See that map? It represents the new Santiago Creek Trail, which runs from the Orange County Water District Ponds near Cannon St. in Orange, all the way to the Santa Ana River--with one quarter-mile exception through Jack Fisher Park to Flower Street.
The trail, as built, stops at a chain just past the bridge under the I-5 freeway, near a Red Roof Inn. Beyond the chain is a barely-broken path that leads past a stunning amount of trash, including empty bottles of malt liquor, syringes, and medical marijuana vials. Eventually, the path ascends up the bank and into Jack Fisher Park, a small park with scratched playground equipment and tagged picnic tables.
The reason for the gap? Several concerned homeowners, using the title "Save Santiago Creek Alliance" and represented by Santa Ana attorney Mark Rosen--who also just happens to represent Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido--have sent up the usual hand-wringing, won't-someone-please-think-of-the-children objections in the form of a letter to Acting City Manager and Chief of Police Paul Walters.
The trail resumes outside of Jack Fisher Park--where residents have chained off the main entrance to the park so that bicycles cannot use the path--onto a Class II (painted on the road) bike lane along Flower St. and Memory Lane, sending bicyclists from Villa Park and Orange out to the Santa Ana River Trail, which runs from Corona to the beach. Given that the Class II bike path already exists, no one is suggesting a continuation of a Class I (separated) bike path west of Jack Fisher Park.
Bruce Bauer and longtime good-government activist Shirley Grindle of the Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the City of Santa Ana in September, asking it to release e-mail correspondence on the subject; the city sat on the request until Bauer copied OC Weekly and every other OC media outlet he could on a follow-up e-mail in December.
One of the letters produced as part of the FOIA request--attached here for its hysterically imperious tone--is from Rosen to Walters. It complains about fires and crime, accuses Walters of having phoned in a study to determine whether the area should be fenced off, and demands that Walters stop the development, fence off the creek, and lock the gates so that only residents can have access. A nice way to have a private park, isn't it?
The Save Santiago Creek Alliance website quotes a report done by SafeTREC for Caltrans in 2010 that, they say, proves that crime will increase. Their logic is that increases in pedestrian traffic cause rises in crime. The problem is that the Caltrans study, which concentrated on bicycle use in San Diego, actually says that Class I bicycle paths in our neighbor to the south are used almost exclusively by bicyclists--and does not mention crime at all. They created a change.org petition to that effect, which sent to the city after being signed by 38 people, 8 of whom live in Santa Ana; signatures came from places deeply affected by this issue such as Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Australia, and Croatia.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Dan Adams of the Orange Police Department said that after the City of Orange finished its 8.5 miles of the Santiago Creek Trail, there were a few incidents of tagging that resulted in arrests, but there has been no increase in crime. By contrast, the remaining quarter-mile from the 5 to Jack Fisher Park is completely tagged over.
The completed portion of the trail through Santiago Park, the easternmost part of which is essentially a mirror image of Jack Fisher Park, is beautiful. Families play on the background and ride or walk along the trail between the nature preserve and the Discovery Science Center, which has a gate open to the trail. The trail twists and turns, as much to slow down bicyclists as for scenery. At night, the Santa Ana and Orange police patrol the area; it's as safe to walk through at night as it is during the day.
West of the freeway, in the section causing the controversy, men gather at night because there's no easy access for law enforcement; it's a scramble over boulders and through thick brush which provide plenty of cover for exactly the sort of thing Rosen objected to in his letter.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Meanwhile, bicyclists who want to continue their westbound journey from the Santiago Creek Trail have two choices, neither of which has been designed with bicycles in mind: south on Broadway to Santa Clara Street, then back up Flower Street, or north on Main Street to La Veta Avenue, all major roads with traffic levels that would frighten off all but the most die-hard bicyclists.
All for the want of a quarter-mile of paved trail--already funded--that would clean up the area, provide quick access to the area for law enforcement, and increase the number of law-abiding people with legitimate reasons to be behind the houses east of Jack Fisher Park.
The Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance--the pro-bike trail folks--has its own change.org petition that you can sign in order to show your support for the completion of the quarter-mile gap. Go sign it, and show Rosen and the Save Santiago Creek Alliance that they don't get to fence off public property.