After a pandemic, a streetcar construction project and a debate about what kind of shops are welcome in downtown Santa Ana, City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to dissolve the business improvement system that taxes and promotes the area’s merchants.
A protest against Downtown, Inc., an economic interest group in control of the area – and the system it runs, known as the Downtown Business Improvement District – has politically mobilized La Cuatro’s remaining Latino vestiges to a degree not seen in years.
The argument has been that Downtown, Inc. overlooks smaller Latino businesses in its promotional materials compared to the nightlife and high-end restaurant scene.
“Last year, construction and financial hardship brought us all together,” said Ginette Sanchez, one Latino merchant in the area and one of two speakers on Tuesday night who supported dissolving the business district.
“That was our eye-opening time to realize not only the Business Improvement District has not worked for us, but all those years we were paying to be neglected, ignored, abused and cheated.”
It’s an assertion that Downtown, Inc. representatives have denied at previous meetings, pointing to publicly-available information about stakeholder meetings, while some of their supporters in the area’s business community promised to streamline the organizations’ operating structure.
Though no one from Downtown Inc., or their supporters, spoke against the district’s disestablishment on Tuesday.
The vote was unanimous, with little to no discussion amongst City Council members, who last mulled over the issue in December.
A second and final procedural vote is expected at the council’s next regular meeting on Feb. 7.
The story goes back at least a decade, when a wave of small business owners first protested a tax on them collected by Downtown Inc., the downtown economic interest group which in turn was tasked with promoting the area.
Critics, however, saw a relationship between the group and the area’s changing demographics, and argued the tax primarily benefited downtown’s nightlife scene while the Latino footprint faded.
The opposition prompted city officials to hit the reset button in 2013, slashing the tax rates and splitting the proceeds with a newly-created group called the Santa Ana Business Council, run as an arm of Downtown Inc., which would do more Latino shop promotions.
More than 10 years later, however, things came full circle.
“Tonight we are here to ensure that you bury the (district),” Sanchez said in public comments on Tuesday. “And stay vigilant to ensure this abuse will never come back.”