A Metrolink train station, a parking structure, a walkable downtown that would make Old Town Placentia a lively destination to visit – that is what city officials promised merchants in the area back at a meeting in 2016.
Six years later and there still is no train station or parking structure.
Instead Santa Fe Avenue – a main downtown street – has been converted into a one way street with white concrete barriers after being closed completely for outdoor dining.
“I honestly didn’t foresee us building a flood control channel down in Santa Fe street,” said Councilman Jeremy Yamaguchi during a study session on the street at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The discussion comes after residents in Old Town’s Clementine community, along with some business owners, have raised safety concerns as well as concerns on parking spots being eaten up by the current setup of Santa Fe Avenue.
Other business owners want to continue with outdoor dining and look forward to what the city’s plans are for Old Town Placentia.
Santa Fe Avenue, like various downtown streets across Orange County, closed in 2020 in effort to allow restaurants struggling through the state-mandated COVID closures to serve customers outdoors.
About a year later, the city reopened Santa Fe Avenue, but in a one way direction using white barriers on the side of the street in an effort to compromise and appease galvanized residents against the closure as well as business owners in favor of outdoor dining.
Mayor Rhonda Shader said at Tuesday’s meeting that after speaking with business owners, she still feels like the current setup is a good compromise between two competing interests.
“It’s a long term temporary solution because much, much more is planned for our Old Town,” Shader said, adding it’s “consistent with the plan that we had developed as a council in 2017 for that area being one way. This would be kind of preparation for that.”
Back in 2016, the city presented to merchants in the area a plan to revitalize Old Town including an option of making Santa Fe a one way street headed west, however, those plans still included street parking as well as a bike lane.
Geno Apicella, a 14-year Clementine resident, said in a text message Monday that it has been 6 years since the designs were shared and not one improvement has been started.
“They tried to tell us that they were going to make this like Yorba Linda. They were going to beautify the street and make it just a place to go to and the whole nine yards, they were going to have that parking structure,” he said in a July phone interview..
The plans were centered around the creation of a Metrolink Station and parking structure in the area that was supposed to start construction in 2018.
But those plans have been delayed, because the proposed station and part of the structure are being built on BNSF property – who are still negotiating a shared use agreement with OCTA and Metrolink.
“BNSF has advised all parties that they will not allow the Placentia station and parking structure project to move forward until a new Shared Use Agreement has been finalized,” Shader said in an email last week.
Meanwhile, there aren’t any businesses offering outdoor dining currently.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Shader said she has confirmed with all but one restaurant owner that they will utilize the space but are waiting for the city to roll out its outdoor dining requirements.
“On May 17, 2022 the City Council gave direction to staff to develop a program and staff is working on finalizing the construction details and standards for outdoor dining in Old Town for the current configuration. This is still a work in progress as we roll out how the program will work going forward,” she said in a Friday email.
At the same time, residents say they see people making illegal U-turns, running stop signs and going the wrong way while they have to go through back alleys now to get home.
“It really has not helped us at all as a community to have it one way. It didn’t make it a more vibrant area. There are no tables out there for anybody to sit at,” said Kevin McGann, a Clementine resident.
“It’s having to make us go down different alleys.”
McGann also disputed Shader’s assertion in a previous Voice of OC story that she met with the Clementine Homeowner Association.
But Shader said she has met with the board over zoom and been in email communications with residents, heard their public comments and that city staff has met with residents.
Residents are not the only ones with concerns.
El Cantarito restaurant owner Francisco Miranda said in a Friday interview that the current setup in Old Town has slashed 30% of his business because people don’t have a place to park.
He too has spoken out at council meetings.
“All our regulars are saying, hey, we need somewhere to park,” Miranda said at the Sept. 6 council meeting. “It’s just been a struggle for us.”
Others are looking forward to the revitalization plans being implemented, saying outdoor dining drove up foot traffic.
Rosalina Davis, one of the owners of El Tlaquepaque restaurant, wrote in a letter in favor of outdoor dining that was read at Tuesday’s meeting.
“The best thing that ever happened to his sleepy Santa Fe Avenue was the complete closure of the street during the pandemic with outdoor dining. It brought in so many new guests, customers and foot traffic that we have never had before,” she wrote.
“Many of us businesses and customers choose to move forward to a revitalized Old Town and not go backwards to a dead street that was very uninviting.”
A survey conducted by the city this year found that 88% of the little over 300 respondents were in favor closing down Santa Fe Avenue permanently. Placentia has a population of roughly 51,300 people.
Councilman Chad Wanke said at Tuesday’s meeting that only 11 of the respondents actually lived in Old Town.
“My concern is that our decisions are being made to benefit people who are going to the neighborhood or may have a business there, but not the residents that live there,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s right to impose for everybody else’s convenience on the people that actually live in the neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, the proposed street plans for Old Town Placentia are contingent on an enhanced infrastructure financing district funding through a partnership with the county.
The city expects it’ll take two years to complete the street improvements – with the current setup lasting another year before construction.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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