The Scramble for Parks, Street Repairs, Fire Station, Street Lights and Sidewalks: City Heights Capital Improvements in the Time of Austerity

by on October 10, 2012 · 10 comments

in Activism, City Heights: Up Close & Personal, Encore, Government

The CPC (Community Planners Committee) Chair also recommended that Groups…take a realistic approach to requesting projects given the limited available funding; and ensure that project requests are prioritized.  The CPC will also provide support as requested by Community Planning Group representatives and advocate for aggressive public outreach within each community.   Capital Improvement Program: Public Input and the Need for a Multi-year Plan, IBA Report Number:12-39

The CPC’s admonition that we should “take a realistic approach to requesting projects given the limited funding available” is a familiar refrain to those of us who have lived in City Heights for any length of time.  The Community Planning Committee is just the latest of many voices asking us to be reasonable.

These same voices are often inclined to have their own sense of what is “realistic” in City Heights.  Perhaps the most blatant reflection of this attitude  occurred in the early 90’s when then City Councilman Ron Roberts voted against the plan which would have provided five blocks of cover over SR-15.  Those covers would have physically knitted the community back together and provided land for large scale infrastructure improvements, such as a post office or library.

Roberts explained his no vote– the cost per square foot was not justified in City Heights.  He did however find the costs entirely justifiable to mitigate the trolley lines through his Little Italy district during that same time period.

The infrastructure investments over the past two decades have been undeniably significant.  New schools, a library, parks, an adult ed center and a police substation were constructed.  Yet we still do not meet city wide standards for parks.  The SR-15 transit centers on  El Cajon and University Avenue remain lifeless concrete pads; nor is there the promised north-south rapid transit (Centerline) on the freeway below.

Deferred maintenance takes on deep significance in City Heights.  The City just completed the construction of Water Group 787.  The Ortiz Corporation was awarded the contract to rip out one hundred year old cast iron water pipes under streets and alleys and replace them.  This project should have been done decades ago–deferred maintenance has been yet another of the city’s dirty little budgeting secrets.  It ended up being a long drawn out affair in the alley behind our house.

The surface of the alley was removed and temporary pipes were installed in late winter.  The project was completed on August 8.  I asked one of the workers why it took six months–she shrugged and said she didn’t know why similar work was completed in eight weeks in other areas of the city.  I do know that the Ortiz construction crews would be gone for weeks at a time; the temporary pipes were hit by cars and leaks would turn parts of the alley to muck.  Sometimes we were told that we would be without water, other times the lack of water came as an unwelcome surprise.

Public infrastructure is critical to the health, safety and quality of our lives in City Heights just as it is in every community in the city.  There needs to be a commitment to maintain that infrastructure and add to it as the population grows and as the community’s needs change over time.  The public infrastructure we currently have–or don’t have in City Heights is a reflection of a larger perception of  what we deserve as much as what the community itself says it needs and wants.

I recently received an email about the upcoming meeting of  the City Heights Planning Area Committee (not to be confused with the Community Planners Committee noted above.) The topic of the meeting is Capital Improvements Projects (CIP) in the area.  The email included a list of proposed projects, a reminder of the paucity of funds and an invitation to provide input and hear a more in-depth discussion of the list.  The community is asked to prioritize approximately 23 projects, if I understand the project list correctly.

Do I give Euclid sidewalks a higher priority than streetlights or a mini- park acquisition?  This is like asking a parent to prioritize buying eye glasses for one child over paying for a reading tutor for another.  Is that what it means to be “realistic” in City Heights?

The list noted that some of the projects fall under the purview of other entities such as CalTrans, or funding could derive from other City sources such as ADA.  I was encouraged to see the SR-15 transit decks on the list, but they are a bitter reminder of what CalTrans promised twenty years ago and still has not delivered.  Only 20 projects remain if these kinds of projects are removed from the list submitted to the City.

That leaves two building projects, including the construction of a new fire station, three parks and a number of projects that encompass drainage in the Chollas Creek watershed, street lights, minor traffic modifications and sidewalk installations.

