What to Do With Santa Ana’s Sudden Surplus?

Santa Ana City Hall. (Photo credit: LiberalOC)

It’s a situation that would have been unheard of just a few years ago — the city of Santa Ana with millions in extra cash.

In 2011 and 2012, city leaders disbanded the century-old fire department and made a host of other cuts to stave off bankruptcy and close a $30-million budget hole.

Fast-forward to this year, and the city has more than $13 million in extra cash at its disposal thanks to an $11-million budget surplus and $2 million from selling property on Bristol St.

Now, residents, community activists, city staff and council members have the pleasant challenge of figuring out what to do with this cash infusion.

Two major proposals have emerged.

One, from City Manager David Cavazos, focuses on a host of requests from city departments – including new vehicles, repairs to tennis courts, a general plan update, police body cameras, IT upgrades, pension stability, and a skate park.

In addition to the $13.35 million in extra money, Cavazos says he also wants to use $3.8 million from the city’s “very healthy reserve” to improve the city’s train station, which the finance director says would bring in an extra $450,000 per year in rental income to the city.

(Click here to read the city manager’s proposal)

Meanwhile, a broad coalition of community groups, organized by the Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities collaborative, brought forward their own proposal at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

It divides up $8 million of the surplus, focusing on partnering on community projects.

Among the 17 recommendations: property for a community-run micro farm; grants for community centers that provide health, wellness, arts and culture programming; bike infrastructure improvements; a youth diversion program; a violence intervention worker; and enhancements to the city’s proposed storage facility for homeless peoples’ belongings.

(Click here to read the Building Healthy Communities proposal.)

Altogether, 17 people addressed council members Tuesday in support of various aspects of the advocates’ plan.

Abraham Medina, the director of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color, emphasized the importance of the violence intervention, diversion and community conferencing proposals.

Violence intervention workers would be trained at local universities and respond to crises in the community, he said, with a goal of reducing future violence.

Ricarda Diaz, standing next to her two school-aged children, said working on a community gardening project has taught her family about healthier eating, while spending time together planting fruits and vegetables.

She asked that the council dedicate part of the surplus to setting aside a half-acre of land for a micro farm that’s run by local families.

Georgina Maldonado, executive director of the Community Health Initiative of Orange County, said that through the proposal, her group would be able to build on the roughly 1,000 uninsured people they’ve enrolled into health care plans over the last year.

“It is imperative we continue to do this work in Santa Ana,” Maldonado said, urging the council to support the Building Healthy Communities plan.

Vattana Peong of The Cambodian Family Center noted that Santa Ana is home to the largest Cambodian-American population in Orange County, with many community members struggling with traumas from Cambodia’s genocide in the 1970s. The proposal calls for providing “very important” mental health services to this population, he added.

Rosalina Vargas, who helped create the Green Heart Family Park and Community Center, noted that the center has been used for community forums with police and family-oriented programs.

She supported the advocates’ proposal that some of the surplus funds be used to support the center and places like it.

Several speakers also voiced support for the expanded homeless services, which would improve storage and sanitation services at the check-in center, and keep it open at times that are convenient for homeless people.

The center’s opening has been “delayed for months” and is “long overdue,” said advocate Dylan Thompson, echoing other speakers’ remarks.

The only council member who reacted Tuesday to the advocates was Michele Martinez, who expressed optimism that several of their requests will become a reality.

Martinez thanked the collaborative for advocating for public health and place-making, adding that she thinks many of the things they mentioned “really can happen.” At the same time, she emphasized that if the funds are used to start projects that require on-going costs, it will impact future city budgets.

“We only have one-time dollars here,” Martinez said.

Council members are scheduled to make their final decision about the money on Oct. 6. Approval requires a two-thirds vote from the council.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • OC Leadership Sucks!

    Perhaps Santa Ana should fund their Animal Control Services instead of telling their employees they are all going to be out of a job soon as they negotiate with the County of Orange. You know, the same County that is in the cross hairs of the Grand Jury for poor animal care, animal control services and leadership…?

    • CitizensForAnimalShelterOC

      I totally agree. After the OC Grand Jury issued the most scathing report just this year about the 74 year old animal shelter , Santa Ana’s response to the Grand Jury was: “The City of Santa Ana is committed to be part of Orange County Animal Care and does not intend to pursue any other animal care opportunities or joining with other city. The city of Santa Ana believes it is critical for the county to provide a viable plan with cost and schedule estimates for a new facility so that further review and planning can commence.” For 20 years the county (Board of Supervisors) have been stating they will build a new shelter in Tustin where the Marine Air Corp Station once occupied. To date, the county still does not have a date when the land will be available on which to build a new shelter. The current county shelter was originally built to serve a population of 200,000. The population of Santa Ana alone is now approximately 334,909. The current shelter is over burdened and underfunded, thanks to the Board of Supervisors and now contracts to serve 2 million people.. The city of Santa Ana is second to the City of Anaheim on the number of animals impounded at the shelter and euthanized. SANTA ANA NEEDS TO BE PRO ACTIVE ON THIS ISSUE.

      Pope Francis has told the world to take better care of God’s Creation. The Dalai Lama, who recently visited Orange County, calls for compassion for animals. The animal shelter has become the poster child for Orange County. Is it also a reflection of our morals???

  • jcbl

    100% of this money should be used to pay down Santa Ana’s unfunded pension liability. Of course the Council can’t be relied upon to do that….if they could there would likely be no unfunded liability in the first place.

    So, if some of the money must be spent at least do not spend it to fund programs that will result in on going liabilities for the city.

  • David Zenger

    “At the same time, she emphasized that if the funds are used to start
    projects that require on-going costs, it will impact future city

    Okay. How about a huge party!

  • astar2b

    Pension stability?

    • Thomas Anthony Gordon

      It’s not really a “surplus” when you owe hundreds of millions of dollars to the State Pension Fund (CALpers)
      Santa Ana owes 37 million this year alone on top of the hundreds of millions in outstanding pension debt

  • David Zenger

    Oh brother. Like drunken sailors on the town. A skate park?

    Here’s a thought, SA: put it in your reserve fund.