Small business owners in downtown Santa Ana say OC Streetcar construction ignores their needs

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Friday, April 1, 2022
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The owner of Nino's Bridal Couture went as far as putting one of his best dresses on display in the middle of the work zone to protest the construction.

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Dozens of business owners met with city leaders Thursday afternoon to discuss their concerns about the OC Streetcar construction affecting their sales.

Valentine Martinez, the owner of Nino's Bridal Couture, protested the construction by putting one of his dresses on display in the middle of the work zone.

This moment on Calle Cuatro, or Fourth Street, in downtown Santa Ana was sparked by passion and activism.

Martinez, said in Spanish, he was expressing his discontent.

Though he ruined one of his best dresses -- a $1,600 loss -- Martinez said it was worth it.

Martinez said he felt he achieved something positive -- awareness about the business owners feeling ignored, as the four-mile OC Streetcar construction carried on through the heart of Santa Ana, keeping foot traffic away since Feb. 1. That's when work on the Orange County Transportation Authority project started.

Business owners there said they were initially told the work on the section would take months, but an OCTA spokesperson told Eyewitness News in an email Thursday that it was expected to last a year and they're working to speed things up.

Below is the entire statement from OCTA Senior Communications Specialist, Eric Carpenter:

We understand the concerns raised by business owners along Fourth Street and we continue working to address their questions and concerns. The OCTA project team inspects the work site daily and has increased security in the area and added extensive fencing and signage to let the public know that local stores and restaurants remain open for business. Additional signs have been added to direct customers around construction and to help them find businesses and parking.

OCTA has also continued to coordinate with the construction contractor to increase work hours in the area with the goal of completing the work faster.

We have also enhanced marketing and outreach efforts, buying Spanish and English radio and newspaper advertisements promoting business on Fourth Street throughout the region, and using geofencing to target potential customers on social media.

OCTA continues to work with the city of Santa Ana to solve issues. In addition to the total of $400,000 provided by OCTA to two associations representing business in downtown Santa Ana, the city recently approved $1.5 million of Business Interruption Funds to provide financial relief to Downtown businesses, as defined by the city's program requirements.

OCTA, in partnership with the city, will continue to work with business owners as we build the 4-mile OC Streetcar project to provide an important public transit investment for the people of Santa Ana and surrounding communities.

Several business owners tell Eyewitness News they have yet to see any of the $400,000 or advertising by OCTA.

Those with decades in La Cuatro, like the owner of Teresa's Jewelers, Teresa Saldivar, said she was grateful to have a following helping to keep her business running.

"We have a lot of loyal customers, but our sales are down and our neighbors, I'm worried about our neighbors," Saldivar said.

Dozens raised their concerns to city leaders Thursday afternoon.

By then, more than three dozen applicants had received grant payments from the city's assistance program, but many like Martinez, complained because those with businesses beyond 100 feet of the construction zone weren't eligible for funding.

One and a half million dollars were approved at the start of March for the Santa Ana Business Interruption Fund and another $1.5 million may be on the way with qualification changes reflecting input from business owners.

"... to see how we can accelerate the process and how we can also adjust the programs, but make sure to provide relief to everybody, not just on Fourth Street, but those who are also impacted that are near Fourth Street," Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said.

The city funding from the general fund is in addition to free parking with 24-hour security in several structures, signage promoting the area is open for business and assistance at an office downtown for those needing help completing their applications.

According to Carpenter, completion of the OCTA project is expected in early 2024.