More than half of the registered voters in Anaheim are in favor of officially recognizing a part of the city as the Little Arabia district with signs but elected officials won’t bring the matter up for discussion at a public meeting.
Fifty-eight percent of voters support or strongly support signage identifying the area as Little Arabia and 75% of voters who have visited the area back an official recognition.
Sixty-six percent of Democrats are in favor of a city acknowledgment and 51% of Republican voters support it too.
Sixteen percent of those surveyed overall are against making the area an official cultural site while a third of voters are neither for or against it, according to a new poll conducted by the Arab American Civic Council and the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego.
Click to view the poll results.
“The results of the poll clearly show that there’s widespread support for this,” said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council. “It’s important for our (city) council members to implement what the people want.”
Despite the area for years having been known as and called Little Arabia by business owners and those who frequent the district, including being referenced by some city officials as such, a moniker officially designating it has been lacking.
Meanwhile, cities such as Garden Grove and Westminster long ago moved to designate cultural hubs in those towns. Several Los Angeles area cities have also long done the same.
“I think that it’s important to acknowledge the communities that inhabit our city as we have a Little Saigon business district; we have one of the highest populations of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam,” Garden Grove Councilwoman Kim Nguyen said.
Arab Americans and immigrants started to set up shop on Brookhurst Street in the 1980s and 1990s, transforming the area between Interstate 5 and Katella Avenue — a once seedy and a run-down part of town — into a cultural hub without any city subsidies.
Now business owners, community members and voters want the economic and cultural contributions as well as the efforts of those businesses recognized by the city with signs identifying the area as Little Arabia.
Rida Hamida, chairperson of Anaheim’s Cultural and Heritage Commission as well as founder of Latino & Muslim Unity, a local nonprofit, said a freeway sign would cost $5,000. Caltrans estimates that installing the sign would cost $1,500.
Hamida said it’s not just businesses in the area but service organizations like Access California Services that help diverse communities not just Arab American and have been especially active during the pandemic. She also said that while many are not residents they spend much of their time in Anaheim.
“The Arab American community has been serving everyone since they walked the streets and opened their doors in Anaheim and they are part of the economic development and the social support that the community needs,” Hamida said.
Anaheim’s cultural & heritage commission voted 4-0 last November to recommend that the City Council formally recognize the area as a business district.
The council has resisted officially identifying the area as Little Arabia for over a decade now.
Councilman Jose Moreno asked such a recognition be agendized at the Jan. 12 council meeting but his request failed to receive support from the remaining council members who did not comment.
Councilmen Jordan Brandman and Stephen Faessel during their political campaigns in 2016 said they supported having signs officially identifying Little Arabia. Brandman, whose district encompasses the area, and Faessel continue to remain silent on the issue, not returning several requests for comment from the Voice of OC.
In a statement sent to the Voice of OC, Mayor Harry Sidhu acknowledged the efforts of the business owners who revitalized that part of Anaheim but said the city needs “to take a broader, more inclusive view when it comes to formal designations.”
“We also need to ensure that all feel welcome. The area home to Little Arabia includes a range of people and backgrounds, with Hispanics making up half of the area’s population. There’s also a mix of businesses along Brookhurst Street and some may not see themselves as part of Little Arabia,” Sidhu’s statement reads.
Al-Dabbagh of the Arab American Civic Council said an official recognition is not meant to make the area strictly for a single community.
“Everyone will benefit from it, not just Arab-owned businesses because it’ll drive more commerce to the area as a whole,” Al-Dabbagh said.“Trying to make it sound like something that will make some people feel unwelcome is just completely not true.”
The Civic Council has been mobilizing the community and petitioning city officials to formally recognize the area after relaunching the campaign in November. Members of the Civic Council visited businesses in the area handing out masks and passing around the petition for owners to sign. As of Monday, the petition had over 1,000 signatures.
Meanwhile, the city is looking at and trying to manage a $114 million budget deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Some believe an official recognition of the district would help Anaheim’s economic recovery by bringing more commerce to town.
For some people, the council’s resistance is a stark contrast to how larger business interests in the city are treated.
Arte Moreno, who owns the Angels, saw more than half the cost of Angel stadium shaved off of the original $325 million price tag to subsidize affordable homes and a park when the city sold the venue to him last year.
Some small businesses in Little Arabia hit hard by the pandemic have received money from coronavirus relief business grants and loans through the city.
Hamida said businesses have been creative in adapting to the pandemic despite financial difficulties. They have also been donating food and raising thousands of dollars to support the nonprofit Latino & Muslim Unity to help feed families and relieve financial burdens during the pandemic.
“Arab Americans are so generous and they’re so civic oriented and they are involved in the community,” she said. “They deserve to be honored and they deserve to be celebrated but they also deserve this recognition to sustain their businesses and to sustain these organizations that have worked so hard to serve the community.”
In 2019, former Republican state senator Ling Ling Chang introduced a resolution calling for official acknowledgment of Anaheim’s Little Arabia District with signage on Interstate 5 but the resolution has not gone anywhere.
Chang’s resolution would have first required the city or the county to deem the area a cultural site.
Hamida said she is working with state Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat, on a new proposal based on the Anaheim cultural and heritage commission’s recommendation and if passed by the California Legislature, a sign could go up.
“It is the right thing to do to support the Arab-American businesses because they support everyone in the community regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Hamida said. “The Arab American community isn’t going anywhere. They’re here to stay in Anaheim regardless of the support of the council.”
Some Southern California Cultural Districts
Cultural districts have been recognized all over Los Angeles and in Orange County – most recently in Garden Grove in 2019 when the city voted to rename the Korean business district to Orange County’s Koreatown and approved a sign change paid for by the Korean American Chamber of Commerce.
Below is a list of some of the cultural hubs in Los Angeles and Orange County:
Orange County’s Koreatown
Located on Garden Grove Boulevard between Beach Boulevard and Brookhurst Street in Garden Grove
Located in Westminster and Garden Grove along Bolsa Avenue and Brookhurst street.
Located at Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue in Los Angeles.
Located in Central Los Angeles between Hollywood Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard and the 101 Freeway.
Located on Fairfax Avenue between Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive in Los Angeles
Located in East Hollywood encompassing the area between Normandie and Western avenues along Hollywood Boulevard.
Located around 3rd Street and Alexandria Avenue in Central Los Angeles.
Located in downtown Los Angeles.
Located in downtown Los Angeles bordered by San Pedro Street, First Street, Requena Street and Central Avenue.
Located in Los Angeles bordered by Glendale Boulevard, Beverly Boulevard, Hoover Street and the 101 Freeway.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @[email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.