Fellow Santa Ana born and bred artist Francisco “Frank” Saucedo and I discuss matters concerning the formation of the Santa Ana Arts & Culture Commission on the latest Arte Santa Ana Podcast. Listen through the following links and on iTunes.
Omar Ávalos Gallegos
Associate Music Instructor,
Santa Ana College
Principal Musician, UC Irvine
Co-Founder, Arte Santa Ana
Here are some questions addressed citywide.
What is Santa Ana to you?
If you reside here, do you have a sense of purpose, a sense of thinking outside of yourself or whatever comforts you may have? Would you act towards bettering the community as a whole?
What are the needs of the majority?
What do Santa Ana kids need from the education system?
Are you newly arrived to the downtown? If so, what brought you here?
What do you want to see happen in the downtown?
What do you as a newcomer want to see for the rest of the city, beyond the downtown?
It’s said that a city is defined by its downtown, and so I ask longtime Santa Ana homeowners, citywide, what do you want YOUR downtown to be?
Why did William Spurgeon keep the name Santa Ana? Where did he get the name from?
An Orange County Grand Jury Report on the City of Santa Ana’s procedure on establishing a Community Management District (CMD), also known as a Property Based Improvement District (PBID), in the downtown is available here.
We’ll fast forward within the Grand Jury Report to its Findings:
FINDINGS (FROM ORANGE COUNTY GRAND JURY’S SANTA ANA PROPERTY BASED IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT REPORT, JUNE 28, 2012, PAGE 10):
In accordance with California Penal Code §933 and §933.05, the 2011-2012 Orange County Grand Jury requires responses from each agency affected by the Findings/Conclusions presented in this section. The responses are to be submitted to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court.
Based on its study of the Santa Ana Property Based Improvement District, the 2011-2012 Orange County Grand Jury makes the following Findings/Conclusions:
FINDING 1. City of Santa Ana appears to be in violation of California State Law in the formation of this Improvement District.
F2. Monies collected from the improvement district appear to have only benefited a few and have not resulted in a direct benefit to the assessed property as required by California law.
F3. An appearance of impropriety exists in the relationship between the developer and the City of Santa Ana.
F4. An appearance of impropriety exists in the relationship between the developer and Downtown Inc., the administrator of the funds from the special district.
F5. The process by which the district was established in regard to the mailing of ballots, the process of tabulation, and the voting by the City of Santa Ana does not appear to be in compliance with the statutory requirements for establishing an assessment on property owners.
IMPORTANT POINTS OF THE REPORT
From the Grand Jury Report:
The city ordinance that governed the formation of the PBID differed from state law in that it required 30 percent approval of the properties in the district, with the votes weighted by assessed value. The state normally requires 50 percent. Also, the life span of the PBID was set at 10 years, while the state limits the initial span to five years, with renewals for 10 years.
Because the city of Santa Ana voted on behalf of its downtown properties in the election that formed the PBID, and then used the city clerk’s office to tabulate the vote, there is a lack of impartiality, or certainly the appearance of one.
Furthermore, in light of the history of this area over the past twenty-five (25) years, the way in which public money has been channeled to a select few, and with these select few continuing to exercise control over the proceeds produced by this assessment district, there exist strong reasons to suspect that appropriate procedures were not followed.
The LA Times chimed in on the matter too, stopping short of verifying that Santa Ana did act against State of California standards concerning the formation of a CMD / PBID.
FINAL SYNTHESIS: A CONCLUSION DRAWN FROM A FIRST HAND ACCOUNT AND THE VERIFICATION OF THE OC GRAND JURY REPORT
I have always wanted to see improvement to the downtown, but I don’t agree with all of the patterns seen in recent years there.
I’ll reiterate what I’ve said time and time again. More local people need to be business and commercial real estate owners, and not just the new-coming or those that have owned downtown property for awhile but don’t upkeep it. My argument is about empowering the local community through fostering a business mentality and entrepreneurship. Having a PBID has done nothing to help in this matter, because the focus of the PBID is not too empower the people already in place in Santa Ana, it doesn’t include them as part of the solution.
