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While Santa Ana officials say they will fight the Census Bureau’s count that dropped the city from 9th to eleventh on the list of California’s largest cities, merchants on the mostly Latino Fourth Street say the drop should come as no surprise to the city.

They point to several blocks around E 6th street near the downtown core where house after house is boarded up. For years, the city has been buying the homes from residents in preparation for new construction projects in the so-called Renaissance Plan that have yet to materialize.

The group of merchants, which has been fighting a downtown assessment tax, complained in a January letter to the city that lots cleared by the city in the area, known as the Station District, are hurting their businesses.

City officials acknowledge that the Station District plans have forced residents to leave that immediate neighborhood, but would not speculate as to whether it contributed to the smaller Census count.

“Yeah, there’s housing there that was cleared,” City Manager Dave Ream said. “I think we’ll just have to take a hard look at where the decreases occurred and make sure there was a full count.”

A response letter to the merchants from former Community Development Agency department head Cindy Nelson dismissed such concerns, saying that the Station District “resulted in the displacement of less than 200 adults in the past 10 years.”

An Orange County Register story this week speculates that the foreclosure crisis has caused Santa Ana’s population drop. A spike in the number of empty homes in Santa Ana is one reason 2010 Census figures showed Santa Ana dropping more than 13,000 residents over the last 10 years, the Register reported.

The Census figures were a surprise, according to the Register, because the state had estimated the 2010 population to be 356,307. The latest census figures show a population total of 324,528.

From the story:

Why the discrepancy? One big difference is the number of vacant homes. The census found more than twice the number estimated by the Department of Finance.

The census counted 76,896 housing units in Santa Ana and determined that 3,722 of them were vacant.
The Department of Finance estimated 75,943 units with just 1,615 vacant, as of Jan. 1, 2010.

Among cities in Orange County, Santa Ana had among the highest concentrations of mortgage defaults in 2009, which could explain why the census found so many vacant homes in 2010.

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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