What Happens When a Newport Beach Socialite Visits Santa Ana?

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If you're not from Newport Beach or a KDOC-TV Channel 56 viewer from back in the days when Wally George ruled supreme and she hosted a cooking show with the late RV king John Crean, you probably don't know who Barbara Venezia is. She's a nice woman, fierce defender of Newport Beach, charity maven, and that rarity: a Republican who's not walking evil.

Still, Barbara lives in her Newport Beach bubble, which made her recent column in the Orange County Register on visiting downtown SanTana read like an 1880s dispatch of a Brit visiting the Raj.

Her first mistake was relying on SanTana councilmember Busty Bustamante as a guide to the city--Huell Howser, he ain't. "To be honest, my only experiences in Santa Ana have been at O.C. Board of Supervisor meetings, so fun isn't something I associate with this town," Venezia says, while gasping that the downtown is "revitalized." Wow, you're just two decades late to the party, Babs! (Don't believe the Brave New Urbanists who say the area was dead until they bravely came into town).

She then goes on to talk "with one of the pioneers of the Santa Ana revitalization," Irv Chase, the owner of the Yost and the man--if you want to play that game--most responsible for holding back downtown SanTana because he insisted for 25 years on renting to wabs and their quinceañera shops instead of being open to new ideas--until the city made it financially worth his time, of course.

"As I walked through the artists' displays in the Santora Building basement, I thought, 'Move over Laguna, Santa Ana could become the art capital of O.C. given a few more years!' Again, the bubble: anyone who follows art knows that SanTana supplanted old, plein air/hippy dippy Laguna, oh, a decade ago. She also treats Memphis at the Santora and the Gypsy Den as somehow newcomers to the area, even though they've been there for nearly a decade each.

But the craziest part of Venezia's column is her conclusion, where she wrote, "I still had to drive through some dicey areas before reaching downtown that night." Of course, Aliso Viejo is sketchy to the typical Newport Beach socialite, but that area you drove through, Barbara, at least if you followed the instructions of Google Maps? Fourth Street? First part is residential and business--you're safe. Then industrial--you're safe. Next is a bunch of abandoned lots--that's all the fault of your pal Busty and his fellow councilmembers. Then you get to the about-to-get-exterminated Mexican part of Fourth Street--then you arrive to all the charming things you wrote about.

"Dicey"? Chica, go visit Blackie's around last call, then get back to me...in the meanwhile, kudos to you for finally discovering Orange County!


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