In a response to the Grand Jury Report, a representative of Downtown Inc wrote the following:
Based on our conversation, I appreciate your analysis that the City’s Rebate Program (the Fourth Street Façade Program) and the PBID’s assessments are separate issues. However, in the OC Watchdog article, the issues are lumped together. In my opinion, the Grand Jury report incorporates issues that do not pertain to Downtown Inc., i.e. the City’s Rebate Program. (Orange County Register: “Grand Jury Never Contacted Us,” June 29, 2012).
How convenient to separate two things that are entirely related, which are façade improvement and property assessments. Why is it not the task of those that administer PBID money to see what’s wrong with the picture (blighted buildings) and approach those owners to improve their properties? If it’s not their task to inform property owners, why is it not their task to proactively engage the city to enact an amendment to its municipal code to deal with blighted buildings and their owners? After all a PBID is for improving properties. Let me remind you of what the mechanism that funds you is about. It’s called a PROPERTY Based IMPROVEMENT District. What’s that you say? There is no more redevelopment money? Then another method for improving property and stimulating economic development must be included in the city’s municipal code, without stopping short of executing the powers of eminent domain.
Your jobs are to IMPROVE PROPERTY in a district. What is obvious is that “district” has been interpreted to mean only an “East End” and an “Artists Village.” Someone needs to do their homework and see what the National Register of Historic Places says about Downtown Santa Ana. The boundaries according to the National Register are in fact not promoted in their entirety. Take a page from Pasadena that doesn’t simply promote pockets of its historic downtown.
There are plenty of examples of downtown property owners that keep their buildings in terrible conditions. 410 W. Fourth street is but one example. That property owner has failed to be proactive in finding a tenant for his street level space and as a result it has become a place that is commonly trashed by Club Velvet clients, and others possibly, because of that club’s proximity. The existence of neither the PBID nor its offshoot Downtown Inc has done anything to remedy that recurring and intolerable problem at 410 W. Fourth or any other poorly-kept downtown building, therefore, Downtown Inc cannot use “cleanliness” as a reason to further its intentions.
INCONSISTENCY AND NONSENSE
Another troubling point with the PBID’s Downtown Inc is their dropping support of bringing Chivas USA to Santa Ana. At first the entity placed large banners announcing support for the club to come here, then suddenly, they pulled support due to being intimidated by a vocal minority.
A project like this is good for Santa Ana because this is the most popular sport in this town in case you didn’t know. A project like this creates jobs. A project like this is worth fighting for, which is something that Downtown Inc failed to do. This, undoubtedly, reveals that the entity and those that intimidated them are out of touch with Santa Ana. What is wrong with the fact that football / soccer is preferred by people of Mexican descent? Can anyone truly block out the sun with their finger and ignore that Santa Ana is a majority Latino town? What is wrong with expressing ourselves through art and sport?
Along these same lines, many downtown businesses do not cater to locals, and by that I mean people that have long roots in Santa Ana, that same Latino majority that has been here all along. It’s not uncommon to see many a party bus bring in people from some other part of the county. The proof is in the type of entertainment offerings at different venues ranging from the Yost to Memphis, just to give one example. A business owner might argue against my point, but even if there has been one offering here and there, they still are very far from enough, and few and far between. These entertainment offerings certainly don’t satisfy or reflect on the majority Latino population that Santa Ana is made up of. What is wrong with Spanish Pop, Rock en español, a Mexican rock band? I have yet to see the Yost as packed as when Molotov performed there. Entertainment attractions like these are a very profitable and perfect fit for Santa Ana. Anything else seems like a willful intent to not attract that profile of a Santa Ana Latino consumer and commoner. The message that is sent is that Santa Ana Latino resident money is not good enough. The solution is not to replace one group of people with another.
The Church of Scientology held a grand opening for its new Orange County church at the site of the old Masonic Temple at 5th & Sycamore streets in Downtown Santa Ana on Saturday, June 2, 2012.
