A successful creative workforce and an arts-focused business district are mutually beneficial. I am the Co-Chair of the City of Santa Ana/Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Collaborative’s Education Committee, which is working with 20+ educational partners to provide education/workforce programming for the most at-risk youth in Santa Ana. Santa Ana College, Santa Ana Unified and I are co-producing the first-ever “Santa Ana College Promise Breakfast” at Santa Ana High School this month to tell thousands of families that they can attend their first year of SAC for free, regardless of immigration status.

Our Vision: Collaboration

BIDs are a bridge between local economic mobility and local community culture. In recent years, Downtown, Inc. and SABC have learned the power of collaboration to bridge these gaps. Santa Ana could benefit from more BIDs across the community, so that more areas of Santa Ana can experience these collaborations. Downtown Santa Ana is the city’s sole BID. Long Beach, by comparison, has seven.

We point to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in his final book, Where We Go From Here: “One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are unusually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

And perhaps there is agreement in this Jane Jacobs quote. It is etched on my wallet. It reads: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

We hope this summary helps clarify Downtown, Inc.’s strategy, and we welcome further dialogue. We invite collaborations, ideas and questions at info@downtown-inc.com.

Ryan Smolar is a Lead Consultant for the Business Improvement District.

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Turner: A Good Strategy for Downtown Inc. Isn’t Necessarily a Good Strategy for Santa Ana

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

  • David Zenger

    “Downtown, Inc. and SABC are responsible for picking up trash and dumped items, washing sidewalks, and reporting graffiti.”

    Good for you. The rest of the essay is eyewash. Higher taxes (a BID) is the last thing downtown Santa Ana needs.

    Jane Jacobs prescribed authenticity of place, not phony bureaucratic gentrification schemes.

    P.S. please leave M.L. King out of you next opinion piece. It didn’t help.