Santa Ana officials say they don't like giving money to people who sue them, so they have cut off $143,000 earmarked for Heritage Orange County.
The historical preservation group recently joined a lawsuit seeking to prevent the city from permitting construction of 194 condominiums southwest of 4th and French streets, the site of a former Pacific Electric train depot.
Heritage also got a court order recently blocking the depot's demolition.
In response, the City Council on Monday revoked a $143,000 contract with Heritage to administer several projects.
"I can't believe it," said Heritage president Hal Thomas. "I suppose I should because it's happened, but it's hard to take."
City Manager Robert C. Bobb said the pending suit, originally filed by a citizens' group, the Alliance for Fair Redevelopment in Santa Ana, was the reason he recommended that the city cut off the $143,000 in federal funding.
"The city must work in partnership with the organizations it funds, but it must be a two-way partnership," he said. "We are under no obligation to work with a group that continually takes an adversarial position."
The contract called for Heritage to administer $116,000 in low-interest loans to renovate the facades of historical buildings.
Heritage also was to get $27,000 to study placement of signs at historical sites downtown and to produce a brochure guiding pedestrians through the "downtown historic district."
Thomas said Heritage already has done some preliminary work on the contract and would have to file a claim against the city to reimburse the group for that expense, which includes hiring staff and working with graphic artists. "The people of Santa Ana are the ones who lose," he said, adding that few people have the needed expertise about the area.
But Bobb said he has instructed his staff to find someone else to take over the contract. "We're very proud of our work in this area, and we're going to accomplish the goals of historic preservation in Santa Ana," he said.
City Atty. Edward Cooper said Heritage has sued the city before--to prevent destruction of the Holly sugar plant on Dyer Road. The plant was razed for a hotel development in 1983. He questioned why Santa Ana should give money to a group that hires lawyers to sue the city.
Thomas said all litigation costs are paid with donations. He said the $143,000 is "about three times" the group's operating budget.
Heritage currently is working on five historical projects in Santa Ana and acting as a consultant on several others, he said.
Thomas said he has sent the council a letter asking them to reconsider.
It's ironic, he said, that the city provides money for Heritage to preserve historical sites, but cuts the group's funds when it tries to save the Pacific Electric depot. "The ironies are numerous," he said. "This has sort of a chilling effect on one's ability to comment on public policy."
However, he said, the group will continue to pursue its suit, which is set for a hearing Jan. 6.
Cooper said the building, which was used as a depot for the old Red Car trains from 1927 to 1950, is not listed on the National Register of Historical Buildings, and that the state Historical Commission has set a hearing for February to determine its significance.