A number of guest speakers lined up to sing the new location’s praises. The president of the Orange County branch of Scientology explained the building’s history, and said that the center would be open to the community. What their definition of community is remains to be seen.
They could be talking about the larger county or they could be more specifically talking about Santa Ana.
No matter if one agrees or disagrees with their views, they must be commended for the improvements done to the building, even though it looks like something out of BioShock. It’s been restored to its past Art déco glory.
It also brings that corner of the downtown back to life, and this could tie into the monthly art walks.
I find myself now thinking about the Yost’s reopening and how they said they’d be open to community. They have yet to satisfy me.
Will the Scientologists be open to the community? Surely they’d be open to recruiting so in that sense yes. But can a Santa Ana community organization hold an event there? Time will tell.
This is a common theme. One incoming group says, “We’ll be open to the community,” like the Yost, the Scientologists, and Newsong church is saying about the Santora.
Following the Yost’s example, these other two centers could be more for busing in visitors to this city. The least they could do is open up to hold events that the Santa Ana community would want to see.
If they do allow the Santa Ana community to use that historic space, I’m okay with them being here, and the same goes for Newsong.
A non profit organization that is listed as “suspended” in the California Secretary of State’s database may still be eligible for charitable contributions, so long as it is listed as eligible with the IRS.
♫ ‘Tis the season do taxes ♫. Then there are those non profits who are exempt from paying taxes and then there are those non profits that have a suspended status. But what does that mean? What does it mean to have the state suspended a non profit’s status? Does it mean that an organization cannot continue to call itself a non profit or collect money through the organization’s tax ID? I ask because I’m no non profit lawyer.
Oh, the things one can discover at the California Secretary of State’s website. Like for instance, the suspended status of the Santa Ana Council of Arts & Culture. I was wondering about this organization and whatever happened to it. But why would an organization have its status suspended? Tax Free Charity explains that it is common for non profits to have their status suspended after three years due to a failure to file with all the necessary agencies. But no one knows exactly why the SACAC status was suspended.
Jesús Arturo Márquez Navarro, a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer and Fulbright Scholar, studied music at Cal Arts, the Conservatorio Nacional in Mexico City, and with Jacques Castérèrede in Paris, France. He has enjoyed worldwide praise and success for his symphonic danzones with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. One of his most recognizable works, Danzón No. 2, is a favorite of numerous orchestras and is heard on the Mexican film Arráncame la vida.
World-renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez returned to the Santora in Downtown Santa Ana on the evening of Friday, December 16th. Maestro Márquez’s visit was in part a send off for the gallery that hosted him. MC Art Gallery and Studio announced that it would close it’s doors on December 31st.
For five years MC Art Gallery and Studio exhibited artwork from artists of international repute including sculptures by Felipe Castañeda and paintings by Sergio O’ Cádiz. Maestro Arturo’s visit was the third to the gallery. His first visit was a small and intimate gathering with gallery owner Moisés Camacho, the Maestro’s daughter Lily, his brother Jorge, Joseph Hawa, who is another painter in the Santora, and I.
On April 15 of 2011 the Maestro returned and was presented to those in attendance through a more formal reception involving a brief lecture and discussion with him, followed by a mixer. A video recording of that interview is available by clicking here.
On this, his third visit, artists involved with the gallery and friends came together to receive the Maestro and to reflect on the gallery’s past. A discussion opened up with Voice of OC reporter Adam Elmahrek in which the gallery’s past exhibits were mentioned. As Adam jotted down notes, the topic of a lack of an arts council in Santa Ana came up. The argument was made that the City does not do enough to support the arts. There was talk of a former “Santa Ana Council of Arts and Culture,” which has been dead and buried for years now, with no visible presence anywhere in anything having to do with art in the Downtown, much less around town.
The Maestro’s visit was also an opportunity for Santa Ana artists to brainstorm and plan for the future. Newly appointed Santa Ana College Chamber Orchestra Director David F. López attended and was introduced to Mr. Márquez. Plans are underway to perform a piece of Arturo Márquez’s music at Santa Ana College next year, and at the Downtown as well. A festival was conceived of, one that will integrate participating Santa Ana schools and the Downtown.
