Santana: Could Adding More Green Lower Santa Ana’s Crime Rate?

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.”

  • SantaAnaIsBroke

    There are a myriad of reasons why Santa Ana is broken. And it is much more complex than blaming the poor people as the Detroit and Chicago commentator wants to do. But the issue is not black and white and it certainly is not a partisan problem because that is just easy lazy thinking. But America these days, easy lazy thinking is all the rage.

    You start with the politicians of course in Santa Ana. They churn through employees at City Hall so there is never any expertise to deal with something like 100 properties. Then inevitably the Council Members get involved and want to benefit their friends or benefactors. Remember last year when Sarmiento tried to steer $5 million dollars + to his developer friend? After they fired an objecting city housing manager, the City had to regroup due to bad publicity and issued an RFP (which FedTech had previously approved) and eventually by the end of 2015 that money was allocated to a different developer (MetaHousing) for a downtown development. A full year wasted and City morale impacted due to an ethically challenged councilmember. Multiple that story by dozens of other like minded political interruptions (Pulido scandals, Police scandals, City Manager tapping an employee etc.) and you see why neighborhoods deteriorate in Santa Ana and the homeless increase.

    Then move over to the inequality of opportunity and the barriers society throw up in front of economically challenged households. Unequal quality of schools, unequal access to quality healthcare, lack of day care, high cost of housing, lack of open space, issues with police, poor transportation choices to work/school and a myriad of other little things institutionalized to keep the poor down and it is no wonder so many people do not make it or turn to illegal means to make money.

    Finally, there are bad seeds, or people become bad seeds. Is that the “truth” that the “commentator” below wants exposed? Oh brother, yes, there are terrible parents, they or their kids are gang members or criminals and those parents and children wreak havoc on those neighborhoods. Are you happy now? Why was that so hard for you to say in your message? If you acknowledge one truth – the bad apples of the community – without acknowledging the other truth regarding unequal opportunity to succeed for the majority, then guess what? You are not telling the truth. Reading actual books or analyzing actual data or knowing some history beyond what Fox News spoon feeds you might help out one’s critical thinking. But again,lazy thinking is all the rage on both sides

    Lack of open space certainly is one issue but it is not the only issue affecting the majority “good” families of Santa Ana. But it can be part of a holistic approach to remove some of the barriers these families face. Unfortunately the Democrats occupying the City Council are too corrupt or incompetent to do anything, and frankly if it was Republicans in charge well the wouldn’t care. Told you this was a non-partisan problem.

    (As an aside, for every Detroit and Chicago example, I bring you failed conservative states like Kansas, Louisiana and most of the South. Oh, and Detroit’s comeback is real:

    Chicago BTW is still one of America’s greatest cities in spite of the impact of guns. Furthermore just because Chicago implemented stricter gun laws does not mean the rest of Illinois or neighboring state Indiana did which is where it was found a majority of guns in Chicago came from. Which of course is a nuance certain types of people miss (non critical thinking conservatives come to mind) unless of course unknown to the rest of us Chicago implemented force fields at the City Limits 😉 You do realize Chicago is not a City-Nation state right?

    And is Chicago the murder capital of the US or gun death capital? Given that so many jurisdictions do not track shooting deaths, frankly nobody knows.)

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    Green is good. Dirty, tired kids are good kids. You do not give parks. You incorporate the community into the park, community garden, urban farm and urban forest development and implementation.

    Words of former HUD secretary Kemp after visiting places like Detroit and Chicago:

    When cities do not do right for and by their communities, they will stress, depress, repress and opress them with a police state.

    Broken windows theory is so 90’s out, passé. Community relationship building is in and more vital than ever. What better way is there, besides sports, than to beautify our neighborhoods by planting, preserving, protecting our natural environment and empowering the community at the same time? But “those things do not generate revenue”. And more cops does?!

    Nature bats first, and last.

    Crime is strictly man made.

    • LFOldTimer

      They tried your experiment in both Detroit and Chicago.

      Both failed.

      Sort of like making Chicago a gun-free zone – it only resulted in Chicago becoming the gun murder capital of the United States.

