SANTA ANA : Way Sought to Keep El Mercado Open

The Rancho Santiago College Board of Trustees on Monday told dozens of hopeful swap-meet vendors that they will explore ways to continue operation of El Mercado, the predominantly Latino swap meet held in the college parking lot on Sundays.

The Santa Ana City Council, which spent three years in court in an effort to shut down the swap meet, told vendors last week that the event could survive if the college applies for a variance from city ordinances which prohibit open-air markets.

After hearing emotional testimony from vendors, the board announced that it will consider applying for a variance at its March 18 meeting. The trustees also directed Chancellor Robert D. Jensen to invite city officials to participate in a joint task force that would address problems which led to the city’s opposition to El Mercado.

Board President Shirley Ralston said the variance application would probably include a request to move El Mercado to Centennial Park from its present location in the parking lot at Bristol and 17th streets. Residents of the area around the college have complained of excessive noise and trash from the swap meet.


Councilman Richards L. Norton, whose company, Norton Western Ltd., operates the swap meet, was at the board meeting and said he hopes that the college and the city will be able to work together.

“I’d like to see the politics get out of the situation,” Norton said. “I have a real strong feeling for these people because this is their last chance. I’d like to see the market continue for the good of the people of Santa Ana.”

Board members have indicated that if El Mercado is allowed to continue operating, the college would run the event itself and scrap the current arrangement in which an outside contractor operates the meet and shares profits with the college.