Irvine Park circa 1957. Parks have been a far bigger part of the development of South Orange County than in the north. (Photo credit: Orange County Archives)

Amidst a hard string of shootings this year in Santa Ana, local politicians are sure to line up soon with the usual recipe for calming city streets during hard times.

Hire more cops.

It’s an easy option for any politician, especially during a crime wave, and one that’s sure to garner votes as well as support from the city police union.

Yet council members should challenge themselves to think in broader terms.

What about pocket parks, community gardens and small farms?

Might they impact the city’s crime rate as much as additional officers?

Consider that the City of Santa Ana is sitting on nearly 100 properties throughout the city that they don’t use at all.

It’s the perfect opportunity launch a major parks and open space initiative.

Offering local communities a way to get outside may actually be the best way to take back local streets.

Imagine tons of community gardens, fueling not only local diets but also potentially countless numbers of farmers markets and eateries throughout the city.

More local parks would inevitably offer kids more options than gangs.

Greening up the city has been a major need, and spoken about by politicians for years.

Now, city officials tell me they are already moving on transferring several of what they call “remnant” properties into local parks.

It looks like one other remnant parcel also has already been sold at market rates.

There are also plans to soon hire a commercial broker to start advising the city on what to do with the properties. City staff said they should be bringing forward a contract to council members soon.

All that activity is raising alarm bells in activist circles because there’s a real sense of worry that council members will get overly focused on commercial options for land without focusing on community development (past is often prologue).

Now city officials are sensitive to insinuations they aren’t being transparent.

They say they’re just getting started looking at the properties and are putting together a “Dream Team” of sorts – including community development, planning and public works officials – to figure out how best to approach the properties.

“Right now, we’re in the beginning processes of identifying who our team is, what that looks like and moving forward, we’ll go back to council to determine what they’d like us to do,” said Fred Mousavipour, Executive Director of Santa Ana’s Public Works Agency.

Under the State’s Surplus Property Act, the city is supposed to follow very strict guidelines on how to sell “surplus” property. Part of the act puts a priority on things like open space and affordable housing, allowing for sales at below-market prices.

Yet the city has already sold a few properties.

“We do not have a surplus property list,” said Jorge Garcia, senior management assistance in the city managers office.

“We don’t have one. That doesn’t exist. What we have is a list of sellable properties.

Sellable doesn’t mean we’re going to sell them.

That just means we don’t currently have a plan for them.”

While Mousavipour and Garcia both said that city staff does recognize the opportunities for open space in the new properties, they argue there are limitations on what can be done from a zoning perspective as well as the Santa Ana Specific Plan.

Mousavipour also noted that many of the properties along Bristol that were purchased for transit-related purposes have to be resold at market rates.

He noted, “We’re still very much in the beginning phases, the fact finding process.”

“The whole process is going to be transparent, especially when it comes to sale of properties,” Mousavipour said.

“Whatever recommendations we have will have to go council, so it won’t be behind closed doors.

There will be ample opportunities for people to provide input,” he said.

Yet there’s already a commercial broker contract going to council soon and when I asked what kind of public outreach has been conducted on any of these properties, Mousavipour’s answer made me understand why activists are so worried.

“Not Yet.”

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