The list does not include the pressing infrastructure need for wireless hubs throughout City Heights.   Councilman Tony Young stated in a budget committee meeting earlier this year that he would like to see wireless access made available to the surrounding communities using our public libraries as a broadcasting source.  He quickly discounted the possibility unless the City found a private partner.

Councilman Young knows that his district as well as the other low income districts constitute the have- not side of the digital divide.  While the city as a whole ranks high in internet connectivity, there are whole sections of the city in which families do not have computers or are unable to afford monthly internet access fees.  There are large swaths of the population who are not computer literate.  City Heights is one of these communities.

My neighbor is in high school and has relied solely upon the computers at the City Heights Weingart Library to complete her school work.  The problem of course is that the library has not been open for enough hours or on enough days.  We need a massive “City Heights Gets Connected” project that would provide new or refurbished computers to our kids and families here and a free wireless connection.  Price Charities and SDSU did a pilot project , but like so many of their promising starts, it was not a sustained presence in City Heights.

I encourage my neighbors and local businesses to attend the City Heights Planning Area Committee meeting.  I will be there and I intend to ask for the whole damn pie.

City Heights Planning Area Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 15th, 2012, at 6:30pm.  The meeting will take place at the Mid City Police station, second level 4310 Landis Street, City Heights 92105.

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Anna Daniels

I left a moribund Western Pennsylvania mill town the year that Richard M. Nixon was impeached for crimes against the American people, and set off in search of truth, beauty, justice and a beat I could dance to. Here I am.
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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar bob dorn October 10, 2012 at 9:02 am

You go, girl. I wonder if a repiping job in some La Jolla
alley took six months to complete. Or if Hillcrest/Bankers
Hill even wanted a wireless network how long it would be
before it was funded fully.

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avatar Doug Porter October 10, 2012 at 9:46 am

Where’s the ‘like’ button here? Excellent!

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avatar Norma Damashek October 10, 2012 at 11:13 am

Used to be that council members could put pressure on the city manager to move local projects up the CIP priorities list. Nowadays, council members have to appeal to the mayor’s office (notice the word ‘appeal’).
In other words, our elected council representatives and San Diego residents are playing in a whole new ballgame, with different rules and strategies. Individual council members had better please the mayor if they want to do right in their neighborhoods. They also have to please whomever they choose as their council president, since that person interacts directly with the mayor’s office.
And our council members haven’t figured out how to increase their clout by banding together. Maybe that’s because a weak council suits some of them fine — the ones who want to be mayor themselves. Or the ones who are biding their time, waiting for an election opening at the state or national level.
Meantime, City Heights gets left in the lurch. But maybe NOT once Anna and others raise hell at next week’s City Height PAC meeting.

By the way, I’m not so sure you want to bike down most La Jolla alleys nowadays. The city doesn’t service these alleys. Moreover, they’ve become home to a growing homeless population.

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avatar Anna Daniels October 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Norma- you make a very important point about the mayor’s role. I assume that one result of the strong mayor form of government is that the CIP’s list is now under the auspices of the mayor. This poses a number of challenges in terms of the transparency of the selection process, accountability to citizens and the politicization of the process vis a vis the city council. I will address these issues in next week’s column when I report back from the CH Planning Area Committee meeting on Monday.

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avatar Shelley Plumb October 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm

“City Heights Gets Connected.” I like sound of that!

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avatar Joe LaCava October 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Good article. The questions raised by Daniels is exactly the outcome hoped for in the new public participation in the CIP Budget Development Process. And if her words stir action by her neighbors so much the better. Last, I hope her and others are taking those questions and concerns to the October 15th public meeting. Having said that the word “realistic” must be taken in context; further, “realistic” doesn’t necessarily imply “reasonable.” That admonition is for all 42 of the city’s community planning groups (CPGs) and is not to lower expectations in any one neighborhood. The challenge for the FY2014 budget (July 2013-June 2014) is that we (everyone) want robust public participation, community conversations, and consensus building in developing community priorities. But to be “realistic” there is almost no city dollars at play. Huh? Make lists that won’t be funded? Yes, that’s right. This year should be considered as climbing the steep learning curve about the city budget, developing public outreach, and engaging folks who have never attended a CPG meeting before. Hopefully, next year (FY2015) when the economy improves the city’s revenue each neighborhood will have those project lists in hand to revisit, refine, and resubmit. And then lobby the Mayor’s Office and their council office to get funding. This is never a one-time thing for any community but the burden to keep fighting for what your neighborhood needs and deserves.

