Santa Ana Residents and Activists Envision a Community Land Trust Future

A city-owned plot of land in SanTana off of Daisy Avenue and Walnut Street is a pile of rubble for now. But activists and residents are hoping to transform that fenced-off plot of cement chips near residential neighborhoods into a lush green micro-farm as part of a much larger push for Community Land Trust (CLT) development in the city.

Such a move would put a plot in the administrative hands of a locally based nonprofit group once the city either sells off or donates the land. The development emphasis is on meeting the needs of the community, whether in the form of affordable housing, parks, open spaces and can lease land for small businesses—in short, everything a mega-development like One Broadway Plaza is not!

A number of OC nonprofits are behind the push for CLT development including Kidworks, Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, Latino Health Access, El Centro Cultural de Mexico and more. They've identified more than 90 vacant lots of public property in the city just like the fenced-off pile of rubble on Daisy Avenue.

A walking tour started yesterday afternoon from the nonprofit Kidworks to the empty plot. “If there is open space, this is what we get,” said Sandra Ortega, an organizer with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE). “A lot like this can be transformed into something beautiful for each and every person that lives here in Santa Ana.” She then held up a poster board of the micro-farm that would do just that.

Back inside the Kidworks warehouse, residents and activists ate elotes before settling down to hear more presentation mapping out the CLT development vision. “When we started to talk about this concept of a Community Land Trust, we didn't know anything, not even how to translate it into Spanish,” said Joese Hernandez, an organizer with Orange County Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), which will soon be releasing its “Growing Together: Community Land Strategies in Santa Ana” report. “With a marketplace, micro-businesses, affordable housing, parks, community gardens, we are in reality seeing this as an ecosystem.”

Central to the Community Land Trust vision in SanTana are cooperatives that have already begun organizing themselves in response to residential and small business gentrification. Two of the most developed cooperatives in the city are Manos Unidas Creando Arte (MUCA), which makes baskets, purses, key chains and jewelry out of recycled material, and Tierra y Dignidad, soon to formalize as a credit union. All are seeking to benefit from CLT development, especially with a central vending location for El Carrusel Mercadito Comunitario de Santa Ana, named in the spirit of the beloved carousel that downtown gentrification cleared out to remake the East End Promenade.

But before all of that, the most immediate goal is a micro-farm. Nancy Alcala presented the most thorough plan of the evening. “It's very expensive to go to Vons or even Northgate and buy organic [produce],” said Alcala. “We know that many foods have chemicals, so there's an opportunity to grow natural, accessible foods for the community.” She pointed to existing urban farms including Strong Roots in Yorba Linda, Farm Lot 59 in Long Beach and The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano as models that have been studied for SanTana. Alcala outlined the next steps forward including community education and a supportive relationship with city officials.

And for any or all of this to happen, the public property has to transfer hands. Kidworks Executive Director and SanTana councilman David Benavides signaled an opportunity for collaboration during his comments. A work study session on the concept will be presented at the next SanTana city council meeting on Tuesday. Activists are hoping to gain traction on plans to turn the Daisy Avenue plot into a micro-farm.

“I think the city is receptive to the concept,” Robert Cortez, SanTana deputy city manager, told the Weekly after the presentations wrapped.”The community wants to have these micro-farms and the city is willing to partner with them as well as the nonprofits on this.”

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