TimesOC: Santa Ana moves to apologize for 1906 burning of its Chinatown

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TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Friday, May 6. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

More than a century ago, Santa Ana city officials chose to burn down the city’s Chinatown after a man was diagnosed with leprosy.


My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote this week about the racist incident and how the city hopes to atone for the sins of the past.

In 1906, the City Council held an emergency meeting after Wong Woh Ye was quarantined with leprosy, though it is now disputed whether he actually had the disease. Following recommendations of the city’s Board of Health, the council unanimously decided to have the fire marshal set Chinatown on fire.

San Román noted that the incident occurred amid a longstanding effort against the city’s Chinese residents following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The city was also looking to build a new city hall on the site. Disturbingly, the Los Angeles Times called the burning of Chinatown “as picturesque an event as could be imagined.”

The original Santa Ana City Hall on Main Street in Santa Ana.
The original Santa Ana City Hall on Main Street in Santa Ana.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Now, the current progressive-leaning Santa Ana City Council is hoping to make amends. The council discussed this week preparing a formal apology and creating a memorial. Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez, Planning Commissioner Alan Woo, Assistant City Manager Steven Mendoza and Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan worked on the draft apology, San Román wrote.

“We just want to do what’s right and recognize past wrongs,” said Phan, who is Santa Ana’s first Vietnamese American councilwoman. “I felt it was really important to me as someone who is trying to do my best to revitalize our Asian American heritage in the city.”

Woo believed that the apology was aptly timed because there has been an explosion of anti-Asian racism across the country. In 2020, there was a 1,800% increase in anti-Asian American hate incidents reported in Orange County, according to the Orange County Human Relations Commission.

Council members support allocating money for a future memorial of the burning of Chinatown. However, the apology will likely be voted on later this month, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“The people’s democracy was used against Chinese Americans,” Woo said. “That deserves an apology. The lives of over 200 Chinese immigrants were affected by that decision.”

Tony Lam stands at the park that now bears his name.
Tony Lam, center, the first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the U.S., stands at the park that now bears his name.
(Ben Brazil)


The first Vietnamese American elected to public office in the United States was honored this week when a park was renamed after him. Tony Lam made history when he claimed a seat on the Westminster City Council in 1992. Lam, who fled his home country after the Vietnam War, has always looked out for his community. During his time on the council, he helped Vietnamese immigrants get business licenses, pushed for the creation of a senior center and helped make “Little Saigon” a landmark.

Tustin officials broke ground this week on a future short-term, transitional housing and community resource center for the homeless. The project will be led by Family Promise of Orange County, an organization that mobilizes volunteers from the faith-based community to end homelessness in O.C., wrote my colleague Sarah Mosqueda. “Homelessness is such an issue that is affecting Tustin, the county of Orange and the entire nation, frankly,” said Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard. “Each time we can collaborate in a private-public partnership to get something like this done, we are inching toward solutions for homelessness.”

After helping establish cancer treatment facilities at Hoag Hospital, Newport Beach philanthropist Sandy Sewell died late last month at age 87. Decades ago, Sewell and a group of women founded a donor support group for the Hoag Cancer Center. That group has raised more than $23 million for the Hoag Family Cancer Institute since its inception, wrote reporter Sara Cardine. The topic of cancer was important to Sewell, who was a breast cancer survivor.

The police academy in Golden West College in Huntington Beach will be investigated following allegations from a former training officer that other training officers treated recruits unprofessionally. Some of this behavior involved “pointless” lunch inspections, which cut recruits’ 30-minute lunchtimes in half so that officers could identify restricted items like sugary foods, wrote reporter Hyeyoon Alyssa Choi. The former training officer also said that he received a report from a parent of a former recruit who developed blisters from being made to crawl on hot asphalt.

The city of Fountain Valley is hoping to gain some significant revenue from an electronic billboard that the City Council approved this week. The city will enter into a 15-year lease agreement for the sign if it receives final approval from Caltrans and a state agency. If the city extends the lease up to 30 years, then it stands to make $30 million, wrote my colleague Andrew Turner.

Ira Glass, host and creator of This American Life, comes to Irvine Barclay Theatre on Wednesday, May 11
Ira Glass, host and creator of “This American Life,” comes to Irvine Barclay Theatre on May 11.
(Sandy Honig)


Ira Glass, known for the groundbreaking radio show “This American Life,” will be performing next week at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. When Glass released his show in 1995, it redefined how stories could be told on the radio. It has won seven Peabody Awards and the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded for audio journalism. His performance will mirror his radio show but will be adapted for a live, in-person audience. “Basically, it is just an excuse for telling a bunch of really entertaining, funny, moving stories,” Glass told TimesOC on Tuesday. “And some of them are about things that I actually have learned in doing my job and making a show, and then some of them are just stories from the show that are just really fun to present to an audience.”

Second Harvest Food Bank received a donation this week of half a ton of guacamole from the company Wholly Guacamole. The company made the donation to help families in need during May. The first shipment arrived right in time for Cinco de Mayo. Several of the Wholly Guacamole team members also volunteered earlier this week to help prepare food to be distributed to needy families around Orange County.

Members of the Newport-Irvine Rotary Club and other community members over the weekend planted trees and other native plants to celebrate Arbor Day. About 15 trees and about 200 native shrubs were planted, wrote my colleague Lilly Nguyen. The plants came from Irvine-based Shadetree Nursery.

Surfer Peter Mel will be inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach.
Surfer Peter Mel will be inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach.
(Raul Roa)


Three more people will be inducted into Huntington Beach’s Surfers’ Hall of Fame this year. Surfer Peter Mel, surf explorer Martin Daly and Sugar Shack Cafe owner Michele Turner will be commemorated during a ceremony in August. Reporter Matt Szabo wrote about each of the inductees and why they’re legends in the surfing industry.

Taylor Ward has become one of the top hitters for the Angels by following the teachings of his friend Trent Woodward, who studied hitting concepts while playing minor league ball. Through adjusting parts of his hitting, such as the relationship between his body’s tilt and the bat angle at the start of the downswing, Ward was able to revamp his swing, wrote reporter Mike Digiovanna. “I did a lot of swing changes with my guy, Trent Woodward,” Ward said. “He learned a lot while he was with the Astros and filled me in on the philosophies they were learning at the time. I’ve taken those to heart and have really taken them to another level, and that’s really what helped me.”

Shohei Ohtani carried the Angels to an 8-0 rout over the Boston Red Sox this week. Ohtani had an incredible performance, with 11 strikeouts and two hits. Angels manager Joe Maddon called Ohtani’s game “unusual” and “otherworldly.”

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