Moisés Camacho’s gallery was a creative space where a confluence of artistic ideas took place. The space allowed for the forging of new ideas. Our city’s artistic future will have benefitted from this place, it was like an incubator. The community’s benefit will be a product of the artistic energies that took place there. It will be sorely missed and it may be extremely difficult to have another place like it. This is how it will be remembered.
Eileen Hsu did her master’s thesis at Cal Arts on the changes occurring in Downtown Santa Ana. She proposed a number a changes or solutions to the “downtown problem,” and it seems that some of her ideas have already been enacted.
I recently read an article of her’s titled “Downtown Santa Ana as an Invisible City” here on WordPress and I had some trouble and disagreement with the fifth point that she made in it, concerning the removal of Mexican identifiers i.e. images of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, “Mayan” (she meant to say Aztec) calendars, (by the way the “Aztec calendar” is not really a calendar) and Día de los muertos. Right away you see that according to her views, places like Calacas shouldn’t have a place in the downtown given that Calacas’s business is heavily about Mexican identifiers and symbolism.
Here is a written exchange that I had with her recently:
Me: I have trouble with your fifth point. I don’t think that anyone can preach openness and hybridity but not accept Mexican symbols, especially in a city that is overwhelmingly Mexican or of Mexican descent.
I understand that there are those in the Downtown that do not want to have these images be synonymous with the area, but enacting a double standard is just plain wrong. This is an affront to those of us of Mexican descent.
What is also offensive is not being precise when it comes to mentioning “Mayan” calendars. That famous symbol that you mention is in fact an Aztec and not a Mayan symbol.
Thanks for taking the time to review and to make comments, Omar. I see as well as you have that Downtown Santa Ana is going through a major evolution and self-redefinition. Did you go (or hear on NPR) the interview that Larry Mantle conducted at Librería Martínez? Like I wrote in my post, I highly recommend it. What I understood from that as well as my research is that 1) Downtown Santa Ana is divided as to whether it wants to be perceived as a largely Mexican community or something else (and if the latter, what is that something else?) and 2) if it embraces its Mexican majority, there is a division between recent Mexican immigrants and second/third generation Mexican-Americans as to what traditions and visual forms they want to represent their Santa Ana Mexican identity. As for #2, when I spoke to people such as the owner of the taqueria Guadalajara on Fourth Street, he did not want to deny his Mexican heritage but he wanted it reinvented, looking “up-to-date”, modern, fresh— and this is my own extrapolation: perhaps he sought a look that is not 100% pure Mexican tradition but something melded with the polish, control, and contemporariness associated with Orange County as a whole.
I see what you mean that ignoring tradition and history can be seen as a betrayal of one’s identity. My question is if there’s a way to recognize that tradition and history through new or unconventional visual forms? As many in the business community of Downtown Santa Ana urged, how can these visual forms be both sincere to the identity of the community and appealing to visitors?
As an outsider to Downtown Santa Ana, I lack the depth of experience and personal tie with this place, community, and history that you clearly have. At the same time, I am a graphic designer doing an experimental student project and not a community activist or business person or someone else with a political agenda or financial stakes. For me, this project has been an attempt at observation and interpretation of a discrete place based on research. Through the journey of this project, many people have come forth generously to offer perspective, personal stories, and fervent opinions,—such as yourself. I have walked its streets many times, day and night, taken two semesters of Spanish at Santa Ana community college, and made new friends from the surrounding residential areas. So this place has endeared itself to me along the way.
In the end, I’m in no position to guess what the future of Downtown Santa Ana will be. It’s for you all—the community—to decide. As a graphic designer, my goal is to try to design systems through which you all can elaborate your purpose and expression, like the way a trellis works in a garden. Of course, I have to consider that any system made will be advantageous to certain growths and less so to others. Understanding the “growths” that needed room was the objective of the ethnographic component of my project. Certain opinions and points-of-view were more vivid and repeated than others. Certainly, the Mexican community in Downtown Santa Ana made it loud and clear to me that it is here to stay and to flourish.
