Two neighborhoods on different ends of Santa Ana — Santa Anita and Park Santiago — saw its residents this year organize to fight the prospect of large-scale projects near their homes.
Editor’s Note: This story is second in a two-part look at housing approvals in Anaheim and Santa Ana. Click here to read the first story.
But city officials didn’t listen to both areas’ residents the same way, say those living in Santa Anita on the west end, which city data shows is a lower-income and predominantly Latino neighborhood.
“The City Council has been dismissive when they speak to lower-income constituents. But when they’re dealing with higher-income areas, they take residents more seriously. It’s the flipside,” said Marlha Sanchez, a single mother of two kids living in Santa Anita.
Residents in Santa Anita for a year have organized to fight the prospect of a large scale development on the nearby, 100-acre Willowick Golf Course that they fear could price them out of their homes and push them out of the area. The golf course is legally owned by the City of Garden Grove, but discussions on the land have usually been held in joint meetings between both councils.
Around 78% of the Santa Anita neighborhood’s households makes under $75,000 on average per year, according to data on the city’s website, which also shows Latinos make up 84% of the area.
The Garden Grove and Santa Ana city councils in January opened the golf course for sale and opted to take discussions on the land behind closed doors, with little discussion about its impacts to the surrounding neighborhood.
On the other side of the city, residents of Park Santiago have for two years fought an apartment complex at 2525 N. Main St., proposed by developer Ryan Ogulnick, on a 6-acre land parcel close to their single-family homes over its size, density and potential traffic and parking issues.
Residents in that area — which data on the city website shows is 63% white with 48% of households making over $100,000 a year — frequently organized in large crowds and community meetings this year to oppose Ogulnick’s 256-apartment project.
The City Council ultimately approved Ogulnick’s project against Park Santiago residents’ objections Nov. 19. But earlier this year residents won a temporary pause on a final Council decision after council members — citing concerns over the vocal public opposition — sent the project back to the Planning Commission in February for revisions.
Some council members like Mayor Miguel Pulido took a public stance against the project and echoed residents at the Nov. 19 meeting: “It’s a good project but in the wrong place.”
But Pulido was among the “Yes” votes — during the city’s January joint meeting with Garden Grove — to open the Willowick Golf Course for sale, and led calls to create ad hoc committees for each city where under the Ralph M. Brown Act public meetings law they wouldn’t have to meet in public or post an agenda.
Pulido didn’t respond to phone requests for comment.
While council members Jose Solorio and Ceci Iglesias voted to approve the project in Park Santiago, Iglesias earlier this year visited homeowners in the neighborhood to ask them how they felt about the project and Solorio — who represents Park Santiago in his district — issued a statement from his newsletter explaining why he voted “Yes” on it.
The council members’ contrasting attitudes on the Willowick Golf Course and the 2525 N. Main St. project is a specific example of “issues of development falling more harshly on communities of color,” said public land use advocate Flor Barajas-Tena.
While she also opposes the 2525 N. Main St. apartments and supports Park Santiago’s opposition to it, Barajas-Tena said “communities of higher-income are given more time to think about the issues surrounding a specific development near their neighborhood and be more engaged.”
Barajas-Tena is leading a lawsuit against Garden Grove and Santa Ana over the golf course and is also a Park Santiago resident.
Councilman Juan Villegas — also a “No” vote on Ogulnick’s project but a “Yes” vote on Willowick — over the phone said “We as a Council value everyone and all the residents equally,” and rejected any notion the Council listens to one neighborhood more than another.
“As evidence, we have helped improve Santa Anita, which was recently recognized as one of the nation’s most improved neighborhoods,” he added, referring to an award the neighborhood homeowners association received in May from a national neighborhood organization nonprofit.
Villegas said he’ll only vote for a project on the Willowick Golf Course “that has a strong community benefit.”
“I would not vote for anything that’s going to negatively affect our neighborhoods,” he said.
Park Santiago resident Dale Helvig said he was skeptical that either neighborhood was treated differently.
“I think the city, in approving both the sale of the golf course and the project in Park Santiago, has proved that it doesn’t matter where you live,” Helvig said. “I think we can honestly say now that they didn’t listen to any of us.”
Councilman Vicente Sarmiento before his “Yes” vote on the 2525 N. Main St. project said Park Santiago residents who were mobilized to vocally oppose it need to apply that mentality to projects citywide – not just the ones in their neighborhood.
He referred specifically to the Willowick Golf Course.
“We’re going to have a 100-acre site that we’re going to be dealing with once Garden Grove sells it off and it becomes our issue,” he said. “Are we going to have the same arguments that we make tonight to say, ‘We don’t want residential neighborhoods impacted in what is already an existing residential neighborhood in Santa Anita?”
He continued: “Are we going to be as concerned with that as we are tonight? Are you going to stay up until 11:00 to midnight, and come to speak? I hope we will.”
Sarmiento voted “Yes” on selling the Willowick Golf Course in January.
“I think that Sarmiento as an elected official should first assign himself the responsibility of how he is governing,” Barajas-Tena said. “Sarmiento, if he’s going to call people out, has to apply the principle. He voted to sell the golf course and also voted to make discussions on the project secret.”
Santa Anita resident Byron Lopez said he “100%” agreed that while both neighborhoods were ignored in the end, Park Santiago residents were given more consideration.
He attributes that to the fact that council members have long been elected by voters citywide, and that it “makes sense politically” for them not to care about the districts they’re supposed to represent.
Lopez said he believes that will change once the city’s switch to district elections takes effect next year.
“Next year the City Council won’t be able to campaign in just the richest parts of Santa Ana,” he said. “They’ll have to go and talk to people like me.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.