I remember the first time I visited downtown Santa Ana. It was 2004, and although I grew up in Orange, a neighboring city in Orange County, I had never visited the downtown cultural corridor of Santa Ana— La Cuatro as it is often referred to among long-time residents.
I remember the hustle and bustle of the vendors and a beautiful carousel at the center of Fiesta Marketplace with children running around. I can’t remember what exactly brought me there that Saturday, but I do remember staring wide-eyed at this beautiful place and enjoying the families walking and shopping in the area. This was not your typical mall, that I was so accustomed to growing up in the OC. La Cuatro, the travel corridor on fourth street in downtown Santa Ana represented a connection to the community, culture and people. It was alive. I stood out like a sore thumb, but not a single person would have noticed because all were welcome. It wasn’t until recently that I remembered this visit to the Fiesta Marketplace, in downtown Santa Ana, but in a much different way. The beauty had given way to blandness. It’s now an empty courtyard, I walk through in between meetings, with nothing but a few benches and a few trendy restaurants. It’s the same location, but it’s not the same place. It’s now a sterile place that resembles nothing like my first visit. The carousel was torn down and the charm stripped away to make room for a $4 million renovation to attract non-Santa Ana residents and draw more affluent crowds.
Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities Equity for All workgroup does not see this as progress, but as paving the way for their “Community Lands in Community Hands” campaign. After years of reacting and fighting individual developments that aimed to exclude, displace and price out the community, Santa Ana residents and partners have come together to take proactive steps informing and educating on more inclusive processes that will lay the foundation for what community-driven development and planning processes could look like in Santa Ana.
From educating decision makers on the importance of what a redevelopment partnership with community could look like for more than 90+ city owned land parcels to creating the first community land trust that will develop a parcel of land solely by the community, the residents of Santa Ana are at the center and will work to ensure that transparency, community benefits and inclusion in development and planning is the future for Santa Ana.
This is what progress looks like: people coming together, taking back their community, having a different narrative focused on family, culture and community, but most of all changing their odds.