The weekend before last, I went to Downtown to see the gallery shows. It was so vivacious. There was a car show, outdoor documentary screening, another film screening in front of Calacas, folk singers at the restaurant near Calacas, flamenco performances at the dance academy, a bevy of art shows, crowds on the streets… not to mention all of the packed restaurants. It was so alive. Creativity is exploding in Downtown in an impressive way.
Finally, thanks for letting me know about the Aztec calendar. I had not verified my information on that earlier. Right now, I’m working at LACMA as an environmental graphic designer with a curator of Pre-Columbian artifacts, so I should soon get my Incan, Mayan, Aztec anthropology straight!
I knew of the event at the bookstore before it happened but was unable to go. To me it was about the usual people raising a stink about the changes in the downtown. I’m all for, and have argued for improvements but I want to strike a harmonious balance.
I make it a point to remain objective about the improvements occurring downtown but I don’t see or hear other ethnic groups speaking about striking a balance, or having a diverse downtown represented by business owners of various ethnic groups. You see, I want to see more people of Mexican descent owning new or souped-up businesses.
I have heard some comments concerning a white takeover of the downtown and I have also seen a lack of desire for conserving Hispanic culture. The naming of Plaza Santa Ana was an example of this as some people came out to argue for naming it French Plaza or something other than a Hispanic name. Naming it anything else would have been a deliberate whitewash. So, this is an attitude that exists in the downtown.
In the end, like you say, it’s up to the community to determine what the downtown will look like. The community happens to be majority Latino and I’ve been encouraging these people in place to get involved in the business and decision-making process, and to have that cultural majority reflected, at least equally, in the downtown.
Yeah, you were not incorrect in assuming that the Airtalk bookstore event would rouse the opinions and arguments heard before. I think the fact that it was broadcasted throughout Southern California made it an interesting platform and opportunity to introduce a compelling discussion and one that would bring up issues broader than Santa Ana. Plus, Larry Mantle is a respected and hard-hitting interviewer. True to his reputation, his questioning took no prisoners. There was good and there was bad, I think. The bad part was during the overtime, when he asked each panelist: Michele, Caroline, and Bustamente: “What would your ideal Downtown Santa Ana look like?” and each of them could only speak in the broadest vagueness. Was it for fear of offending someone with specificity or was it lack of effort in imagination?
From what I see as someone outside the Latino community are cultures (mostly Mexican but also many others such as those from El Salvador and Peru) with very distinct and vivid identities in the arts (both traditional and contemporary visual, music, literature, dance). As a Chinese American, I envy such accomplishment in all of these genres.
I know that the Mexican-American and Latino organizations are actively advocating their constituents on a political level. I wish that these groups would participate as passionately on the level of business and community arts & culture. These would really win the hearts and minds of natives and visitors of Santa Ana towards preservation of the Latino community. Right now, it is mostly the non-Latino members who are engaging in the business and cultural redevelopment.
I really think that Rudy and Jacqueline Cordova are doing a great job with Calacas. There could be more.
Getting back to the Airtalk discussion, the good part was that it seems that Santa Ana is a metaphor for what is going on in a lot of heavily Hispanic communities. People are watching Santa Ana to see what happens here as an indication of what could happen in other similar places.
I know I’m all over the place with this email. I’m at work so I have to go. But, also, it is a class issue. It seems that many of those in power want Downtown to attract and present a wealthier class of members (regardless of race) at the expense of the working class new immigrants.
I honestly believe that there is a lack of vision and or imagination on the part of some of the councilpersons, and Carolina. That explains why they spoke broadly and vaguely.
I also wish that the groups in place would participate passionately on the level of business, etc. Calacas gets it right, but that doesn’t mean that all Latinos should follow their example and open up solely Latino-themed stores, or that the downtown should be synonymous and known for its mostly Latino-themed stores, right?
It would be great to have a variety of eating and shopping options.
