Press Release: OCCORD files lawsuit against City of Santa Ana

After failing to comply to demand letter, the City of Santa Ana is facing a lawsuit over violating the Surplus Lands Act, a state law that prioritizes parks and affordable housing development on surplus land.



Santa Ana, CA - Today, OCCORD filed a lawsuit against the City of Santa Ana, seeking to stop the City from illegally selling over 400,000 square feet of City-owned land. The lawsuit alleges that the City violated the Surplus Land Act when, on March 5th, the City authorized the release of an RFP to dispose of 88 parcels for commercial, for-profit development,  rather than making the parcels available for affordable housing or open space, as the Act requires.

OCCORD took this action after it and other community stakeholders repeatedly informed the City of the need to comply with the Act and of the community’s demand that the parcels be used for affordable housing or open space. But the City charged ahead, ignoring the law and refusing to engage in dialogue with community members. Any sales of land under the RFP would only compound the City’s illegal action.

The release of this RFP is not just illegal, it is yet another tactic by the City Council and Mayor Pulido to strategically and intentionally sell our communities to the highest bidder. Fabiola Aguanita Flores, a long-time resident of 20 years says, “We have the right to know what is going on in our community and our City has to serve the community first. We are searching for justice and they should give priority to what the community truly wants. They can’t act however they want and feel. As humans and a community, we have all the right to be a part of that process. Instead of them helping us and working with us, they are oppressing us.”

Flor Barajas-Tena, Deputy Director at OCCORD, said today,For years residents have been asking the City to prioritize these lands for parks and community-led projects and for years these parcels have remained vacant. To add insult to injury, the City now wants to sell these lands with the speculative hope that they will capture more sales tax revenue, which will ultimately just go to fund police raises.”

The lawsuit highlights the fact that the City faces a housing affordability crisis, but is using public resources for other purposes. Over half of City renters pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Mortgage payments are over 30% of income for nearly half of the City’s homeowners. City residents voted to pass a sales tax increase in November 2018 for “Homeless Prevention,” but the City plans to use most of the revenue to cover its budget shortfall while approving $25 million for police raises.

Santa Ana’s substantial public lands present an opportunity to mitigate gentrification and displacement and improve the quality of living by developing affordable housing and green space. These public lands are valued community assets that should be developed to benefit local residents, families, and youth, and OCCORD expects and demands that  City officials hold themselves accountable to the community in making decisions about public resources.

Barajas: City Open Space Shouldn’t Be Tucked Behind Closed Doors


Planning and policy decisions should be inextricably tied to the basic principles of a participatory democracy, with every resident having a voice. However, in an effort to streamline development, politicians make these decisions in the dark only concerned with short-term political and financial gains.

The proposed redevelopment of the Willowick Golf Course is an example of how the councils of Garden Grove and Santa Ana, including Mayor Pulido and Mayor Steven Jones want to squash resident participation. In fact, they have publicly expressed they want to limit participation in determining the future for Willowick by forming ad-hoc committees that will meet in secret to “streamline” the development process.

What is Willowick? Willowick is a 102-acre public plot of land owned by the City of Garden Grove and within the boundaries of Santa Ana. The Willowick Golf Course is ending its lease and the public land can be open to redevelopment. The cities have three potential projects for the area including a stadium and they are on the verge of issuing a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a Master Developer, one that most likely will not include a true community vision.  There is a lot at stake in the proposed redevelopment of this huge public asset.

Cities in their capacity as chief architects of zoning policy have an important role in shaping the development patterns for our neighborhoods. The 102-acre site is currently zoned as Open Space, which allows for permanent open spaces such as parks. Building anything outside of a park, would require an Upzone change by adjusting the zoning to allow for greater density. This allows developers to capture those gains made possible by the increase in allowable density.

In other words, Mayor Pulido’s rich developer friends would be lining their pockets because zoning changes are major subsidies for developers.

