Editor: This is a Reader’s Response to Jim Bliesner’s article, “Whatever Happened to Downtown Artists? The Experiences of Three Creative Souls Who Survived .
By Remigia Bermúdez
I take my hat off to Jim Bliesner for all that he has done and continues to do for humanity, including but not limited to, the Arts (locally and globally), job creation, non-profits creation, financial institutions’ re-investments into our communities, higher level educational institutions and a host of other avaunt-guard ideas and ideologies that enhance our livelihoods in the San Diego-Baja California transnational region.
Bliesner’s article about the three resilient artists, forced to become nomadic artists thanks to the City of San Diego’s redevelopment work, is an in-life true tribute, much to the artists’ credit! Many times tributes such as his for Gloria, Lela and Juliette are written as postmortem pieces. It’s quite fitting to give credit where credit is due while they are still alive.
I took Bliesner’s article as a call for action through example, not as a historical “look-back when; who did what.” He reactivates the dream of so many to develop art live/work spaces and districts by featuring Gloria’s, Lela’s and Juliette’s plights and successes in spite of numerous attempted derailing stumble blocks. Honoring all past and present relations of art work/live spaces and art districts supporters, we must make their dream our reality while honoring future relations to come. The article tracks historical strides for the artists’ survival in their attempts for permanence in a place they could call “home” as well as their “work place.” Thank you, Mr. Bliesner, for keeping the faith alive through your article – “believing that it can be…que sí se puede.”
Definitely, the article serves as incentive for a stronger push for artists and supporters of The Arts in our communities to create artists’ live/work space sectors such as the one Bliesner and colleagues promoted not too long ago, “Barrio Logan/East Village (bl/ev) Arts District.” The 10 principles under which BL/EV was designed to operate should remain alive and continue towards fruition:
- 1) provoke and nurture creativity;
- 2) achieve economic development for artists, business and residents;
- 3) encourage educational opportunities;
- 4) facilitate live/work development for artists of all disciplines;
- 5) establish independent financial resources for artists;
- 6) support cross-cultural creative dialogue;
- 7) establish new venues for the display, production and marketing of art;
- 8) protect and promote existing public and private art;
- 9) strengthen the production of light industrial art-oriented business; and
- 10) establish mutual benefit marketing, distribution and production strategies.”
All of us of responsible thought and justice enactors need to be active community promoters of all that enhance(s) our lives and vigilantes of all that take(s) away from our livelihoods not just for ourselves but for future generations. The reason why the 5 communities (Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill and Memorial) in the Greater Logan Heights Larger Community are still desirable areas for art districts is because we have such cadre eternally fending off redevelopment take over of our, to date, somewhat “virgin territory.”
But, the proposed football stadium proponents have been looking our direction. They tried to move the 8th council district’s central area to District 2 (downtown) and we fended them off successfully through quite a battle.
It’s hard to tell when and if the destruction derby will start in our Greater Logan Heights area or how many dancing partners will dance to the money flashers’ tunes or in what fashion the San Diego City Planning Department will disguise granted “permits”. What comes to mind immediately is the “Farmer’s Market” building (Logan Heights historic landmark) and Walmart’s 2012 fiasco. Little did our community know that the so called “interior tenant improvements” the City’s planning department staff fed us for months and months translated into extensive demolition. Staff assured our communities that there would be no changes to the exterior and look at what happened.
Bliesner’s article also brought sad memories of past injustices: 1) Juliette’s photo of Mario Torero’s shadow and remnants of his “The Eyes of Picasso” piece on the partially demolished Pythias Building clearly marked an impression on me. I equate it to Maestro Torero’s ouvre d’art remaining eye steadfastly locking eyes with its creator for one long last farewell or perhaps an “hasta pronto/see you soon/arriverdeci…” Try tear-wrenching.
“The Eyes of Picasso” met up with its master again for another adieu. This time Torero’s work faced downtown having been painted on the exterior west wall of, what I believe was, the Re-Incarnation Building (former Carnation Building) in Center City East (now East Village). But, ‘twas once again demolished by the jaws of redevelopment.
2) A second sad memory as a point of contention is towards downtown redevelopment as it pertained to what was Centre City East prior to being renamed “East Village,” as induced by the area’s redevelopment for a private for-profit entity, PETCO Park, partly funded by our property taxes and public funds. Prior to the Padres’ ballpark (PETCO Park), the area once called Centre City East was earmarked for community revitalization per California Redevelopment Act and earmarked for low- and moderate-income housing deemed by HUD.
Per redevelopment law, 20% of the tax increment (derived from property taxes earned post redevelopment area designation) collected was mandated to be used for building low-and moderate-income housing. These three courageous artists and others had the right idea to call Centre City East their home as their live/work space.
But as the old Mexican saying goes, “Con dinero baila el perro” (when money is flashed, even dogs will dance – not a literal translation but rather a contextual one), when rich developers (the $$ flashers) started negotiating with CCDC and the City of San Diego’s government officials (the willing dancing partners), the area was intentionally, totally forgotten to the point that it deteriorated, therefore becoming a “blighted” area, which I often refer to as “blight by design.”
Meeting the blighted condition required by Redevelopment Law, Center City East would be no more. That’s exactly how CCDC and the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency justified transferring all development rights to PETCO Park proponents, allowed the gentrification (push out) of all residents and business operators/owners (artists and others) and allowed the eradication of Centre City East’s community cohesive fabric, including razing historically-designated sites (which are supposedly protected by law from any modification, let alone being demolished). Wayne Buss’s Re-Incarnation Building (the former Carnation Building) comes to mind.
Many closed City Council sessions covered a lot of the City/Padres secret dealings. Some such practices stopped thanks to Mel Shapiro for suing the City (Shapiro v. San Diego City Council (2002) 96 Cal. App. 4th 904 …). Otherwise, more covert movidas would have continued to take place in East Village (Centre City East) such as the recent case of the Farmer’s Market/Walmart/City of San Diego fiasco, which construction site covers 22nd, 21st, Imperial and Commercial in Logan Heights.
Remigia (Remy) Bermúdez, currently a teacher and community activist/ organizer, has over 20 years of professional experience with federal, state and regional governments and community advocacy, 8 of which are in California Redevelopment in San Diego. She’s earned a Social Science B.A., a Master’s in City Planning and a BCLAD (Bilingual Ed.) teaching credential from SDSU. She owns and operates RemyLinks whose motto is “Responsible Government for Better Communities.”