O.C. Community Feels Forgotten

Times Staff Writer

Residents of a sliver of unincorporated Orange County near Anaheim woke up recently to a fresh coat of gang graffiti and remnants of a weekend drive-by shooting.

“It’s not something new,” said Lisa Castillo, 20, as she toted a child’s car seat to her vehicle near where authorities found at least eight shell casings.

Though no one was injured, it’s incidents like this, argue lifelong resident Albert Lopez and others, that show the need for more services, especially youth programs in the neighborhood known as La Colonia Independencia. The community is made up of about 1,000 predominantly working-class Latinos.


When then-Supervisor Cynthia P. Coad in 2002 earmarked $450,000 to build a park and low-income senior housing, residents saw a bit of relief on the way. But the project sputtered this year after the local school district was not able to release the needed land.

And this month, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, who represents La Colonia, asked supervisors to divert the money to a historic building in Placentia that was in need of repair. The decision angered Colonia residents, who criticized the board

“They’re talking about restoring a house; we’re people,” said Veronica Briones, 22, Lopez’s niece, who also was born in La Colonia.

In an interview, Norby said that when the project fell through, he had to return the bond money to Sacramento or use it elsewhere in the district.

“The needs in other parts of the county are too great, and I saw no other alternative,” Norby said

Lopez criticized the county for not publicizing the meeting so residents could express their opinions before the vote.

At the meeting, Norby added insult to injury, Lopez said, when he held up an orange given to him by Key Ranch advocates.

“We’ve got problems here, but they’re talking about giving money to some ranch because it’s got an orange grove,” he said.

“If Norby wants an orange, he can come here to La Colonia. I’ve got an orange tree, and my neighbors have lemon trees and avocado trees too.”

La Colonia was founded by laborers who came to Orange County before World War I to work in orange groves. As late as the 1970s, the quarter-mile-square district lacked sewers, paved streets and sidewalks.

Supervisors did not punish La Colonia, Norby said. He listed recent improvements, including $90,000 for new playground equipment at La Colonia’s community center.

The money doesn’t just restore George Key Ranch but also saves it, said Dianne S. Brooks, chairwoman of the county’s Historical Commission, who supported Key Ranch.

The 2 1/2-acre ranch is on the National Register of historical sites and is visited by more than 6,000 schoolchildren a year, Brooks said.

“I’m very sensitive to kids and those that don’t have much, because I grew up poor and was one of them,” Brooks said.

“I don’t see this as taking away but see it as giving to people.”

Although the board ultimately voted unanimously for the reallocation, there was heated debate.

Supervisor Jim Silva initially balked at the high estimate to renovate the ranch. Supervisor Lou Correa, took exception to a Key Ranch advocate who described the ranch as “a historic jewel.”

“La Colonia is a historic jewel too, just like other barrios in the county,” Correa said. “These are where the farmworkers who labored hard in the fields lived and where their descendants now live. There’s a lot of diamonds in the rough.”

La Colonia’s future services could rest with the city of Anaheim. Last week, the city submitted documents to annex the neighborhood.