A decrepit but historic fire station building in an underserved neighborhood of Santa Ana will not fall into private ownership just yet, reviving hope among community leaders that the building can become a utility hub.
It comes after residents have expressed outrage over a number of recent closed-door negotiations over the sale of land around the building between the Santa Ana City Hall and the house-building company TR Customs, apparently initiated by the previous tip.
[Read: City Effort to Sell Off Historic Santa Ana Fire Station Stokes Community Backlash]
The Cypress Fire Hall – also known as Fire Hall # 4 – is possibly the city’s first and oldest fire hall, located in the Eastside / Pacific Park neighborhood.
It is one of the last public buildings in the region.
Now, the current city council has decided to reject the sale of the land to TR Customs altogether, in a closed-door unanimous vote on Tuesday, according to a disclosure at the start of the day’s public session by city prosecutor Sonia. Carvalho:
“The board would like staff to explore the use of this site for community-based programs, and also requested additional security to ensure the property is preserved during this time when they consider other options.”
Officials did not publicly say Tuesday how much money was being offered to purchase the property. Board member Thai Viet Phan, in a text message after the meeting, said the offer was $ 120,000 while the building’s appraisal value was $ 356,000.
Selica Diaz, a leader in the Pacific Park neighborhood, has been a frontline advocate for the return of the fire station to public control.
She and others have a number of ideas on how to use the building as a community center – it could accommodate senior services, or an iteration of Police Athletic & Police’s after-school youth program. Santa Ana Police Department Activity League (PAAL), or a “family justice center.”
Such a center, similar to the one located inside the headquarters of the Santa Ana Police Department, “would be very useful for people in our community as there are people here who are suffering from domestic violence, so that they can get more information and help, ”Diaz said in an interview after Carvahlo’s announcement.
She added that a police station, even something as small as a computer and a desk in the building, would help solve what she claims are significant public safety issues in the area.
The station fell into disrepair for several years and was barricaded with plywood.
The property is listed as “key” on the Santa Ana Register of Historic Properties.
At a special meeting on May 24, construction company manager Taylor Rudd made a final public appeal to council for the building.
“I feel like I’m running against the clock on this and the sooner we restore it, the more valuable it will be for the city, the community,” he said. “I’ve spoken to neighbors who are a little concerned about what’s lying around there. The neighbors are delighted to see the building maintained and restored.
At that meeting, he said he had a number of plans for the building, including the construction of a monument to commemorate the history of the building’s firefighting.
He added that he had experience with historic buildings, citing his property in Oregon, which he said was built in 1899 and converted to apartments in the 1930s:
“I bought it almost 25 years ago and argued that as low cost housing my tenants probably pay an average of $ 500 per month, everyone in the neighborhood pays $ 800-1500 per month.”
“I would just like to go in there, serve the community with it, make a little comeback and restore the building,” he said. “It won’t cost the city anything, but it will preserve it for the next 100 years, that’s my hope.”
The building was declared “surplus” by the city, and in February 2020 – under a previous city council – it was notified to all housing developers and affordable housing groups registered on the “developer interest list” of the State, in accordance with the Surplus State Land Act. according to city spokesman Paul Eakins thanks to information he provided via email in May.
This state law aims to prioritize municipal ownership of a local public body for affordable housing and uses of open spaces.
Then the city issued in February this year a request for proposals – putting the property up for tender – by groups of developers to purchase the property.
In the tender, the city demanded that any developer at least maintain the historic aesthetic of the building in every way possible.
Yet over the past year, members of the public have increasingly spoken out against the possible sale of the property by the city, denouncing the authorities’ approach as non-transparent and even secretive.
None of these meetings between the city and TR Customs over the building’s fate have taken place in front of the general public, as officials say they fell as part of confidential real estate negotiations, which state law allows. to take place behind closed doors.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open government meeting law, tightly permits cities to enter these confidential real estate discussions legally, as long as they relate only to matters of price and terms.
Jeff Dickman, a French Park resident and former Orange County town planner, in a May 4 letter to authorities, raised questions about the city’s lack of adequate public awareness about the property:
“Instead of advocating for the reuse of its own building, for use by the Eastside / Pacific Park community, the City has quietly brought this item to the Council’s agenda with almost no awareness… An approach decades old and well established to reduce public participation and streamline city council decision making.
Now, after Tuesday’s news, Diaz says there is hope:
“I’m very happy, but I know it’s going to be a long, long way to see anything happen. “
Still, she said, “it’s really good for us.”