Long-time residents in the cities of Santa Ana and Garden Grove can be pushed out as a result of this zoning change. This comes at a time when OCTA is in the process of the OC Streetcar development and considering Willowick as one of its transit stops. Long-term residents can see their housing costs skyrocket and their streets become even more congested. Giving up this open space to developers not only deprives us of some of the last remnants of open space in Orange County, but it threatens the residents if local protections are not required in the RFQ.

Pulido and Jones’s plans to give Willowick away to developers aren’t even legal under the CA Surplus Land Act. The CA Surplus Land Act requires that all cities prioritize surplus land for the development of affordable housing, as well as parks and open space. The Act sets forth detailed requirements that a city must follow when selling or leasing land that is no longer necessary for the City’s use. Willowick is publicly owned by the City of Garden Grove and as cities become built out, the land is one of the most precious resources that cities can use to spur equitable development, especially at a time when low-income residents are painfully living the realities of the statewide housing crisis. By definition, these assets are for the public to decide their future use.

As an Urban Planner and resident of Santa Ana, it makes me sad that I have to drive to Irvine to go to a park with rolling green hills and play structures that have not been worn down by the sun. There is great value to having open spaces, but they have to be deemed as valuable by politicians as well.  Everything in our built environment is the way it is because policymakers made political decisions about land use. We know for sure that the built environment holds tremendous potential for addressing our greatest public health concerns including obesity, asthma, and social inequities.

It is shameful to think that Willowick, currently zoned as Open Space, would not be considered to be developed as a regional park for both cities, especially because Santa Ana has been deemed as park poor, ranking 87 out of 100 largest US cities by the  Trust for Public Land’s  2018, Park Score.

These are the takeaways:  Zoning changes are massive subsidies for developers and can cause displacement if there are no local protections; the City of Garden Grove should adhere to the Surplus Land Act and not give away public land to the highest bidder; Santa Ana and Garden Grove residents are deserving of more open space and parks.

As an activist and someone who understands the effects of planning decisions, land-use decisions have impacts on generations to come and determine who gets to remain and thrive in our cities. We demand that the City of Garden Grove adhere to the Surplus Land Act. The future of Willowick should not be determined behind closed doors.


Flor Barajas is the Deputy Director at Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD)

MLK Reminds Us Change Comes Through Struggle

(Wikipedia Commons). Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, D.C.


“We are not makers of history. We are made by history,” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life we celebrate today. Even as the so-called “blue wave” of the 2018 midterm elections gives many people cause for renewed optimism, we must stay mindful of this distinction.

November’s elections saw unprecedented numbers of people of color, women, and community-based candidates gain office, both across the country and at home in Orange County. For many of us, dismayed by the hate, racism, and anti-democratic actions in our country’s government, these midterms signaled a turning of the tide. Yet while we do have cause for celebration, let’s remember that history is still in the making in Orange County.

The “new” Orange County remains within and under the “old” system. Old interests and new ideals stay at odds. Corporate interests continue to ignore community needs. And, the politics of changing demographics dominates the discourse.

Electoral wins are fleeting, partisan victories. We must ensure that we change them to enduring community victories. Changes in our political systems, changes in our economic structure, changes that outlast any one official or politician or administration.

Victories, that creates space for change, like the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. When the United States won the American Revolution they went from an abused colony of England to an independent nation. That is change. The Civil War determined the very nature of the nation that we wanted it to become. That is change. The Women’s Suffrage Movement did not just earn women the right to vote but made them whole. That is change.

“Change,” says MLK, “does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

In every election cycle, established and aspiring politicians call on people to stand with them. And many people do. It is a good thing, but not merely enough. The time between each election cycle determines the difference between wins and victories, between the makers of history and those made by it.

Our mission now is not simply to write a new chapter in the old history book but rather a new story altogether in Orange County. And that is a history, we can claim: we will have made it, rather than made by it.


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Delayed Citizenship Processing is Voter Suppression

Shakeel Syed, Executive Director, OCCORD


Since 2009, we at OCCORD have helped thousands of Orange County residents apply for U.S. citizenship. These aspiring Americans come from a variety of backgrounds, but they have at least one thing in common: all of them are eager to become part of our community and democracy.