Yes, you make a good point about Santa Ana being a model for what can happen in other heavily Hispanic communities. That’s why it’s important for this city to set the best example possible, preferably through a harmonious ethnic balance, where ethnicities are represented adequately through business I say.
Thanks for your interest Omar and for getting in touch. It’s been interesting for me too to hear your point of view. Wish more young, intelligent, and invested people would be as into the direction of their community as you are.
It’s a complex problem. Pragmatically speaking, I can’t blame the city government and the property owners for venturing towards greener pastures. When I say green, I mean cash. The city is broke. This is a terrible economy and businesses are struggling. Perhaps it takes everybody, no matter of what political bent, sticking their neck out and going the extra mile to make Downtown a better place and put Downtown on the map. One hope I share with many is that it’s not some generic solution of letting in the same old chain stores, like Pottery Barn, the GAP, Starbucks, and Jamba Juice. I would just burst into tears.
Back to what you were addressing about Latinos having representation in the future of Downtown and what that kind of representation that will be in terms of the types of businesses and what it will look like, this reminds me of what another person in Downtown said to me: he was tired of the overused symbols associated with Mexico and its indigenous cultures. It’s a codified visual languages associated with a cultural identity. I suppose it’s like red lanterns and pagodas associated with Chinese culture, which is totally trite by me but it’s an “in” for non-Chinese people, something familiar yet exciting, exotic within a safe distance. If you go to China, most people like contemporary lighting fixtures and go to pagoda temples only to pray to their ancestors a few times per year. I accept the pagodas but yeah, I do wish that there’s new stuff to represent Chinese-American identity. Also, I yearn for the hardcore Chinese things less familiar to non-Chinese like calligraphy exhibitions, poetry readings, excellent green tea, and a deliciously made lotus seed paste bun. So I can understand your wish for the Mexican side.
I mean, would you say it’s up to Latinos to decide what is “a Latino store”? If a Mexican business owner in Downtown Santa Ana runs a pet store which carries a certain selection of supplies and animals, it’s saying something about the community there. Really, it can be anything. (back to the variety of options you were talking about) In a way, we are redefining ourselves to the rest of the world whether we want it or not, by everything we do—good or bad—or don’t do.
talk to you later
Exactly. It can be anything, even a franchise or two. It doesn’t hurt to have a balance of original properties and franchises because of their brand strength. This is something that I’ve been saying for awhile now.
And no, it’s not always up to Latinos to set up Latin themed businesses. Just look at Taco Bell and Chipotle. The authenticity of those businesses is thrown into question however.
It’s like Koreans trying to make sushi, which has become contentious, or others trying to remake tequila outside of the denominated Mexican region.
It is commonly accepted that Mexicans are distrustful of government, and rightly so. Is it that those of us that are of Mexican descent, on this side of the border, are also wired or preconditioned to be distrustful of government? Are we preconditioned for insecurity? What is the worry over a perceived gentrification, what is the threat? Tell me, those of you from Santa Ana (if you are born and raised like me), don’t you want an improved image of the city, an improved downtown? Why are some of us followers of an anti-capitalist agenda, and lovers and consumers of a “Rage Against the Machine?”
What more can I say to the naysayers in this city that I haven’t already said before? Instead I’ll repost related articles where I argue in favor of change, of progress.
There are still some people that say that Santa Ana’s Downtown should remain untouched and unchanged. Santa Ana’s City Council happens to be majority Latino of Mexican descent and there is one voice (Gustavo Arellano) that accuses this council of “Showing the rest of the country that Mexicans can gentrify Mexicans as well as Whites can.” You see the extremism in this statement, the extreme incorrectness that is. Well here’s an example of how to turn a downtown around, a much much larger one in fact, successfully.
As the Downtown changes, as it improves, there are still those that scream foul and accuse people left and right of being racist. The improvements to the Downtown are not about race or pushing out a race of people. I’ll reiterate like I’ve said time and time again: it’s up to the locals to get into the mix and set up shop, your ethnicity doesn’t matter. I can most assuredly tell anyone that cares to read this that no one is pushing me out, for example.