Developer Douchebags Score Again!

Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

David C. Mau

Dave Alvin's seminal album Blue Boulevard features "Dry River", a song of longing and loss, redemption and hope. When I saw him perform it live at Bogart's in Seal Beach back in 1991 it brought me to tears and still chokes me up a bit. One verse recalls his SoCal youth growing up near an orange grove:

"I played in the orange groves, 'til they bulldozed all the trees" "Still, I'd stand up on the dead stumps and smell blossoms on the leaves" "Someday it's gonna' rain, someday it's gonna' pour" "Someday all those dead trees, well, they won't be dead anymore"

These lyrics resound two decades later with the loss of the Sexlinger Orange Grove, the last large such grove in Santa Ana and one of the few remaining in the OC. Period. Located on Santa Clara Ave, near where wifey and I purchased our first home five years ago, I drive past this place daily as a shortcut to Grand Ave. Until a few years back I regarded the dilapidated Craftsman bungalow and aging grove simply as a quaint aberration in my otherwise milquetoast neighborhood. Three years ago I began to see signs and people out in front and decided to stop in once and check out what was going on. They were protesting the impending development and gathering petition signatures to save this grove and its structures. One of their placards struck me most, it simply said "this place matters".

Indeed it did. The Save Our Orchard Foundation recently lost the last bid to halt development of the property and the destruction soon commenced.

David C. Mau

Martha D. Sexlinger, who passed away in 2006, was the last of the line and, upon her death, the property was donated to Concordia and Orange Lutheran. County records show that the first developer, Empire Homes, went bankrupt and lost the property to foreclosure and it went into receivership. The property then went to Farmers and Merchants Bank, who sold it to Empire Homes in 2007. Tava Development of Irvine was in the process of purchasing and permitting the land to build 24 two-story homes in the mid-600k range. That's when the Save Our Orchard conservancy stepped in with their own set of plans which included a historical center and community garden. Despite requests, the fruit was left to rot each year instead of being harvested and donated to local food banks. A liability issue, I'm sure, but a travesty nonetheless.

David C. Mau

So the question remains: Does Orange Country really need more McMansions? Or was the land better suited to preserve our agricultural heritage? Without places like this grove, someday our children and grandchildren will have no vision of our proud history here or even how our wonderful county got its name. And don't forget citrus production was OC's culinary scene before we had one.

I get that money talks and bullshit walks. In addition, the abandoned grove had become a magnet for crime and a fire danger. Also, that the heartfelt (but possibly) misguided efforts of a small group of preservationist might not overcome the developer behemoth. I understand that Santa Ana tax coffers would be filled more with upscale single family homes than with a history center/community garden. What I don't get is this --


What a great addition to OC culture to have an area dedicated to the history of citrus farming and its pivotal role in our history. On top of that, it could have already been part of Portola Park that sits next door. A small consolation is the builder compromised and saved the bungalow for restoration and 20 odd trees out of the nearly 200 that once stood there.

Despite Dave Alvin's hopeful lyrics, the groves of his (and my) youth are long-gone, never to return. Sentiment gets pummeled again by the cold, hard realities of life. Well, at least my property values will go up, right?

What a load of crap.

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