Yet there is currently a backlog of 729,400 applications for citizenship applications before USCIS. This is an 87.59% increase of backlogs in the past two years. Now lawfully present immigrants who have filled out the 21-page naturalization application, paid their $730 fee, and submitted their fingerprints for a background check may have to wait as long as 20 months before their applications are processed, and they can take their naturalization exam and be sworn in as U.S. citizens. These numbers are not just concerning on paper. In our work with naturalization applicants in Orange County, we have watched many of our clients wait over two years for naturalization after completing the process.


We believe this is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to suppress voters and undermine our democracy.


The USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration provides data on the number of people eligible to naturalize in the United States. In Orange County, they estimate that there are 175,167 lawful permanent residents, or “green card” holders, who are eligible to apply for citizenship. This is 7.4 percent of Orange County’s total population. About 27 percent of lawful permanent residents in Orange County are Asian, while about 63 percent identify as Latino.


If they all naturalized, they would increase the citizen voting age population by 9.1%. That’s right, just about 1 out of every 10 voters is being denied their constitutional right to participate in our democracy.


Not only has USCIS already accumulated a huge backlog of applications, but the newest data shows that the agency has decreased its processing of applications and that the backlogs have increased in almost two dozen states and territories. The states  with the largest numbers of pending citizenship application are California with 137,538  applications, Texas with 97,788 applications, New York  with 94,491 applications,  Florida with 87,722 and New Jersey with 30,896  applications.

These growing backlogs come during a political climate in which the Trump administration has increased immigration enforcement, targeted people who have legal immigration status or potential forms of relief, including DREAMers and hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status recipients, and shocked the nation with different forms of inhumanity in their immigration policies.

USCIS itself is not immune to these anti-immigrant policies. In February 2018, the agency changed its mission statement to remove the words "nation of immigrants" and inserted language focused on "protecting Americans" and "securing the homeland," presumably from immigrants, the same people they are intended to serve. USCIS recently took the unprecedented step of opening an office to strip the citizenship of naturalized citizens. Francis Cissna, Director of USCIS, is also reportedly a part of a working group comprised of White House advisor Stephen Miller and officials from different executive agencies that are planning new attacks on immigrants in advance of the midterm elections.

As the adage goes, ‘better to light a candle than cry in darkness.’ In this instance we invite you to join us in lighting up the switchboards of our elected representatives. Call your Representatives and Senators and let them know that America is a country of immigrants, and our immigrant citizens deserve their rights and their votes. USCIS is not a weapon to be used against our friends and neighbors. Democracy deserves your five minutes. Reach out today and find them here.

Tell Amazon to stop doing business with racist hate groups!

Violent, authoritarian ideologies, including neo-Nazism and white nationalism, are on the rise. And Amazon, the so-called “everything store,” serves as a platform for individuals and groups pushing these ideas to grow their movements and make money.

A report by the Action Center on Race and the Economy and the Partnership for Working Families finds that despite its stated policies, Amazon enables those who traffic in hate by allowing the sale of hate symbols and imagery on the site, including confederate, anti-Black, Nazi and fascist imagery — even in products that are targeted toward children.

Sign the petition today!

Human Smuggling by Boat Increased in OC and So Cal

Orange County is likely to see more human smuggling in small fishing boats or rafts along the coast, like two cases in June, due to “zero-tolerance” federal enforcement of immigration rules on the California-Mexico border, said U.S. Border Patrol spokesman William Rogers.

“As we have been concentrating more on enforcement at the border, it definitely pushes the smuggling organizations to try riskier things,” Rogers said in a telephone interview. “They’re definitely becoming more desperate and are going to more dangerous lengths and it’s definitely concerning.”

Since October 2017, the Border Patrol has counted 20 attempts by human smugglers to land pangas—fishing boats—along the California coast from Imperial Beach in San Diego County to Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County, according to Rogers. He called it a “substantial” increase from the 11 that occurred between October 2016 and September 2017.




