At the end of Monday’s Santa Ana City Council meeting Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez posed pointed questions about suspicions of an effort to force Latino businesses off Fourth Street, which for decades has been a hub of Latino business and culture in the downtown area.
Among Alvarez’s questions: Who decided to take down Fiesta Marketplace signs? What happened to kiosks and their Latino merchants? Is there a skate park being run on the street every Sunday?
Nearly all the questions involve an area of Fourth Street owned mostly by Irving Chase and his family. The Chases recently renamed their area Santa Ana’s East End. For years it has been called Fiesta Marketplace.
“I definitely see a pattern, and it begs the question: Is there a deliberate attempt to get rid of Latino businesses?” Alvarez said after the meeting.
Later in the week, Chase and his son, Ryan, provided answers.
The Chases said at least some of the blame falls squarely on the city. They said city crews took down Fiesta Marketplace signs because of street work. The city also tore down the kiosks and cleared out a handful of their Latino merchants because the kiosks were dilapidated, the Chases said.
Alvarez also asked city staff to investigate whether a skate park was being run Sundays on an empty lot where the kiosks once stood. Alvarez said the skating — “or whatever it is people do with boards on wheels,” as she put it — was “too much of a coincidence” given that Ryan Chase had wanted to put a skate park there.
The Chases acknowledged that they were in discussions with the city to put in a skate park. They said the discussions only began after they heard the city was going to tear down the kiosks. Mayor Miguel Pulido, the Police Department, and Cindy Nelson, executive director of the Community Development Agency, all backed the plan, Irving Chase said.
“I told Cindy at the time, ‘If that [lot] becomes available, we’d be interested in developing it.’ And then the skate park discussions began,” he said.
But he insisted that the Sunday skateboarding has nothing to do with him. “Her business about it being too much of a coincidence is absolute rubbish,” he said.
Records of these discussions are unlikely to exist. Irving Chase said his relationship with the city has always been based on handshake agreements.
This informal deal making was possible because city staff had a rough idea of whether the City Council would back their plans, he said. “That’s the kind of relationship I had with them. They said something, they did it. I said something, I did it.”
However, after charges of gentrification were made, the political atmosphere started to turn sour, and city staff became less confident in making agreements, Irving Chase said. “It was as if one day you could trust what staff was saying, then the next day they were scared and couldn’t commit to anything.”