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Maximum Progress on Minnie Street

Graffiti once marred the walls of the apartments on Minnie Street, where yellow grass carpeted the grounds and drug dealers trolled the neighborhood.

But now there is a new coat of paint on most of the buildings. There is landscaping on the once-barren grounds, and the crime rate in the area is half what it once was, thanks in part to wrought-iron fences and better lighting.

Since 1988, when Whitestone Properties Inc. began buying up apartments in Santa Ana Village, living conditions have vastly improved at the sprawling apartment complex on South Minnie Street near McFadden and Grand avenues, city officials and community leaders say.

Folks from Whitestone said progress has been made, but there is still much to be done.

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“The property was not in a habitable condition,” Whitestone’s president Kris Kakkar said. “We’re working hard to fix it up and make it look good.”

There are 525 units on the 10 acres of land bordering both sides of Minnie Street, and Whitestone now owns 377 of them, he said. The company has spent half a million dollars on rehabilitation, which included fixing tiles, carpeting and plumbing in 50% of the units.

As tenants moved out and their vacated apartments were repaired, Kakkar would invite residents of the other units to move in so their dwellings could in turn be fixed up, said Rifka Hirsch, executive director of The Cambodian Family Inc. service center behind Minnie Street.

“When (Whitestone) came in they did a great deal,” Hirsch said. Kakkar “was making great efforts to be good to the tenants.”

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“I’ve never seen tenants so cooperative,” Kakkar said of the residents of Santa Ana Village, about 60% of whom are Cambodian and nearly 35% Latino. “That’s one of the reasons that made us keep going. It turned out to be a community project more than an investment project.”

Residents were complaining that their mail, including welfare checks, was being stolen from mailboxes scattered throughout the property. So Whitestone bought new silver metal mailboxes and consolidated them in central areas, he said.

Parking spaces were continually being taken by non-residents, and tenants from neighboring apartments were dumping trash on the grounds. But the black wrought-iron fences and the newly paved lots are taking care of both problems. Whitestone also hired contractors to collect trash daily and take care of landscaping, Kakkar said.

The fences also make it harder for criminals to escape from police, Kakkar said.

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Hirsch agreed. “They’ve made it much harder for drug dealers to get around in that area.”

The changes have helped Santa Ana police keep the area safe, according to Lt. Robert Sayne. The department has also increased the number of patrol officers in the neighborhood, where drug peddling and gang activities have decreased by 50% in the past several years, he said.

To implement the property changes, Whitestone has been working closely with city officials, who said they are pleased with the progress on Minnie Street.

“The improvements have benefitted in making it a better place to live,” City Manager David N. Ream said.

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Whitestone will have to spend another $500,000 to repair the rest of the units and put up more fences around the property, Kakkar said. “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re working on it,” he said.


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