City planners brought together by the American Planning Association (APA) looking to “discover Santa Ana on foot” gathered in front of the Grand Central Art Center yesterday afternoon when they were joined by uninvited guests. A dozen activists with Protege Santa Ana held signs that read “No to creative gentrification,” “Stop art washing,” and “Great Places in America = Make America Great Again.” A quiet unease existed between the two groups before the downtown tour began. With galleries and coffee shops vandalized in Boyle Heights, how was SanTana going to get down?
Back in October, Lisandro Orozco’s nomination netted downtown Santa Ana a coveted (to urban planners and Brave New Urbanists) APA “Great Neighborhood” award, but activists crashed the celebration and chanted it down. “It’s not a perfect place; none of the 89 other neighborhoods that the APA has selected as great places are perfect,” said Orozco yesterday, who was to lead the tour around different spots in so-called DTSA. Activists returned with a bullhorn ready to greet Orozco and his party.
“Talk about how [residents] can’t afford any more gentrification,” shouted Gaby Hernandez, an activist with Protege Santa Ana. Orozco, a Santa Ana resident and Anaheim planner, ignored the comment and, instead, invited the group of planners from other cities to join GCAC director John Spiak.
“This is going to be a very interesting walking tour,” Orozco added. “We’re going to have about seven to eight stops where we’re going to meet some business owners, go inside the buildings and interact with them.”
Anti-gentrification activists declined a later invitation to join the tour stop and waited for the group to come outside again. “If we don’t get a chance to speak, we’ll follow you shouting,” activist Albert Castillo warned. When planners came back out, they quickly settled rising tensions by ceding Second Street promenade to the activists. “Here, where you stand, this was the first wave of gentrification where they brought in a bunch of artists,” Hernandez said. “There used to be tons of Latino businesses here and they’ve now been displaced. And this is just in downtown where this has happened.”
Erualdo Gonzalez, a Cal State Fullerton Chicano Studies professor and author of Latino City, took the opportunity to address the crowd of planners, many of whom listened attentively. “We tried to create a wellness corridor to try to sustain a lot of the businesses that exist on la Calle Cuatro that’s pretty much omitted from this walking tour,” Gonzalez said. “There are a lot of different efforts going on, but those seem to be very peripheral.”
The exchange stayed cordial, but an antsy Orozco called on his tour to get going to the next stop. Planners came up to activists, shook hands and asked to take a picture.The anti-gentrification protesters discussed if they wanted to continue hounding the planners, but decided against it. Organized on a short notice, the tame confrontation paled in comparison to gentrification battles waged by Defend Boyle Heights, most recently with its much publicized hard line boycott of Weird Wave Coffee. It ain’t for a lack of wanting.
“What we saw is that the efforts against gentrification were not as assertive as we would like,” Hernandez says of SanTana. The activist noted Protege Santa Ana formed an alliance with Defend Boyle Heights. “We definitely respect their tactics,” she adds. But they’ll have to wait for the next opportunity to debut an escalation in downtown SanTana’s gentrification battles. And they’ll have to overcome a pick-and-choose divide among activists where one person’s kick-it spot is another’s hipster hellhole worthy of condemnation.
In the meanwhile, longtime residents remember what existed before the Artists Village as a cautionary tale of changes to come. “Where you see these lofts that look very beautiful, there used to be apartments where working-class people lived two families to a unit,” Laura Pantoja told the Weekly in Spanish, referring to the Artists Village Apartments on Broadway. “There’s development, but not development for everyone. It’s development for people with money.”