A Santa Ana City Council committee this week gave an early OK to a proposed downtown economic district focused on businesses that sell wellness and Latino cultural goods.

The Finance, Economic Development and Technology Committee directed city staff to work with activists on a 19-point resolution to implement the district. The resolution is largely in response to a study by urban development researcher Jeb Brugmann, which found the city hasn’t done 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.

Downtown Santa Ana in recent years has been mired in a gentrification battle pitting traditional Latino merchants against a downtown business establishment that is increasingly focused on appealing to urban millennials. Among the downtown’s news businesses in recent years have been restaurants, brew pubs and a farmers’ market.

When Burgmann presented his findings to a group of activists and business owners, he said the gentrification wars have generated headlines that leave people confused about Santa Ana’s identity.

In Brugmann’s view, the city should embrace its cultural heritage and engage in a concerted effort with other groups to brand and market the downtown as a Latino hub. But he also says that such a district should easily co-exist with the new wave of businesses.

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, a member of the committee, said Monday’s meeting was just the beginning of a long overdue conversation about how the city should be marketed.

“We’ve been grappling with this issue, branding and identity crisis for a very long time,” Martinez said. “We’re “getting closer to defining who Santa Ana is and who it wants to be.”

Here are some highlights from the resolution presented at Monday’s committee meeting:

  • The establishment of an “inclusive” economic development plan driven by the needs of the city’s underserved residents, businesses, workers, youth and families.
  • Perform a “health and wellness outcomes assessment” that sets a baseline of conditions for businesses and residents in the area that can be used to monitor the success of the district.
  • Incentives for businesses who offer wellness goods and services.
  • Adopt the “Calle Cuatro Marketplace” name for the downtown.
  • Promote at least eight downtown events, such as the Noche de Altares, Festival de Quinceneras and Dia del Nino.
  • Urban and architectural design forums that require buildings and streetscapes to meet “culturally relevant aesthetic standards also reflecting the city’s heritage and cultural identity.”
  • Designate the parking lot on 3rd between Spurgeon and Bush for “community-organized programming that encourages access to affordable, culturally relevant wellness goods, services and overall experience.”
  • Transfer vacant sites for the development of five micro-farms and under the management of a new Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities-Community Development Corporation.
  • Allocate seats on the city’s economic development task force to small businesses.
  • Ana Urzua, campaign coordinator with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, said the adoption of the wellness district is a “win-win situation for everybody” because it keeps growing the local economy while promoting the health of its community.

    But while the committee gave the resolution an early go-ahead, there could still be some resistance at City Hall. City Manager David Cavazos reportedly said he had “18” issues with the 19-point resolution.

    Cavazos couldn’t be reached for comment.

    But Martinez said that most of the resolution already aligns with the city’s strategic plan, with the exception of one or two items. A new version of the resolution is expected to come before the full council for consideration at a council meeting in March.

    “The city is starting to feel more comfortable about acknowledging its Latino identity,” Urzua said. “We think that’s a good thing.”

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

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