Under pressure from neighborhood residents, the Santa Ana City Council will consider closing down two weekend swap meets when it next meets in early July.
The swap meets, at Eddie West Field and Rancho Santiago College, have been the source of numerous complaints from residents, who say the popular open-air markets create too much noise and cause trash, traffic and parking problems.
They are also in violation of the city's zoning code, according to city Planning Director Melanie Fallon. Both of the swap meets are held on land designated as open space, where no commercial activity is permitted. The city granted the swap meet operator, Norton Western Ltd., a contract to conduct the swap meet at Eddie West Field. But the swap meet at the college, which began earlier this year when another swap meet was closed to make room for a redevelopment project, has no similar sanction, Fallon said.
The city Planning Commission voted down an ordinance last month that would have permitted swap meets and other commercial activities on land zoned as open space. The council will consider that ordinance at its July 6 meeting, and it will also discuss whether to extend Norton Western Ltd.'s lease at Eddie West Field, Mayor Dan Young said. That lease expires Sept. 30.
The swap meet eventually would have to be closed anyway, Young said, to make room for a multilevel parking structure the city has planned for the site. The second swap meet, and the problems residents say it is creating, "brought the issue to a head," Young said.
Councilman Dan Griset, who lives in Washington Square, the neighborhood directly north of Eddie West Field and the source of most of the complaints, said he thinks that the swap meet has "outgrown its site" and should find a more suitable location.
Richard Norton, president of Norton Western, said he has gone to great lengths to alleviate the problems described by residents. Moreover, he said the swap meets produce a lot of revenue--by his account $600,000; by the city's, half that amount--for Santa Ana.
Norton said he has hired crews to clean up trash in the surrounding neighborhoods during and after the meets and pays for four off-duty police officers to patrol the area and issue citations for parking and moving violations.
Norton said he has gathered about 16,000 signatures from vendors and patrons who want the swap meets to stay open. "The constituency of the city wants them to stay open," Norton said. "It's 25 homeowners who don't."
Residents' complaints that the swap meets are "negatively impacting the neighborhood is just not true," Norton said. "The bottom line is . . . the neighbors are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who don't want Hispanics in the neighborhood."
Most of the 400 or so vendors at the Eddie West Field swap meet, along with a majority of the estimated 18,000 people who attend the meet each weekend, are Latino, Norton said.
"That's a cop-out," said Susan Tully, president of SANE (Santa Ana Neighbors for Excellence), which is spearheading the fight to close the swap meets. "The bottom line is they should never have been permitted to go in there. . . . It's an improper zone for a swap meet, and they're having a tremendous impact on the neighborhoods."
Sara Broadbent lives about two blocks from the Eddie West Field swap meet. While she concedes that parking has gotten "a little better" since Norton installed barricades and signs directing patrons to parking lots, the other problems are just as bad as ever, she said.
"They set up early in the morning, and they clean up with the sweepers late at night," said Broadbent, president of the Washington Square Neighborhood Assn. "I can hear the music they play over the loudspeakers during the day from my house. . . . It's not being regulated, and any other business would be under a lot of strict regulations."