After months of speaking up at City Council meetings and advocating to city leaders, Santa Ana activists were ecstatic last June when the council unanimously approved their “wellness resolution,” a policy aimed at preserving the city’s Latino identity and supporting community health.
The resolution included the rebranding of the Fourth Street business corridor as “Calle Cuatro;” helping find a location for a private mercadito for local merchants to sell their goods; fostering community-run micro-farms; and establishing an economic development committee to boost small businesses.
The advocates, led by the Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities coalition, celebrated outside the council chambers after its council approval, gathering in a circle to cheer their victory.
“I think more than anything we’re really proud of this community-driven process that has pulled together Santa Ana’s best,” Ana Urzua, campaign coordinator with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, said that night.
But today, more than a year after its passage, the activists have little to show for their victory. A viable micro-farm location hasn’t been found; the economic development committee hasn’t been formed by the city; and street signs have yet to say “Calle Cuatro.”
The only tangible evidence that the wellness resolution was passed can be found at the corner of Fourth and French streets, where the Plaza Santa Ana was renamed “Plaza Calle Cuatro.”
In interviews, Urzua and the city’s point person on the effort offered explanations for the delays, and said progress is being made despite numerous challenges.
For example, while a micro-farm location hasn’t been found, community members are currently being trained how to farm efficiently and will create a design and business plan for a half-acre site, Urzua said.
“It’s going to take some time to actually implement,” she said of the overall wellness effort.
And on the city’s side, officials say the new “Calle Cuatro” street signs should be in place sometime this fall – and that they stand ready to help community members with the permitting process for a mercadito.
“We’re ready to accept any proposals, and as long they meet the requirements in the city municipal code, we can move forward with those at any time,” said Jorge Garcia, who is heading up the city’s implementation as a senior management assistant to City Manager David Cavazos.
Here’s a rundown of the progress made so far (or lack thereof) on each of the items:
‘Calle Cuatro’ Rebranding
The city is currently getting quotes from companies to fabricate and install the new street signs, which city staff hope will be in place “by the fall,” Garcia said.
Asked why it’s taking so long, Garcia said the city wanted the signs to be installed at same time as their new downtown “way-finding” signs, to save money by not having to hire multiple installation crews.
But if the way-finding project gets delayed, he said, the city will still move forward with the Calle Cuatro signs.
As for re-naming the plaza, that work was completed in December, Garcia said.
The second directive in the resolution was for city staff to “identify potential locations” for a mercadito, with a goal of “creating opportunities for Santa Ana artisans, craft makers, and other neighborhood-serving small businesses to market their products and services.”
Garcia said the city is ready to help community groups get approval for a site, but hasn’t been approached yet.
“We’re waiting on the community to provide us their proposal so we can work with them to identify a location that would be suitable,” he said, adding that the location could be on city or private land.
The application process would be “very similar” to a farmer’s market or the semi-annual “Patchwork” arts and crafts festivals in the city, he said.
Urzua said she and her colleagues have started a pilot program in which they’ve been setting up community markets in community centers, with a goal of fostering the development of what will grow to be a market at permanent location.
The idea is to provide “a monthly space where we’re incubating very, very low income families that have their businesses to make ends meet,” she said.
But, she said, they’ve run into challenges in figuring out the permitting processes for these businesses to be legitimate from a legal standpoint.
The third directive was for city staff to “intensify and analyze” properties for potential micro-farms, “pursue a long-term lease agreement with a non-profit as an incubator to a worker-owned cooperative operated, by and for, low income families,” and to “be supportive of private proposals to develop micro-farms.”
The city has provided community groups with a list of property parcels in the city that are in zoning that allows for farming and are at least half an acre in size, Garcia said.
“We have not heard back on pursuing any of those in any more detail. But we would be more than happy to continue to pursue any options that met their requirements of being at least a half acre and that they would be private proposals,” he said.
The Building Healthy Communities coalition is now holding a 12-week course on agriculture where local residents learn skills for growing the most amount of food on the smallest amount of land, Urzua said.
The process will end with residents designing a half-acre site and creating a business plan, with a goal of having a community-owned and operated micro-farm.
The idea, she said, is for it to provide community members with income while being opportunity for residents to get “quality locally grown food” at a fair and accessible price.
Advocates plan to go back to the City Council with their plan so they can continue to identify sites, Urzua said, adding that Councilman David Benavides has committed to helping find a viable plot of land.
Economic Development Committee
The fourth and final directive required the city to create an “Economic Development Committee” of seven members appointed by council members and Mayor Miguel Pulido.
But nearly 14 months after the resolution was passed, the committee has yet to meet, because three council members and the mayor haven’t yet appointed members, leaving the committee with too few members to legally hold a meeting.
Those who have made appointments are Councilman Vincent Sarmiento, who appointed Claudia Arellanes of the Santa Ana Business Council; Councilwoman Angelica Amezcua, who appointed local attorney Alfredo Amezcua; and Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who appointed Nancy Mejia of Latino Health Access.
Those who haven’t made appointments are Mayor Pulido and councilmen Sal Tinajero, Roman Reyna, and Benavides.
Urzua said the council just hasn’t done its part, despite efforts by advocates to get the committee up and running.
“The committee is something that we went and spoke to all of the council members about and had specific recommendations, and it’s just something they didn’t move on. So we felt like we did our part,” Urzua said.
Council members and the mayor didn’t return messages seeking comment about the wellness resolution and their failure to form the committee.
Urzua said that while some of the delays are understandable, she and other advocates can galvanize community support if they need to get the city to do its job.
“We’ll be following up with the city to [ensure they] make good on their part in supporting these strategies,” Urzua said.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.