Neighbors Seek to Reclaim Santiago Park in Santa Ana


Illustration by Pete Ryan

Santiago Park in Santa Ana is a half-wild, sun-dappled strip of inexperienced that straddles Santiago Creek from Important Avenue to the 22 Freeway. The park, with its Nineteen Thirties stonework and historic timber alongside the riverbed, gives an enthralling refuge from the close by Orange Crush, one of many busiest freeway interchanges within the nation.

This month, the general public is invited to go to the romantic park, spreading out blankets for a particular, COVID-19-era Valentine’s bring-your-own picnic. The theme is Winter of Love, with music from the Summer time of Love period piped in—assume Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, the Rolling Stones. We lastly get to put on our bell-bottoms and tie-dye.

The occasion is organized by Buddies of Santiago Park, a brand new group of neighborhood activists who wish to reclaim the park for his or her households—to take it again from the transient inhabitants that has discovered a short lived house alongside the creek banks. The group’s plan is multi-fold, providing actions to attract guests to the park whereas making a program to assist the homeless discover different lodging. With correct funding, the group additionally want to put momentary safety substations and social employees within the park, till the homeless concern abates.

It’s a noble enterprise if the group bestows a greater life underneath a roof on scores of homeless folks. However a number of the homeless folks inform me they like Santiago Park, too. And so they’re not leaving any time quickly.

In full disclosure, I’ve all the time had a mushy spot for this park. I educated for the Inca Path by working its WPA-era steps. I ate lunch beneath its leafy timber once I labored in Santa Ana. My youngsters rode cardboard sleds down a slippery 30-foot aluminum slide, flush with a steep grime hill. Our household has planted native species, gone on naturalist hikes, wasted dozens of cans of tennis balls, and realized to shoot a bow and arrow there. We’ve stood on its vintage bridges after a storm and marveled on the white-capped river sprung in a single day from a dry creek mattress.

It’s a park that breathes the grace of a former period. Previous-timers inform us we should always have seen the park within the ’40s and ’50s. The barbecues. The burger shack. The sq. dances.

I go to the Buddies’ out of doors yoga class one Sunday, unfold out on a sprawling inexperienced garden between a sq. of garden bowling and the tennis courts. The midmorning solar casts a liquid-gold hue on a pair dozen folks in sweatpants. Floating on their mats throughout the garden, the weekend warriors are all ages, races, physique sorts, and many others., which is reflective of the neighborhood.

“With the whole lot occurring proper now on the earth, we have to give ourselves this time for stillness and motion and breath,” says the willowy teacher, Kallie Klug, of Huntington Seashore. Om, I’m considering. I’ve wanted this.

I dive into down canine on the grass. David Ball, a sculptor who lives up the road, bicycles away to convey me a yoga mat. Whereas he’s gone, somebody doing yoga within the again row tells me to you should definitely speak to his spouse, Yelena, who’s now doing a cat-cow collection of poses within the entrance. She apparently received this entire factor began with a publish on Nextdoor.

After class, Yelena Ball tells me that they moved into Park Santiago from South Pasadena in June (2020), taken by the candy variety of homes, the caring neighbors, and the sumptuous park.   

However after taking her first stroll by way of the park, “I used to be very, very shocked,” she says. “I felt bamboozled.”

She wrote “Santiago Park is a sizzling mess” on Nextdoor. The response was overwhelming.

“We simply wish to clear it up,”
she says. “We don’t wish to kick out the homeless, however they can’t keep there. … It’s simply what (they) convey to the park that issues us.”

Not removed from the yoga group, I discover dozens of homeless males bivouacked subsequent to a constructing, with plywood and cardboard partitions and palm thatch roofing. I really feel some trepidation, as I’m only some hundred toes from the spot the place a homeless man was stabbed to demise in March 2020. Three homeless folks had been arrested for the assault.

“No approach, we’re not leaving,” says a person who calls himself Sergio.

He disappears into the palm frond shelter and seems once more in a minute with Samuel Mata, 50. Mata, a ship builder, says he’s talking on behalf of the homeless males, who’re afraid to be recognized. He isn’t homeless, however he hangs out at any time when he can together with his homeless mates there. He has heard in regards to the neighbors’ plan to make the homeless folks go away.

“I don’t assume their plan will work,” he says. “I’ve been in these homeless (shelters), and what it’s like? It’s like being in jail.” He says the folks within the creek mattress have shaped their very own group. “No one needs to be homeless. We’ve got one man, his spouse left him, he began doing medicine, little by little, he feels there’s no hope for him. Nicely, right here, he’s received hope. Right here, he says, you might be my household.” Mata says the neighbors may be profitable of their bid to push people out, however they are going to all come again.

Yelena has began holding out of doors neighborhood conferences to ensure that doesn’t occur. Jeff Katz, a extremely energetic lawyer who lives to the west within the Floral Park neighborhood, received concerned and began planning actions within the park for most of the people each weekend. Thus far, there have been friends from Costa Mesa, Laguna Niguel, and Newport Seashore.

Katz grew up in L.A., visiting Griffith Park, and he lived in New York Metropolis, the place he loved Central Park. He loves an excellent city park and needs everybody to have the ability to use Santiago Park safely. “However you’ve addicts taking pictures up, you’ve received unlawful drug gross sales, you’ve received chop retailers underneath the 5 and 22,” he tells me. Neighbors are scared and have stopped utilizing the park. “At a really minimal, you don’t use your park, you lose it,” he says.

Previously few months, the group has held common yoga lessons and garden bowling, in addition to weekly bicycle rides. A screening of “Subject of Goals” will happen this spring on the baseball diamond. There are concert events deliberate. They hope to stage a small tennis match throughout Wimbledon with strawberries and cream.

“Do I believe utilizing it on a Sunday for an hour will deal with the issue? No,” Katz says. “So I’ve additionally created a coalition of all the numerous stakeholders. It begins with the neighbors and the neighborhood associations. We’ve expanded it to the business homeowners on the border. The eating places. Then I began reaching out to homeless activists.” 

The group hopes to persuade the town to place up two substations, both staffed with precise police or personal police and, ideally, somebody within the function of social employee.

I’m wondering if this may be a pie-in-the sky concept with all of the diminished authorities income. But when anybody can do it, Katz has the resumé. For 5 years, he has volunteered as a case supervisor for Second Probability Orange County. He has helped homeless purchasers preserve sobriety, get jobs, and discover housing.

It’s a troublesome concern, and I do know it’s not simply occurring at Santiago Park. Households deserve a secure park, and but ought to we not all be dedicated to creating positive everybody has a roof over their head?

Orange County parks have develop into an extension of our yard. The parks have saved us. Thus far, I applaud these neighbors for reclaiming their stunning park, particularly if they can assist some homeless folks, in a time when so many have misplaced a lot.

Discover Out Extra!
Winter of Love takes place Feb. 13 at midday in Santiago Park. For data, go to lovesantiagopark@gmail.com.





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