The wireless idea is brilliant.

As to ND’s comment: Project ranking is of course important. More important during lean and normal years is finding other sources of money that can make a project happen. Actual priority of which project gets funded these days is finding a local, state, or federal grant to pay for it.

Also to ND’s comment: It’s the Mayor’s budget until April 15 and then City Council takes sole possession. So lobby both sides! Fortunately the current crop of councilmembers understand that they need to spend more than a couple of hours reviewing that CIP budget. Also the CIP process reform of the past 2 years and still underway is making the CIP budget process more transparent.

Joe LaCava
Chair, Community Planners Committee

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avatar Anna Daniels October 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Joe- thank you for commenting. At the meeting on Monday I will be asking to see the lists submitted by the other CPG’s. That would be a good opportunity for CH community members to understand what CIP needs have been brought forward in the other planning areas. The mayor’s office has a prominent role in what will ultimately be funded and I would like to see the whole enchilada.
I also did not raise the issue of how submitted projects will be rated and by whom and to what degree that process will be transparent to citizens.
As to our enthusiasm here–we have young people in this community who are advocating for a skate park. (They identified an area in the proposed Central Avenue Mini-Park.) That park received a priority score of 39 and was placed in a low priority category, despite the fact that “the district is one of the most challenging areas for meeting the City’s target of providing 2.8 acres of usable acres per 1,000 residents. A recent analysis showed that City Heights as at less than 40% of the target acreage.”

It is astounding to me that there is so much enthusiasm in my community for public infrastructure despite the fact that we keep hearing the message that we are a low priority.

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avatar Joe LaCava October 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Anna – the City Heights CPG will not have access to the other CPG recommendations at their Monday meeting. All 42 CPGs are also working through the Sept-Oct-Nov timeframe to develop their own lists. The internal deadline for the CPGs is November 7. The input from all those CPGs that choose to participate will be combined and presented at CPC’s November 27 meeting. While this brand new process is a bit fluid, Nov 27 would be the first opportunity time to see the recommendations of all the CPGs.

Also, the City is talking about revising its priority ranking scheme (http://docs.sandiego.gov/councilpolicies/cpd_800-14.pdf). That revision got somewhat lost in the current budget process. However, I urge you to get involved when that conversation restarts.

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avatar Dave Rice October 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Yet another great post, thanks Anna.

So far as the “private partner” thing goes for community-wide wireless, I’ve heard (but know very little) about a project in Golden Hill where some landlords got together and financed a wireless network to connect their properties and the surrounding areas – their benefit was they got to advertise free internet as a perk offered to tenants. I wonder if there’s enough (any) interest from the larger owners of rental communities to sponsor some sort of network like this that would not only benefit their tenants but the rest of the neighborhood…

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avatar Anna Daniels October 10, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Dave- I actually started to research that Golden Hill effort. There is/was a group called socalfreenet.org I talked to one of their members, who has moved from San Diego. This is not my area of expertise, although I get the concept. The frustration for me is that I don’t want to have to bird dog the details of how to do this and how much it costs and when it can happen, although I have done some preliminary research. The information is out there and I don’t want to have to talk backhaul and high bandwidth with a minimum speed of 144 megabytes per second and cabling from telephone poles. I don’t want to go around with a tin cup asking for alms from the private sector.
The City has a contract with the cable companies to provide rights of access. I recommend that the City looks very closely at their negotiating points in those contracts.
Our fire station, police station, rec centers, library, adult ed center and those SR-15 transit pads should be making wi-fi available into the community. Our publicly subsidized commercial ventures should provide internet access. And we shouldn’t have to wait for years to get it. As always, a big thanks for your support.

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