Turner: A Good Strategy for Downtown Inc. Isn’t Necessarily a Good Strategy for Santa Ana

Just because something is good for business doesn’t mean it’s good for the city.

On February 13, Downtown Inc.’s Ryan Smolar put forth their vision for Santa Ana in 2017. Downtown Inc. reflects on their successes in marketing and promoting Santa Ana as a destination for tourists, entrepreneurs, and investors, and sets out goals for stimulating the business climate in the city. It’s a business plan, but it’s presented as a collaborative civic vision for Santa Ana.

Some of this is understandable. A business group like Downtown Inc. is not a community group. They’re going to have different goals, a different vision, different metrics for success.

But while we respect that Downtown Inc’s vision is naturally business-focused, we can’t respect their claims that they want to address issues like homelessness or poverty in Santa Ana, or that they want to create a downtown with economic opportunity for all. Downtown Inc. has outlined a strategy in which new businesses and developers, tourists, and high-income transplants can thrive in Santa Ana. This strategy fails to address the needs of Santa Ana’s residents. And according to the same resources that Smolar cites in support, it is extremely likely to exacerbate homelessness and poverty in the city.

A key goal for Downtown Inc. is to “lead the development of a creative economy.” Smolar mentions urban scholars Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida as inspirations for Downtown Inc.’s community vision, and vaguely mentions “the latest books on ‘Smart Urbanism’” as guides. Yet research is very clear that Florida’s strategy of encouraging creative class economic clusters is economically beneficial primarily to the creative and professional class itself, and detrimental to blue-collar and service sector workers, who make up the majority of Santa Ana residents.

Ten years after he published his seminal work, Richard Florida himself criticized the outcomes of creative class economic clustering, finding that benefits of higher wages from creative classes accrue mostly to knowledge, professional, and creative workers, while less-skilled workers’ moderate wage gains are eaten away by more expensive housing costs. “There is a rising tide of sorts,” Florida wrote, “but it only lifts about the most advantaged third of the workforce, leaving the other 66 much further behind.” He goes on to term the effects of creative economies “not just a vicious cycle but an unsustainable one – economically, politically, and morally.”

Building a creative class economy is likely a good business strategy for most who are involved in Downtown Inc. But it isn’t a good strategy for Santa Ana residents, who have struggled with the aforementioned rising housing costs, displacement, and low incomes that Florida observes. Downtown Inc. is either being disingenuous when they promote this strategy as growing economic opportunity for everyone, or they are not fully informed on the economic development theories that they’re promoting.

We at OCCORD are dedicated to making Santa Ana a city that is economically, politically, and socially inclusive of all Santa Ana residents. We work with community members, with other nonprofits, with city officials, and with Santa Ana’s businesses.

So we pose these questions: to ourselves, to our partners and allies, to other Santa Ana stakeholders:

  • How do we create an economic future that will benefit Santa Ana residents?
  • How can we combine support for creativity, innovation, and culture in Santa Ana with a strategy that promotes equity and inclusion?
  • How can we promote culture and creativity without tokenizing Santa Ana’s Latino community and culture?
  • How can leadership and strategy development be inclusive and participatory? How can each of us collaborate better with one another?
  • How do we make our economic development sustainable?

We can’t fault Downtown Inc. for viewing Santa Ana as a “prosperity engine.” It’s a business collaborative, and their goal is to generate revenue and turn a profit. But we do fault them for promoting their business-oriented goals as community-oriented. We encourage them to continue trying to evolve their strategy into one that is truly collaborative, truly equitable, and truly sustainable for Santa Ana. And we encourage all of Santa Ana’s leaders – leaders in our local government, business leaders, community leaders – to attempt the same.

Clara Turner, Researcher – OCCORD

For a different view on this issue, consider: 

Smolar: Downtown Santa Ana Business District Reviews 2016, Looks forward to 2017


Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

  • Bob Stevens

    So the residents and activist groups of Santa Ana don’t want non residents coming in to their city and changing things to the detriment of their city… Maybe they should build a wall around their city…. The irony here is just delicious.

    • subnuckle

      I’m just seeing this now, 12 days later. sorry for the late response. You probably won’t ever see it.
      But anyway, the point was not that the builders are non-residents, I have no issue with that in itself. I think it would be totally unrealistic to expect only SA residents to build in SA. The problem is what they want to do- the “detriment” you acknowledge. It’s just kind of like salt in the wounds that they won’t be around to interact in the area they affect. Hypothetically, if the firm consisted of all SA residents and want to build the same thing, I would feel the same way about their plan. I think it’s a bad idea. I hope that is more clear. Sorry the irony that you thought was delicious does not apply. Have some ice cream.

