By Joy Hepp
The neighborhood kids who spend afternoons playing in Santa Ana’s Chepa’s Park may have heard tales of Josephina “Chepa” Andrade. The woman known as “La Reina de la Logan” united a generation of activists in a fight against city hall and helped to create the park that now bears her name. But they probably aren’t aware that her legacy is living on at the other side of the park’s handball court.
One of Chepa’s four daughters, 53-year-old Lucy Baltazar, moved with her extended family of six into a new four-bedroom, two-story home on the lot abutting Chepa’s park on Christmas Eve last year. The greatest gift, Baltazar says, was the opportunity to be a home owner after 30 years of renting. The Baltazars were one of three families (The Tran and Rojas families moved in next door and across the street) to be selected via a lottery to purchase homes priced approximately $100,000 below market rate in the heart of Santa Ana’s historic Logan Barrio. Baltazar believes her departed mother had something to do with it.
“As soon as they pulled out that number I know she and god were looking down on us,” she says.
In August of 2008 the city of Santa Ana approved a $1.5-million agreement with the Orange County Community Housing Corp., a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income housing, to build the homes and sell them to local first time buyers. OCCHC in turn contracted with Hope Builders, a licensed general contracting venture staffed by students of Taller San Jose, a nonprofit that readies at-risk youth for the workplace.
The lottery was open to residents from all over the city, but organizers “told the city that we’d like to limit it to people living in the neighborhood,” said longtime neighborhood activist Sam Romero, who was babysat by Chepa as a child and later worked alongside her through several neighborhood battles. “But it’s difficult when you’re using public money.” Romero says he can’t think of a better family to inhabit one of the homes.
A Fight for Residential Status
The fact that the city was enthusiastic about the program at all is the result of a decades-long battle by local activists, including Chepa Andrade, to keep their neighborhood in tact.
“They’ve been fighting to maintain the residential footing that they’ve got and try to improve on it so that the world knows they’re a residential neighborhood, not an industrial park,” says Allen Baldwin, OCCHC’s Executive director. “These three houses are a part of that statement.”
Chepa Andrade was an integral part of that fight for three decades. Born in 1926 on the corner of Logan and Stafford Streets during a time when Barrio Logan was one of the only places in Orange County where Mexican- Americans were permitted to own homes, she and her neighbors grew up alongside walnut and orange groves where their family members worked in packing facilities. Over time the laborers’ enclave became inundated with industry, and its remaining residents were all but forgotten by the city.
In the 1970s families complained of cesspools forming beneath their rented homes due to broken plumbing, of refrigerators that would not chill because multiple houses were connected to the same power service, of houses divided into five small apartments, some infested with rodents.
Despite these conditions, Barrio Logan residents considered their patch of land bordered by railroad tracks in the eastern part of the city to be sacred ground. One of the first times Andrade got involved was in 1969 when the city announced a plan to extend Civic Center Drive through the barrio, essentially cutting it in half.
“We said ‘Baloney.’ We weren’t going to let what happened to the poor people in Chavez Ravine, commonly known as Dodger Stadium, happen in here,” recalls Romero, who continues his role as community activist today. “Chepa wanted to barricade the streets.”
Andrade and Romero were part of a group that convinced the city to relent on their plan and allow residents to build additions to their existing dwellings. The residents were also given permission to build Logan Park. That park was renamed Chepa’s Park at an unveiling that occurred the same day as the ground breaking for the three new homes.
Although gaining the right to build home additions and a city park was considered a victory, the protesters weren’t able to maintain their momentum. However, when Father George Wanser, a Jesuit priest assigned to the neighborhood by the Oakland Training Institute, a faith-based community organizing group, discovered a 1973 land use plan that would have phased out Barrio Logan to clear the way for an industrial park, it was impetus the neighbors needed to boost their organizing efforts. Wanser also concluded that the industrial zoning had been impeding residents from attaining building permits and government or conventional loans and therefore left little opportunity for home owners to improve their living situations.
“The key to save this neighborhood was to get into a long drawn out fight and we got well organized,” says Romero. He recalls that Andrade – also referred to as the “neighborhood Florence Nightingale,” for her efforts to make certain the Logan’s diabetic residents remembered to take their insulin shots – had effective tactics for amassing large crowds at city hall protests.
“It was standing room only because Chepa would get on the telephone and call all of her uncles and nieces and nephews,” Romero says.
In what was considered a striking victory, Chepa and the Logan activists convinced the City Council to rezone the barrio — changing parts of it from industrial to residential. Under the new rezoning package most of the 118 residential structures could stay.
A Legacy Lives On
When the lottery was held on July 11th, 2009 the Baltazars, including Lucy; her husband Javier, 60; daughters Josephine, 32 and Natalie, 22 and granddaughters 7-year-old Anila and 3-year-old Alina were all living in a two bedroom bungalow where they had to take turns cooking dinner in the small kitchen. When theirs was the second name called, Lucy says she felt a sense of relief.
According to the California Association of Realtors, the median home price in September 2009, the month ground was broken on the homes, was $245,000. The price for a brand new three bedroom home would have been significantly more. The price of living on a street where you know all of your neighbors is invaluable.
“Sure you have problems … but we want to stay here,” Baltazar says “Everybody is close to each other. You can go across the street and ask for something.”
Lucy’s brother, Joe Andrade, lives two houses away from the Baltazar’s new home and takes pride in keeping Logan’s streets as free of gangs and drugs as possible.
“If somebody was dealing around here, I would know,” he says. He believes the addition of the three new houses will help perpetuate his mother’s efforts.
“It brings more power to the neighborhood because you can depend on the home owners more than the renters because renters don’t care as much,” he says. “Plus, they’re more likely to show up at meetings.”
In the years since their initial victories, the residents of Barrio Logan have remained defiant of the city’s expectations that the neighborhood would eventually become completely industrial. Residents see the three new houses sitting atop the land of a former fire extinguisher and sprinkler manufacturer as shining examples of what happens when neighbors fight city hall. Baltazar, Romero, and Andrade say they don’t plan on giving up their cause any time soon.
“She’s installed it into us,” Joe Andrade says of his late mother. “She fought so hard for the neighborhood that we can’t stop now.”