Thursday, November 8, 2007

How The Lacy Neighborhood Fell From Grace

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Ray Lirette, Senior Residential Construction Specialist for the City of Santa Ana. Twice a week, Ray walks our nearby neighborhoods and inspects parcels the city purchased in recent years to ensure that the lots stay litter/graffiti/crack head-free as these former homes await their fate.

Curious and concerned about the status of these vacant lots, I phoned Ray in hopes of getting some answers, or even better, the remaining units demolished. Mr. Lirette caught me off guard when he picked up the phone with his polite demeanor and his genuine courtesy–it was unlike anything I had experienced at the city level before. I expressed my interest in the neighborhood and asked if I could accompany him on his next walk. Without hesitation, Ray welcomed me along.

As we walked the back streets of Santa Ana, Ray explained that contrary to popular belief, the city not once forced out any of the former residents. Instead, homeowners who expressed interest in selling their homes were made fair offers by the city of Santa Ana, in hopes of rejuvenating the depressed neighborhood with the now debunked Centerline Light Rail project.

I asked Ray how this neighborhood became a blight. “People just stopped caring,” he replied. Ray went on to tell me that once the homeowners began to rent out their properties, the neighborhood began to steadily decline. In addition, the overdose of high-density apartment complexes didn't do much to help the neighborhood either (at this point in the conversation, we were stepping over a soiled mattress left to rot on the sidewalk).

Ray noted that all of the homes the city acquires are first offered to the Historical Society where they would be updated, preserved and possibly relocated. Unfortunately, the Historical Society doesn’t have the deepest pockets so they are usually counting on the city to foot the bill in these endeavors.

An interesting incentive to restore this neighborhood were rehab loans that the City offered to homeowners over the past couple of years where they could borrow up to $75,000 with 0% deferred interest for 30 years. Sad to say, there were very few takers on this more than generous offer.

We continued our walk and Ray pointed out that some of the more dilapidated homes were not yet city owned, but that of owners who have long since moved away. Other lots were more complicated cases where the property was trusted to family members who are either deceased or unable to be reached, making acquisition attempts on the city's end all the more difficult.

One of the last lots we visited was 801 E Santa Ana Boulevard, located just west of the Tobin Steel. This lot was unique, but also a sign of things to come as the adjacent lot is currently being leased to Lennar as they continue the Santiago Street Loft development. With steel beams scattered carelessly on the lot, as well as a loveseat tossed over a seven-foot chain link fence, Ray noted that this lot in particular is the responsibility of Lennar and its current state was unacceptable.

An hour and a half after first shaking hands with Ray, the walk had come full circle. I felt a little better about the neighborhood and my hope for a better Santa Ana was strengthened having spoken with Ray.

Before heading back home, I backtracked to the corner where Brown Street turns into 6th Street for a few last shots. As I stood on the corner gazing upon the dilapidated neighborhood, a wave of sadness came over me as I imagined how proud and prestigious this neighborhood once was.

Unfortunately, the pseudo-nostalgic journey was quickly interrupted as a "low low" with an ultra-loud exhaust blaring Mariachi flew right by me–but not before giving me the all-to-frequent “check out this Pendejo” stare-down from the young driver and passengers.

Below is a map of the boarded homes we toured that are scheduled to be relocated or demolished.

View Larger Map


Anonymous said...

Solid write up! Thanks for keeping me looped in and feeling positive and optimistic about our hood. Too many people and other blogs are down on this place and I'm sick of it. Their attitude will only set up a mindset for further failure.

Anonymous said...

just want to thank you for keeping such a wonderful blog. I am closing on an unit at SSL in a couple of days. I read all of your posts as I contemplated my decision to purchase. I think all of us SSL owners share the same ideals and hopes for our homes and neighborhood, and it is wonderful to know that my neighbors like yourself who care so much about our community and the neighborhood. I can't wait to move in and look forward to meeting you soon.

Anonymous said...

Ben, great read...encouraging, and nice to know Ray is there to keep us posted. Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed. I swear you drove a batmobile in your past life!


Spencer Hoo said...

good job on being involved not only in the SSL community, but our surroundings. let us know next time you go on a walking tour, I am sure others of us would want to join.

Ben Dayhoe said...

Anon, glad to keep you on the up and up. It's really easy to come down on SA, that's why I really try to make this blog fun and motivating. Overall, I hope to keep the neighbors informed, bring people together and strengthen the community.

Han, welcome to the neighborhood. I'm glad you were able to look past the Bad and Ugly of SA. It's people like you (and everyone else living here) that make this a great place to live.

Batwoman, thank you for keeping an eye on "Gotham" while I'm busy being "Bruce Wayne". I sure do miss the Batmobile from time to time.

Spencer, welcome to the Blog. If you (or anyone else) are interested in walking with Ray, I can send you his contact info. He's a great resource and a really nice guy.