  • subnuckle

    In a neighborhood meeting last night, we saw a presentation by a firm that plans to put in a “mixed use” area in the empty lot by the zoo, formerly occupied by the Saddleback Inn (including where the Elk’s building is, and they are going to move to another location). Apparently “mixed use” means a tiny green area they call a park, a couple shops and 600 rental units with a high likelihood that they will buy their way out of the 15% affordable housing requirement, which they hinted at. they don’t live here, they are from San Diego. that’s who.

  • David Zenger

    Well done.

    The “experts” are always clinging to the latest planning fad and of course the top down solutions always include stuff like arts tourism and other chi chi concepts that are patronizing, boneheaded, or just goofy; and that will never even pay for the public money sunk into the latest effort.

    Redevelopment may be mostly dead, but the mindset is alive and well.

    • Bill

      Enjoyed your post D Zenger Laguna Beach City Council has hired outside planning & development firm MIG to ruin their downtown village charm. City Council & Chamber of Commerce plan to develop the city into an amusement park to encourage more tourism, in an already saturated beach community. City Council developed a steering committee of individuals with strong business & tourism ties to design tacky kitch signage that they claim is to serve “resident needs”. The locals find this proclamation to be an insult to their intelligence. A City Map APP is best solution to mapping cities, not sign pollution in a charming seaside community. Signs are archaic.

      • David Zenger

        Yep. The Formula. The “resident’s needs” are being defined by the bureaucrats and politicians without enough sense to say no.

        The problem with signage isn’t that it bad or even outdated. It’s that what should be a basic utilitarian thing has been turned into an aesthetic choice, and much larger, I suppose, due to the ADA.

        Monument signs (or as the “experts” call them – “way finders” are almost guaranteed to be an embarrassment to the next generation.

        BTW, I don’t see how anybody is going to squeeze more people into LB on a summer’s day.

        What happened to Toni Iseman.? She seemed to have some common sense.

        • Bill

          Sadly, not only did Iseman vote to approve $65,000.00 consultant fees to develop the wayfinding signs, Iseman served on the Steering Committee to develop the ill fated design and plan to benefit tourist over resident needs & push the agenda from business, commerce & tourism over the needs of the community. Majority of residents are not being well served by the current CC & City Manager.

  • LFOldTimer

    “Downtown Inc. has outlined a strategy in which new businesses and developers, tourists, and high-income transplants can thrive in Santa Ana.”

    Do you mind if I ask a really stupid question?

    What businesses or high income transplants would want to move to Santa Ana after the City Council declared it to be a sanctuary city and a protective harbor for illegal foreigners in a city that already has a God-awful crime rate (both violent and property crimes)? Would you move there?

    Is that an appropriate social policy in a city with high-density and high-poverty levels that are already prevalent?

    Who would want to start a business, buy property or live in a city that endorses crime?

    Fair question.

    • David Resendez

      Ignore this one trick pony’s his get off my lawn approach to all issues. He’s smarter than everyone.

      Downtown Inc. could care less about what happens to 98% of Santa Ana residents. They want Latinos out of downtown. They want an island unto themselves.

      • 0_0

        Can you blame them?

      • LFOldTimer

        Look, when designing a city you can’t mix two polar opposite concepts and expect them to successfully coexist.

        Choose one or the other.

        You either need to clean the entire city up – that means establishing a semblance of order sort of like Rudy Giuliani did with NYC – then proceed to create a high-end downtown sector with Class A entertainment, 4 star hotels and restaurants, respectable public transportation, gentrified living arrangements to promote an atmosphere that would attract professional upper-middle class residents who want to be in the middle of the action (like living in little Manhattan). This would be a place where tourist would want to visit.

        Or you need to market the city toward the lower middle-class with Latino honky tonks, drinking establishments, tattoo parlors, street vendors, comedy clubs, smoke shops, weed dispensaries, etc.. – and design the city to be the TJ north of the border. I’m sure it would attract tourists – just a different class of tourists than you would find with Option #1.

        It should be up to the residents who live there. Who do you want to attract into your city? The people should decide.

        I’m just saying that the SA city council is sending out conflicting messages. You can’t effectively endorse harboring a criminal population which would increase crime and population density while promoting Option #1. They’re incompatible.

        Just being honest.

        • David Resendez

          Yes those could be the only two options because you say so. You sound like an ignorant old man: now get off my lawn.

          • LFOldTimer

            You should run for Council. You’d fit right in.

          • David Resendez

            I have a job & self-esteem and so I have no interest in running. But, by all means, you should continue with your self-righteous and ill-conceived posts because your brilliance must be shared often.