Downtown Santa Ana merchants are reckoning with a newfound role they didn’t exactly catch in the small business-owning job description:
Fighting a “Train to Hell” with protests and signs at government meetings.
As they’ve learned over the last few years – as the OC Streetcar project tore up one of downtown’s main commercial drags along downtown’s historic Fourth Street – part of owning a Latino business along Calle Cuatro also means keeping an eye for the streetcar.
More than 20 business owners appeared outside the Orange County Transportation Authority headquarters in Santa Ana on Monday morning, again demanding that OCTA consider financial aid as streetcar construction chokes out customer access to their stores and impacts their sales.
The $509 million project is set to roll out in late 2024, but some merchants say they won’t make it that long, regardless of whatever local grants come their way.
Merchants say it’s time for OCTA to help recover their losses, and made sure county transportation board members, in the middle of a meeting in the building, could hear them from outside.
“OCTA pay now!”
“It isn’t enough,” said Loretta Ruiz, owner of La Vegana Mexicana. “They need to take responsibility for what they are causing, that is the main thing: We are not against the construction or progress. They need to understand that if they are creating damage to us, they need to fix it. And if they are gonna fix it with funding they need to appropriate money so we can survive this.”
Ruiz said she received City of Santa Ana grants, but added it’s not enough to cover a month of rent, and Ruiz is not alone.
“The city has helped us but it’s not enough, they gave me half of the rent. I do not just pay half of rent in my life, I have other things to pay my house bills, rent, insurance,” says Maribel Gomez, owner of Salon Aries.
Gomez was recently hospitalized for a cardiac arrest episode while showing up to work one day.
She attributed her deteriorating health to the stresses of the streetcar and revenue loss.
“I’m tired of going to meetings,” said Gomez,“I was coming to my business after a meeting and felt terrible and then was rushed to the hospital. I am not the only one, young people are getting sick too.”
Anger, frustration and panic are setting in for merchants who have to close their doors during the day – or open late – to attend meetings and protests.
Merchants like Valentin Martinez continue to protest by displaying unsold dresses from his bridal shop against the stark backdrops of what merchants consider bureaucratic steamrolling. Once, he raised a dress inside the dirt construction trench.
On Monday, a woman wore a bridal dress to the OCTA meeting.
“The dress is a manifestation of my anger, and OCTA has not wanted to help, they say they don’t need to help or give any help, so then how dare they destroy my business and the business of friends of Calle Cuatro,” says Martinez, “Why didn’t OCTA ask me? I pay very high taxes for my workers, names, titles and permits. I had five workers. Now I only have one. It is not fair they [OCTA] are very content with doing their business at our footstep when I can’t even do mine.”
Martinez also said he feels “discriminated against,” and the sentiment tracks with others.
“When they do this business in Costa Mesa or other cities they are going to be helped and respected but just because it is Calle Cuatro there is no respect,” said Congressman Lou Correa to a cheering crowd.
On top of asking for OCTA funding, merchants are also asking for OCTA to expedite the construction process.
Here is what their day looked like: