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: 

David Hernandez, 30, a business owner in downtown Santa Ana, tapes a large banner before the protest begins on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Javier (left) is the owner of Capilla la Rosas, a chapel in downtown Santa Ana where many get married or file their taxes. In the recent tax season, Javier saw a decline in customers, “There were 300 less customers.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Maribel Gomez, a hairstylist and salon owner, who recently was hospitalized for going into cardiac arrest after coming from a merchant meeting into her business. “I have proof of being in the hospital, and so do my colleagues who are having panic attacks,” says Gomez, “Never in my life have I asked the government for help, but this is the only time. OCTA please understand we are not just asking for handouts, we are suffering because of the construction.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Merchants march to the OCTA offices in Santa Ana and protest outside the building while some sign up for public comment during the board meeting on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Veronica Alvarez (left) and Valentin Martinez (right) listen to Congressman Lou Correa during his remarks in support of the merchants. Martinez first worked at Alvarez’ shop and then opened one of his own. Alvarez wore a dress that was not sold due to loss of clientele. “I am now surviving on my savings, and it is running out,” said Alvarez. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Merchants march to the offices of OCTA in Santa Ana and protest outside the building while some sign up for public comment during the board meeting on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
“Pay now! Get Creative OCTA!” yelled protestors outside the Orange County Transportation Authority building on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Business owners met outside Mainplace Mall and marched to the Orange County Transportation Authority board meeting in Santa Ana on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
“Most importantly, you all vote and pay taxes and are part of this economy and we ask for the respect we have earned, no one gives us anything,” said Congressman Lou Correa during his remarks on July 26, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
For months downtown Santa Ana business owners have held meetings and protests demanding help from the local government and OCTA. Many business owners are on the verge of closing their doors. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
As the outside demonstration comes to an end, protestors walk into the board meeting for public comment. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

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