      Things don’t always go as planned. Especially when government is the planner.

      • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

        I don’t know about Chicago other than it seems to really suck, but Detroit is becoming an inside out farmscape. So much so that a German company has invested in a lot of acreage for a huge organic farm. How many folks left since Kemp went there in the early 90’s? Not too many from the looks at all those empty homes and lots. And was having that much police to end with a community of nothing worth it? Probably not, other than to those new entrepreneurs who are now making the city green with farms. Interesting apocalyptic turn of events. And crime in those areas is way down! No neighborhoods, no crime, no cops needed.

        • LFOldTimer

          Detroit was never meant to be a farm. It’s supposed to be a thriving metropolis. But then we got NAFTA (as Ross Perot referred to as the ‘giant sucking sound’) and the outsouring of US auto manufacturing jobs to the 3rd world. Detroit can only accomodate so many pizza deliverers and WalMart workers. And when you factor in the enormous amount of violent and property crime in Detroit – no wonder millions of people fled the city. But turning Detroit into organic farmland is not the answer. Sorry.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Yep. About NAFTA. Loud sucking sound is right. But when you have complete neighborhoods gone, and the city has bulldozed homes to avoid vagrancy, growing from the inside to supply the suburbs outside kinda makes sense, for now. In Detroit’s case greening comes as too little, too late, communities over and out. Base clear.

          • LFOldTimer

            If you want to watch a very interesting documentary on Detroit I suggest you find CNN’s Anthony Bourdain’s (Parts Unknown segment) broadcast on it. It’s probably on-line. He takes you on a guided tour of Detroit and talks with the people there. It really opened my eyes. The desperation is unbelieveable. And it all could have been avoided.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Love that guy! Haven’t seen that one. Thanks for tip, will definitely see it. PS The one on Iran was amazing. And then the Washington Post journalist and his wife were jailed. That was a wow!

  • LFOldTimer

    Crime is not a result of lack of parks. More parks in Santa Ana would just be more places for gangs to congregate and drug users to shoot up.

    Santa Ana’s crime problems go much deeper than parks. But then you enter into politically incorrect territory and become a target for all the liberal hand wringers and beard scratchers.

    Nothing will change in Santa Ana until people start telling the truth. I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, if ever.

  • David Zenger

    More parks? How about more parents who know what their kids are up to and who make sure homework gets done.

    Cue the violins.

    • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

      Yep. That, too.

  • kburgoyne

    Something to mix into your thinking, Norberto…

    A year+ ago I attended a speech/address given by some retired military mucky-muck who was involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. Might have been Patraeus. Who isn’t really important. The very abbreviated version of the story he told:

    The US went in to an Afghan village and built them a school. Then the Taliban came in later and destroyed the school. The villagers didn’t really put up any (verbal) fight about the Taliban destroying the Americans’ school. Then after reevaluated their approach, the US went into an Afghan village and provided the materials the villages could use to build their own school. Then later the Taliban came and the villagers argued the Taliban into NOT destroying “our school”.

    The issue is one of establishing a feeling of ownership. Building a park is great, but the park needs to be used and “owned” by the community. If the city simply builds a park and walks away, the result could easily be a large abandoned green space that eventually gets taken over as a run down gang hangout, or whatever where nobody else wants to go.

    What we’ve lost in our society from when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s is organized park activities. I used to play flag football for free(ish) as a city run activity at our local park. These days you have to be able to afford to pay AYSO, etc, to give your kid some constructive activity. And of course it’s increasingly surrounded by sponsorships of companies trying to get your kid to get you to spend money of this or that product, and booths around the periphery of the fields with people trying to peddle stuff to the kids. An invasion that was entirely absent from my flag football days.

    The city needs to build green spaces, but the city also needs to organize events at the green spaces to get the community to take ownership of the spaces. The event organizing doesn’t have to involve large outlays of tax money. The community is filled with people who are probably interested in finding something constructive to do and could volunteer their time. They just need a leader to provide structure and organize them.

    • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

      Great insight. Thanks for sharing.