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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