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SANTA ANA : Bristol Street Project Suffers a Setback

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A massive $335-million redevelopment plan for the city’s “blighted” Bristol Street corridor was delivered a setback Friday when a state appellate court ordered city officials to identify replacement housing for residents who would be displaced by the project.

The city’s Redevelopment Agency had said it would in the future adopt a housing replacement plan for about 650 families to be uprooted by the widening of a four-mile stretch of Bristol Street, one of the county’s most congested thoroughfares.

But in an opinion issued Friday, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the city must show that such replacement dwellings are available or are being created before the project can proceed.

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The city also was ordered to show why “non-blighted” property along adjacent streets should be included in the redevelopment zone.

Plaintiffs in the suit called the decision an important victory for low- and moderate-income families and minority business owners living and working in the Bristol Street corridor.

“This is a good decision for those families that live a block on each side of Bristol and for the minority-owned businesses along the street,” said Richard Spix, an attorney for a single mother and an optometrist who challenged the city’s Bristol Street plan.

Although disappointed with the ruling, City Manager David N. Ream called it a minor setback that would not derail or delay plans to turn “one of the most blighted streets in all of Orange County into the best looking and best functioning street in the county.”

Ream said the city is now acquiring property on either side of Bristol Street at the southern end of the project area, which stretches from Central Avenue north to Memory Lane. The plan calls for a six-lane road with landscaped parkways and trees lining both sides.

Bristol Street is now a patchwork of homes, mom-and-pop shops and eateries that cater to a largely Latino clientele. It is also next to some of the city’s worst drug-dealing areas.

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Area residents and business owners did want the area cleaned up, but they feared that in the process, they soon would have nowhere to go. Two of them--Robert T. Gonzales, an optometrist with an office at Bristol and 17th streets, and Evangelina Avalos, a poor single mother living in the zone--brought suit in January, 1990, saying that the city had exaggerated claims of blight and would unfairly displace residents.

A Superior Court judge ruled in the city’s favor in March, 1991, finding that the city did not “abuse its discretion in finding blight.”

The city has 15 days to seek a rehearing of the case. Assistant City Atty. Richard Lay said city officials will review the decision next week.

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