Santa Ana’s downtown gentrification battle is officially a national story.

The New York Times’ Jennifer Medina wrote this Sunday piece on the resistance to an ongoing transformation of the city’s downtown core.

As Voice of OC readers are well aware, longtime merchants have complained that larger property owners are planning to push Latinos out of the area in favor of a new clientele that is more willing to open their wallets. Other property owners and merchants say they simply want the downtown to become a successful destination for everyone, regardless of race.

From Medina’s story:

The owners, who were mostly white, were determined to make it more welcoming to English-speaking clients and bring in customers from more affluent parts of Orange County. What they really wanted to do, opponents said, was scrub away any suggestion that it is an immigrant hub, in a city that is 85 percent Latino. Fiesta Marketplace changed its name to “East End,” and the pink buildings that might evoke a Mexican plaza were repainted in muted hues. A few stores put up signs proclaiming, “Stop ethnic cleansing.”

Supporters of the changes say any charge of racism ignores the fact that nearly all of the new businesses that have opened in the last two years are owned and operated by Latinos.

But what is largely left unsaid is that those shop owners and their customers are second- and third-generation Latinos, often far less interested in buying the “goods from back home” that attract more recent arrivals. This generation has more money to spend and is more like the well-heeled shoppers one would find throughout Southern California.

“I don’t want to go someplace else to buy my suits,” said Carlos Bustamante, a city councilman and Santa Ana native, the son of Mexican immigrants. “There should be options for everybody here. The city is not changing ethnically; it’s changing socioeconomically.”

On one corner of Fourth Street, a restaurant that served Mexican seafood for decades is being replaced with a high-end hamburger joint. Farther down, a longtime jeweler closed its doors this year. But a T-shirt and tattoo supply shop a block away says business has never been better, as high school students stop in daily.

“All of them are children of immigrants,” said Danielle Barragan, the owner of the store. “Their parents might not want to spend the money, but they will give it to their children, and they will come spend it here.”

But business has dried up for the dozens of quinceañera shop owners like Ms. Madriles. Her husband, Adolfo Lopez, was one of just two immigrants on the board of the Downtown Property Business Improvement District, the group promoting the area. But he was forced to resign when the couple did not pay the taxes required by the group.

Ms. Madriles echoes much of the anger of the older merchants downtown: “What are we paying for? They don’t do anything for us. They only care about nightlife and bringing in the wealthy, but those people aren’t going to help my business.”


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