Many say construction of the OC Streetcar has kept downtown Santa Ana on lockdown.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Downtown business owners held a demonstration outside Monday's Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors meeting, demanding financial aid as construction of the OC Streetcar project continues devastating their livelihoods.
Many merchants were moved as the owner of The Pizza Press addressed the board in tears.
"I could lose my business. I could lose my livelihood. I could go bankrupt. This is not what I signed up for," he said.
Their messages were clear.
Nearly two dozen merchants and their supporters demanded financial help.
Several said they felt their predominantly Latino community faced discrimination.
"This would not be happening in the city of Orange or Newport Beach," Valerie Amezcua said during public comment.
Ana Laura Padilla owns two businesses in the affected area.
Padilla said construction OC Streetcar project, worth half a billion dollars, has kept downtown Santa Ana on lockdown.
In a statement issued to Eyewitness News, an OCTA spokesperson said in part:
"In the last five years, OCTA has spent $3.7 million on outreach and marketing efforts to keep the community informed about construction, promote downtown businesses and encourage visitors to the area."
But those outreach and marketing efforts weren't enough.
Since February, piles of rubble, equipment and closures along Fourth Street turned this once bustling market into a barren obstacle course.
"If it's really hard for me to find my way in to even open my doors, you can even imagine how hard it is for my customers, so they end up giving up," Padillla said.
"I am losing everything that I built over 30 years," said Shawn Makhani, the owner of Telas Fabric.
With chants and signs, the group held a demonstration outside OCTA headquarters, before stepping in to hear updates from the project manager, Ross Lew, who said among the challenges delaying progress were issues with utilities, technology and dirty soil.
"Our focus is to get the roadway reconstructed with road bed and open to traffic," said Lew. "There is other work beyond the road bed that will continue into next year."
Those with revenues down 70% said Monday at least 250 businesses affected needed a business interruption fund from OCTA.
"Why did they not prepare with time if they knew that they were going to have technical difficulties?" said Centro Naturista owner Ginette Sanchez. "Why should we, as merchants, suffer for their mismanagement?"
The board of directors asked Lew and the project CEO to look for ways to increase construction work hours.
Lew said he expected completion of the project by the spring or summer of 2024.