On Monday, October 7, 2019, HSRD attorneys Tanya Sukhija-Cohen and Brian Olney filed a lawsuit on behalf of the non-profit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) against the Cities of Garden Grove and Santa Ana. The lawsuit sought to stop the illegal sale of the Willowick Golf Course, a 102 acre greenfield owned by Garden Grove and located in Santa Ana, and force the Cities to comply with the Surplus Land Act. The Cities were rushing ahead with plans to sell the property to for-profit developers in violation of the Act. The Act requires Cities to prioritize unneeded public land for use as parks and affordable housing. Garden Grove and Santa Ana are both experiencing an affordable housing crisis and each is considered “park poor.”
In response to HSRD’s lawsuit, counsel for the City of Garden Grove announced on Wednesday, October 9 that the City was withdrawing any plans to sell the Property until at least 2020. This action preserves the opportunity to develop the Property as a park or affordable housing consistent with the Surplus Land Act.
Before the lawsuit was filed, the Cities had failed to adequately inform the community of their unlawful development plans. City officials had refused even to meet with residents desperate to share their concerns about the future uses of one of the last large tracts of open space.
Tanya Sukhija-Cohen said “The community was loud and clear: they want parks and affordable housing. These Cities’ elected officials are supposed to listen to their constituents, not break the law.”
“I live one block away and the first I heard of it was when an OCCORD member knocked on my door,” said Robert Escandon, a Santa Ana native who joined the recently created Rise Up Willowick Coalition, a group of residents and community groups looking to ensure that any development on the golf course be community-centered and not a means to gentrify the area.
Byron Lopez, whose family rents in the nearby Santa Anita neighborhood, said that Rise Up Willowick members surveyed almost 325 homes surrounding the golf course and found that “the vast majority had no idea of what was being planned for our community.” Lopez added, “This is unacceptable for such a large plot of land whose development could have damaging results for our community. This is public land and the public should have a direct say in its development.”
“These Cities have a dire shortage of parks and affordable housing,” said Brian Olney. “And this is among the last open parcels of its kind being offered for sale. City leaders turned their backs on the community by attempting to rush through an illegal sale to for-profit developers. It’s outrageous. This Cities’ agreement to stop their illegal sale in response to the lawsuit is a huge victory for this community.”