An analysis of Little Arabia – an area along Brookhurst street recognized by Anaheim Officials last year and that’s been home to many Arab American businesses for decades – is now underway.
But what exactly will that mean for the future of Little Arabia and the people who have made it what it is?
Officials say the purpose of the study is to help Arab and Non-Arab businesses along Brookhurst to succeed.
Yet some community members in West Anaheim who have long been on the ground question if a study is necessary to achieve that goal.
Last week, Councilmembers voted unanimously to move forward with a close to $200,000 contract with Dudek, an environmental, planning and engineering firm, to study Little Arabia and the rest of the Brookhurst corridor.
“It’s important to really live up to the promise that we made to the community when the city decided to designate the area as Little Arabia but I also think it’s just as important to not have that be an empty gesture, but to follow it with renewal of the area, with investment in the area,” said Mayor Ashleigh Aitken at last week’s council meeting.
Aitken’s father Wylie chairs Voice of OC’s board.
In August, the previous city council voted to recognize the area between Ball Road and Broadway along Brookhurst Street in West Anaheim as Little Arabia — after decades of advocacy from community members and business owners in the area for recognition.
[Read: “Little Arabia Exists”: Anaheim Officially Recognizes America’s First Arab American District]
Gaurav Srivastava, an urban designer with Dudek, at the March 7 council meeting, said the purpose of the study is to recommend new regulations or a new designation that will facilitate the success of the businesses on Brookhurst.
“Council has already adopted a motion to identify a segment of the corridor as Little Arabia, we will analyze whether that is the appropriate designation (and) whether that is the appropriate geography for that designation,” he said.
In 6 months time, Dudek consultants are expected to return with those final recommendations for the council members.
The consultants could also recommend a branding strategy for the corridor or a local business retention program.
View the contract for the study here.
Amin Nash, a research fellow with the Arab American Civic Council, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he has mixed feelings about the study and that community members have already done this type of research and outreach over the past decades.
“The feeling of many people is ‘Why can’t you believe the Arab community? Why can’t you believe the community there in West Anaheim? Why don’t you listen to them?’” he said.
“We went canvassing for days and days. We have the dates we talked to people, we have the time we talk to people.”
He is confident that the city’s study will only affirm the work they’ve already done.
Initially, the proposed study last year sparked concerns from some Arab American communities members who worried that the study would target immigrant-owned small businesses as real estate opportunities and drive them out of the area.
“There’s also the concern of whether they are seeking to put a price tag on people and push them all out,” Nash said.
He adds no matter the result, the community is there to stay.
During the study, consultants are expected to engage with business owners along Brookhurst, residents in the surrounding area, community groups and other stakeholders like the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce to provide feedback.
Aitken called for nonprofits and faith-based groups in the area to also be engaged in the study.
Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Disney’s political action committee – SOAR in last November’s election, called for Visit Anaheim to be added to the list of stakeholders.
The Little Arabia Study
Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations – Greater Los Angeles, hopes the study will lead to the expansion of Little Arabia’s boundaries to include his organization and the other businesses left out of last year’s designation
He said in a Wednesday phone interview the study would confirm what people already know.
“That there is a growing, thriving Arab American community and designation would highlight and celebrate that presence of that community and also improve the visibility, the commerce and also the quality of life of the people in that region,” Ayloush said.
He is eager to hear from the Arab and Non-Arab community and residents on their ideas for improving the corridor.
“We’d love to see a community center – a place where people can come and learn about Arab American heritage and what it means to be an Arab and a place for maybe elderly people to come and meet with each other,” Ayloush said.
Sami Mashney, founder of the Network of Arab American Professionals Orange County and a lawyer, is in favor of the study and hopes it will lead to the city beautifying the streets and the store fronts.
“And integrate Little Arabia as part and parcel of the tourism profile of Anaheim like with Disney,” he said in a Wednesday interview.
Mashney said when he opened his law office on Brookhurst in 2006, the area was more blighted and that he renovated his office without help from the city.
He adds the Arab American community has traditionally been self reliant.
“We’re not used to relying heavily on public money to maintain our stores but we liked to see more money to beautify the sidewalks and the storefronts,” he said.
Nash, a community member who actively pushed for the designation, said businesses are and want to be part of the fabric of Anaheim and its economic engine and want support in improving their businesses.
Nash adds people want to see changes with the facade of the area and make it more walkable.
He said a study is not necessarily needed to make these changes and that businesses on their own have helped convert the area into a less rundown part of town.
“I hope at the end of the day the people doing the study, and also the City of Anaheim understand how much the Arab community has worked on this,” he said. “We’re probably the only cultural group that has to negotiate for our presence.”
Last year, city council members voted to put out a request for proposals for a contractor to study the Brookhurst corridor at the request of Gloria Ma’ae, the district representative at the time.
Ma’ae spoke out at last week’s meeting and said she was excited to see the study come to fruition. She also said it is “premature” to focus on Little Arabia before completing research on the area.
A resort ally and former city councilwoman, she initially spoke out against the Little Arabia designation on the night she was appointed to her council seat in 2021.
But after a FBI corruption probe rocked city hall last May, Ma’ae publicly said she was talking to Arab American community leaders about recognition and called on her colleagues to hold off on designating the area until she agendized next steps.
Rather than call for the Little Arabia designation, however, she asked for the study while former Councilman Jose Moreno asked the council to consider officially recognizing Little Arabia.
In the end, Ma’ae voted in support of the recognition and narrowly lost her 2022 election bid to Councilman Carlos Leon.
Leon, who represents the district that encompasses Little Arabia and in the past has called for the district’s boundaries to be expanded, said the goal of the study is to revitalize an area that has needed attention for a while.
“It’s an investment that this council will continue to make in West Anaheim that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “This is a great way not only to again create those economic opportunities for the city, but also for those businesses in celebration of Arab culture as well.”
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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