OCTA board refuses to bail out Santa Ana merchants hit by streetcar construction

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Most Orange County transit officials still aren’t interested in bailing out bridal shops, general stores and travel agencies in downtown Santa Ana whose owners say they don’t care. a thread away amid business disruption caused by the construction of the OC Tramway.

Instead, a majority of Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) board members voted Monday to maintain their indirect assistance efforts for now, including signage for storefronts, security and social media promotions for affected businesses.

But those efforts haven’t helped much so far, said many of the 21 traders whose sales have plummeted under stifled foot traffic in the area and who spoke during public comments at the city council meeting. administration of OCTA on Monday.

“Our customers do not know how to get to our businesses and believe that we are closed. Although you put up many signs, people are still confused and don’t want to bother arriving at our businesses,” said one person on behalf of a Spanish-speaking family member.

“Because of the construction, you destroyed my hope, our hope, Fourth Street’s hope,” the speaker said, “to survive and return to what it was before.”

Instead, many have asked for the agency’s billion-dollar direct financial assistance.

Sales are still plummeting.

A single transaction could be considered a miracle on some days.

Such help has already come from the city of Santa Ana, though some have said it’s not enough compared to daily business expenses, and will take time to roll out.

OCTA legal counsel James Donich said on Monday it was not possible to give carrier dollars to ailing businesses under current spending guidelines – not least because he argued it would constitute a gift of public money to private interests under the California Constitution.

And while there are some exceptions — as long as the monetary assistance served a purpose for the general public or the public purpose for which OCTA was created — Donich said those don’t apply, citing general statutes and Supreme Court precedent.

When those present at the meeting mentioned a 7-year business interruption grant under the LA Metro, under similar circumstances of a transit project disrupting businesses in the neighboring county, Donich said that the Subway rationale “runs counter to my analysis and that of other agencies.”

“When you did your analysis, it looks like you were trying to find a way not to do something,” said OCTA board director Katrina Foley, who is also county supervisor and – with Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento – one of OCTA’s strongest advocates for sending money to businesses.

“I wouldn’t agree with that, Manager Foley,” Donich said.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted unanimously to seek another opinion on the matter from state Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Along downtown’s historic Fourth Street, known as La Cuatro, people protested the situation by occupying construction trenches and holding back workers by blocking tractors.

At the latest protest, a business owner put on a dress inside the construction zone while other small business owners again held signs and asked transport authorities for help.

The $509 million streetcar project is slated for completion in 2024 and will run between Santa Ana and Garden Grove in its entirety, for now.

This is OCTA’s first mass transit project.

But OCTA leaders have generally seen the upcoming route as the start of a system change – easing reliance on cars and opening the door to a new public transit system that some hope will eventually happen. expand to other parts of the county, such as John Wayne Airport.

Now the agency’s denial of requests from Fourth Street business owners has some wondering when the cars will return to where the tracks were just laid.

Shawn Makhani, owner of Telas Fabrics for nearly 32 years, called the project a “train to hell” at the meeting.

It’s a battle between the short term and the long term – the current situation and future possibilities.

During public comments, Javier Meneses of Latino American Services on Fourth Street said the transit project is a welcome investment in Santa Ana, with the potential to be “the pride of the city” when it will be operational.

“You thought about tomorrow,” Meneses said. “But it’s very clear that you never thought about today.”

Travel agency owner Marcela Rodriguez said in public comments that she has been in business for more than 30 years.

“I’ve been through crises before. September 11 interrupted the trip; Internet, people booking their own trips online; and the pandemic. But none of that had as much of an impact as the construction of the OC tram,” Rodriguez said.

The ordeal has also intensified calls from opponents of the project to pull the plug.

“Let’s stop…this is how we solve this problem,” said board director and county supervisor Don Wagner, who was critical of the streetcar project in general.

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