'We have a reaction as mothers to what’s been going on.'

What began as an online support group for lawyers with children has become a mobilizing force for thousands of people planning to bombard congressional offices nationwide on Friday in protest of the federal government’s treatment of migrant children and their parents.

Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, an immigration attorney in Texas, wrote that she recently hit “the lowest moment in [her] career” when she met with an asylum seeker who had been separated from her son under the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy. According to Lincoln-Goldfinch, the woman had been holding the 5-year-old in her lap when an officer approached and informed her that he would be taking the boy “to the other side.”

My son clung to me and said he didn’t want to leave me,” she told Lincoln-Goldfinch. “The official grabbed him out of my arms and took him away and I just stayed there crying and crying.”


Janus decision

Today, the Supreme Court overturned more than four decades of precedent by making fair share fees for public sector workers unconstitutional in the Janus v. AFSCME case. This decision makes it easier for anti-worker extremists to divide working people and further rig the economy.

This decision was the result of hundreds of millions of dollars spent by corporate billionaires over decades to take away working people’s freedom to stand together in a union – but these efforts will ultimately fail.

No court decision can extinguish the desire of working people standing together in unions to create better lives for our families and communities. We will not allow a court decision to stand in the way of the fight for living wage jobs, safe workplaces, equal pay for women, fair treatment of immigrants and dignity at work for everyone.

California needs strong unions to stand up to the rich and powerful who rig the economy against workers, and workers aren’t about to let these corporate billionaires reverse the progress that our movement has made. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us to keep our unions strong. No court decision or politician can stop us from standing together in a union to get a better deal for our hard work.

Now, more than ever before, we must show the world we are proud to be union strong! We urge you to talk to friends, family, and coworkers about why you support unions. Tweet or post on Facebook about why you support workers rights to stand together for better pay and conditions (use the #Union or #UnionStrong hashtag). Even add a #UnionStrong graphic to your Facebook profile photo.

Today, we commit to not only continuing to sustaining the labor movement – but strengthening it so more working people can negotiate a fair deal in return for their hard work. Despite this decision, we will continue to lead the fight for a balanced economy that gives everyone a fair shot at the American Dream.

In solidarity,

Shakeel Syed
Executive director


Anaheim $18 Minimum Wage Initiative Advances to November Ballot

Voters in November will decide whether Anaheim Resort-area companies that receive city subsidies should be required to pay their employees $18 an hour by 2022, after a split Anaheim City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to place a union-backed initiative on the November general election ballot.

Council members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring and Stephen Faessel voted no, saying they want to ask for an economic impact report before placing the item on the ballot.

If approved by voters, the initiative would require any company within the Anaheim Resort district receiving a city subsidy – and potentially businesses with contractual relationships with those companies – to pay at least $18 an hour by 2022, with the minimum wage increasing each year after that based on cost of living increases.

A coalition of worker unions supporting the ballot measure gathered more than 21,000 signatures in less than three weeks for the initiative, with the county Registrar of Voters confirming at least 13,185 of those signatures are registered voters in Anaheim, the qualifying threshold to appear on the ballot. Verification of signatures stopped once that threshold was reached.


Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention

On the morning that Jose Azurdia died, an officer at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California told a nurse Mr. Azurdia was ill and vomiting. The nurse told him “she did not want to see Azurdia because she did not want to get sick.” This began a series of unconscionable delays in getting Mr. Azurdia care for what turned out to be a fatal heart attack.

Thongchay Saengsiri suffered from the symptoms of congestive heart failure for most of the 15 months he was detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Lousiana, including fainting, swelling, anemia, coughing, and shortness of breath. Instead of properly diagnosing and treating these classic symptoms, a nurse recommended he increase his fluid intake, which likely increased his risk of heart failure.

Rafael Barcenas Padilla died from bronchopneumonia after a delay in transferring him to the hospital from the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, where nurses recorded his dangerous low oxygen levels over the course of three days that should have prompted immediate hospitalization.