Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana on Monday afternoon claiming the city violated the Surplus Land Act by putting empty parcels along Bristol Street up for sale. Back on Mar. 5, Santa Ana city council unanimously voted to solicit Request for Proposals (RFPs) on 83 city-owned parcels despite protests from community activists who wanted to see them have the opportunity to be transformed into affordable housing and pocket parks.
Gathered in front of an empty plot along Bristol Street on Monday morning, activists and residents held a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “We know that there are too many families living close to the edge from housing shortages and being overburdened with high rents,” said Flor Barajas, deputy director of OCCORD. “We also know that residents are the experts and that their lived experiences should help guide how these parcels are developed.”
The Kennedy Commission, Orange County Community and Congregations Organization (OCCCO), and SanTaneros joined OCCORD to offer the nonprofit support in having taken legal action to protect the plots through the state law that compels government agencies to prioritize affordable housing and public use spaces when selling off surplus lands that are no longer needed.
“We need more green space,” said Fabiola Zamora, a longtime resident, in Spanish at the press conference. “We need community gardens. When we go to the grocery store, organic food is expensive! These lands are for the community of Santa Ana.”
Street widening projects for Bristol Street and Grand Avenue left 88 empty parcels in all that total more than 400,000 square feet of land. The city is seeking to develop 83 of them through RFPs while entering into direct negotiations for five remaining and less desirable plots.
In March, a staff report eyed $10 million in potential land sales, plus future sales and property taxes from whatever develops along the four-mile Bristol Street corridor. Before the council vote, John Funk, an assistant city attorney for Santa Ana, insisted that the Surplus Land Act didn’t apply because the city never needed the properties and that they had always been held for the purpose of exchange
The suit called the city’s arguments “absurd” and offered a damning condemnation of the council vote. “The city has turned its back on its statutory obligations and the public good and instead has focused on private profit,” it reads.
According to the lawsuit, Santa Ana is very much in the midst of an affordable housing crisis with half of the city’s residents spending at least 30 percent of their income on rent alone. Before and after the vote, such pleas didn’t prove persuasive. Santa Ana didn’t bother responding to a Mar. 29 letter from the Partnership for Working Families that contended the city failed to meet its obligations under state law in offering continued dialog as opposed to tying the issue up in the courts.
With the suit, OCCORD is asking the court to withdraw the city’s RFPs on the parcels, especially with development proposals due back by May 29, in compelling Santa Ana to follow state law.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!