For the first time in nearly 40 years, Santa Ana’s basic planning document, known as the General Plan, is due to undergo a major overhaul on Tuesday.
The policy of long-term goals and visions for this built city of 330,000 inhabitants – which is supposed to guide the choices of city leaders on issues of housing, transportation, utilities, open spaces and community health – has not been completely overhauled since 1982.
Council members are expected to vote on the draft update, which would last until 2045, at today’s meeting. To find out how to access it, click here.
A key step
Community leaders around the city see new opportunities at this point to set goals around the city’s large open space deficit, as well as other environmental issues such as industrial water pollution and water contamination. lead having a disproportionate impact on its poorest neighborhoods.
Rearranging the main ideas and goals listed in the general plan to expand park space in the city would be one way to achieve this, says Cynthia Guerrera, Santa Ana Open Spaces Advocate.
The open space has a direct impact on other environmental issues in the city, such as air quality and stormwater pollution, Guerra said, adding that these issues “Will get worse” if it is not taken into account in the authorities’ vision for the future of the city.
It was the subject of the environment – and a letter from the state attorney general – that caused a delay in updating the general plan late last year, for more than time to conduct public awareness activities and modify the project based on residents’ concerns.
Santa Ana has a host of what the city calls “environmental justice communities”.
They are defined as the parts of the city where people are most prone to air, water and soil pollution – caused by vehicles passing by on its busy and often congested roads or by activities. local businesses.
[Read: Whistleblowers Say a Santa Ana Sheet Metal Factory is Unsafe, Polluting Water]
Residents of these regions also tend to struggle more with economic, social and health issues, such as language barriers, poverty and asthma. Depending on the city, they also tend to get less investment from individuals, private companies and government agencies.
City officials have identified such communities spanning western Santa Ana along Hazard and Bolsa avenues, for example, and stretching through the central part of town – along Santa Ana Blvd and Civic Center. Dr – to the eastern outskirts of town from 17th Street to the southeast border.
As a result, the overall plan update project includes initiatives such as securing at least two acres of parkland per 1,000 residents over the next 25 years and supporting access to healthy food by expanding “urban farming opportunities” in private and public spaces, including allotment gardens, community gardens. , and urban farms.
Few parks to meet a growing population
The city currently suffers from a park deficit of 154 acres, a calculation made from the city’s current ratio of 1.54 acres of parkland per 1,000 people.
This deficit of open spaces is expected to more than double by 2045 – according to city documents regarding the general plan’s environmental impacts – due to a huge increase in population resulting from the update’s new development goals. of the general plan.
The project includes five “target areas” in the city where the authorities have set out to increase housing construction and, consequently, population growth.
In an area of interest spanning West Santa Ana Boulevard, which also has environmental issues mapped by the city, authorities expect to build more than 1,200 new long-term homes.
Advocates of the city’s poorest communities are concerned about these development goals.
“The city is really pushing for a lot of unrestricted development in general, and not just affordable housing, which will exacerbate the problem with this deficit of open spaces,” said Guerra, a member of the Kennedy Commission and the community group. Rise Up Willowick.
So, Guerra said the city’s targets for its park-to-space-to-resident ratio must be three acres per 1,000 people – not two – and that there must be more stringent commitments to compensate for the space. open in development projects.
“Another very important thing is that the city needs to ensure that it is not just a matter of prioritizing current existing parks, but also considering existing open spaces (like golf courses and others. non-public green spaces) as usable parks, ”Guerra said.
Guerra, as an example, pointed to the ongoing struggle for the Willowick golf course, which is currently being watched by various interests of developers and local officials for different uses. Some around the area have lobbied to preserve the golf course as a park.
“Do you want to expand your park? Well, there is a solution there, ”Guerra said.
The priority areas of the draft general plan were also of interest to business owners and the city’s economic interests.
Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce president Dave Elliot said the people and entities represented by his advocacy organization are most interested in the 55 Freeway and South Main Street areas.
He said the South Main area “needs a lot of attention and upgrades” as a “main artery to downtown,” while his group welcomes the proposed residential construction and commercial stops. for the area along Highway 55.
In the intervention zone of Highway 55, the authorities plan to build more than 8,700 new homes.
This brought the city into conflict with the Orange County John Wayne Airport Land Use Commission, which in October last year determined the plan conflicted with the goals of the commission and unanimously judged the update of the general plan “inconsistent”.
Part of the expected council vote tonight would be to override the Airports Committee’s conclusions.
Authorities plan to build 588 new housing units in the targeted South Main Street area.
“We welcome business opportunities in these two sections,” said Elliot, of the Chamber of Commerce.
Automotive dominance or pedestrian communities?
Former town hall staff member and former council candidate Manny Escamilla said the draft general plan was not perfect, but headed in the right direction when it came to environmental issues and traffic dangers.
“Overall this is a very positive direction for the city and it’s a long time coming – what I don’t want to happen is for the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There are a lot of good things in there, ”Escamilla said, adding things like“ orienting the draft plan towards walkable corridors in town is a good strategy ”.
While there are missed opportunities, he said, one being the downtown part of the city center, the hub of the county government.
“The county is obviously doing a lot of reinvestment there,” Escamilla said, adding that the plan to update the general plan needs to redesign the Civic Center more clearly.
“One of the things it still suffers from is this old model of single-use government office space at a time when these places have maximum use during the day, during working hours,” he said. .
But at night, Escamilla said, “it creates dead zones – so revitalization in that area could help the city; this could make a mixed or multi-use area more interesting.
Escamilla also said the city should rezone the areas next to the busy, car-dominated Bristol Street to “liven it up” to a “more active, pedestrian and interesting place” – as opposed to the “burning mess. “that it currently is, prioritizing cars along empty land space slots that” nobody wants to buy. “
Advocates of fair city transport see signs of progress in the draft update to the general plan, but still have qualms about the direction transport and street infrastructure planning is taking for a city that has long since widened streets and moved residents for cars.
Data from the Southern California Association of Governments in 2018 shows that 73% of the city’s residents used cars to get around; 14% carpooling; 6% used public transport and 7% walked or cycled.
Almost 33% of the city’s households either owned a car or did not own one at all.
“A large part of the population does not have access to a vehicle, many use the bicycle out of necessity,” said Kristopher Fortin, director of Santa Ana Active Streets, in a telephone interview. “We have the possibility of aligning the transport policy more with the environment in which the city finds itself – so that it is really relevant for the mobility of the community, the general habits. “
One of the strategic goals of the mobility component of the draft plan is to achieve “zero road crash fatalities through education, law enforcement and infrastructure design” over the course of 25 coming years.
Other policy objectives also seem to give less priority to maintaining the fluidity and decongestion of traffic in the city, while defining visions to “promote the reduction of car trips and kilometers traveled by vehicles in the city. encouraging the use of public transport and non-motorized transport ”.
“The biggest streets are always the most dangerous,” said Fortin.
In December of last year, a man in a wheelchair was crossing Euclid Street when he was struck and killed by a vehicle.
“It will be something that I hope the general plan changes,” added Fortin.
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