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Santa Ana Changing Its Message

`Downtown O.C.' -- with a nod to the city's history and future urbanization -- will appear on the water tower.

April 23, 2006|Stephen Clark | Times Staff Writer

Just six miles south of Disneyland stands an aging water tower looming near the Santa Ana Freeway and displaying the city of Santa Ana's messages for the '90s: "Education 1st" and "Arts and Culture."

Now, with urban redevelopment quickening, Santa Ana plans a new slogan -- "Downtown Orange County" -- which is raising a few eyebrows.

"The face of Orange County has changed and the urban landscape has changed," said Santa Ana City Councilman Jose Solorio. "The one thing that has remained the same is that Santa Ana is the downtown, the county seat and the most urban, dynamic city with a lot of energy and urban development."

The City Council voted last week to upgrade and repaint the 152-foot water tower for $1.1 million. Although the new slogan isn't expected to appear on the tank until year's end, the city is already using it on its website.

Santa Ana is the county's most populous municipality with 350,000 residents. It is the county seat -- home to federal, state and county offices and courthouses -- has a vibrant shopping area and is near the geographical center of Orange County.

But is Santa Ana the downtown for the entire county? Residents have different thoughts on the new slogan.

"When I think of Orange County, I think of Santa Ana," said Wes Dixon, 19, of Brea. "It looks like downtown Orange County.... Anaheim is more of a tourist center."

"It sounds like a positive and upbeat slogan," said Dan Brown, 36, of Orange as he shopped at Westfield MainPlace mall in Santa Ana.

Tremetria Friend, 26, of Santa Ana likes this slogan better than "Education 1st" because it reflects what Santa Ana is. "This is downtown," she said, adding that other cities in the county are just imitations.

But Tina Mantas, 23, of Anaheim Hills said that Santa Ana "is where I go to pay my speeding tickets." When she thinks of downtown, she said, Newport Beach "or even the city of Orange" come to mind.

"When I tell my friends on the East Coast that I'm from Orange County, they think of Laguna Beach," she said, because of MTV's "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County."

"That's kind of a lame slogan," said Harry Ogilvie, a Santa Ana resident who called Costa Mesa the county's real downtown. His suggestion for a Santa Ana slogan: "Keep Orange County Clean."

"Downtown is in the eye of the beholder," said Peter Buffa, a former mayor of Costa Mesa. The area around South Coast Plaza is as urban as anywhere in the county, he said. "The South Coast Metro area currently has more density than downtown San Diego and will eventually surpass downtown San Francisco.

"So if any city wants to take on Costa Mesa for the heavyweight downtown title of Orange County," he said, "I say, 'Bring it on.' "

Anaheim City Councilman Harry Sidhu speculated that if there were a battle, Anaheim would win. "This is the main place where things are happening," he said, citing the city's theme parks, sports teams and convention center. "We are offering everything."

And, he added, "We don't need a slogan."

Irvine Mayor Beth Krom said that when Orange County's Great Park is built, "We will represent the heart and soul of the county."

Santa Ana city officials said the newest slogan was created to spotlight the city's historic role as the county seat and its future as an urban center. It is a reflection, they said, of new restaurants, shops and galleries, new downtown apartments and lofts, an expanding arts district -- and the city's declining crime rate.

Slogans have long been used by cities and states. New York's "The Big Apple" and "Virginia is for Lovers" are often cited as among the best, along with Los Angeles' "City of Angels."

Santa Ana adopted its first official slogan, the "Golden City," in the 1980s after a city cleanup.

Author Joel Kotkin, a national expert on urban growth who is based in Costa Mesa, said he finds the slogan puzzling: "I don't quite get it. One of the unique things about Orange County is it really doesn't have a downtown. It has several downtowns."

Some of the ingredients that make up a downtown, he noted, are business and retail districts, entertainment and sports venues, in addition to government centers.

"I think downtown is just not that applicable to Orange County," he said.

County Supervisor Bill Campbell agreed. When asked which city he would pick as downtown Orange County, he said with laugh: "It would be Villa Park. That's where I live."

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