City Heights: Up Close & Personal

A weekly SDFP column by Anna Daniels

city heights up closeIn her own words: “It is the distillation of my experiences and observations of the confounding, sometimes dazzling and always changing urban landscape that I call home.”

“We are children of our landscape; it dictates behaviour and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.” Lawrence Durrell, Justine

“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.” Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

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Thumbnail image for Civic San Diego and the One Minute Citizen

Civic San Diego and the One Minute Citizen

by Anna Daniels 03.27.2015 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Notes from the March 18 Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee

By Anna Daniels

At 4:45 pm on March 18, Marti Emerald, City Councilmember and Chair of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee (PS&LN) announced that there were still 62 speaker slips remaining on the topic of community benefits. The agenda item with the most speakers had been switched to the last one that would be heard that day. Emerald courteously asked the citizens remaining in the room to limit their testimony to one minute and to please not repeat what had already been said. The committee would lose its quorum at 5:30.

Why had so many people shown up at 1:30 earlier that day, packing the committee room and overflowing into an adjacent room? Why were they willing to wait three hours to provide one minute of public testimony about Civic San Diego (CivicSD), the public non-profit development agency owned by the City of San Diego?

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Civic San Diego and Its Stakeholders

by Anna Daniels 03.17.2015 Activism

By Anna Daniels

Who are Civic San Diego’s stakeholders? Who are the people and institutions who have the most to benefit from their success? And who has the most to lose if they are not successful? The answer depends upon whom you are talking to—CivicSD and its surrogates; City of San Diego elected representatives; or community residents and resident based organizations.

Community residents and community based organizations from areas of the city which have been designated by CivicSD as their immediate focus for economic revitalization have been particularly vocal on this matter, but they are hardly the only ones.

Community voices have been articulating the need for an enforceable city policy regarding the kinds of community benefits that must be generated in tandem with CivicSD’s economic development projects, as well as additional City of San Diego oversight of development activities. They have called for more transparency and accountability in CivicSD’s operation.

In short, those communities which are already fully aware of the economic and social problems that they face, are asking to be recognized as stakeholders and to be given the participatory power to shape the development process.

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Thumbnail image for The Morphing of Civic San Diego and the Need for City Council Oversight

The Morphing of Civic San Diego and the Need for City Council Oversight

by Anna Daniels 03.13.2015 Business

Preparing for the March 18 Public Safety and Livable Neighborhood Committee meeting

By Anna Daniels

This past October, Reese Jarrett, newly hired President of Civic San Diego (CivicSD), appeared before the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhood Committee of the San Diego City Council. The committee chairwoman, District 9 council member Marti Emerald, directed a number of pointed questions toward CivicSD staff, followed by additional questions from District 4 council member Myrtle Cole.

Councilmember Emerald provided a brief description of CivicSD as a city owned non-profit established in June of 2012 to continue the city’s economic revitalization efforts. CivicSD already had a contract with the city, the redevelopment Successor Agency, to handle the administrative duties associated with the winding down of redevelopment projects.

Now there were updated CivicSD bylaws and another contract with the city which transferred the ongoing functions of CCDC and SEDC to CivicSD. Those same bylaws also broadened the scope of CivicSD activities and guaranteed its ongoing existence as the city’s development mechanism. Yet there was little fanfare or public discussion about how economic development and revitalization efforts should continue in the city after the end of redevelopment.

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Thumbnail image for What’s 80% White, 80% Male and 92% Christian? Welcome to the 114th Congress!

What’s 80% White, 80% Male and 92% Christian? Welcome to the 114th Congress!

by Anna Daniels 01.07.2015 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

What does the 114th Congress say about our representative democracy?

By Anna Daniels

Did you know that our brand new 114th Congress is the most diverse Congress in our history? Women! African Americans! An African American woman! The 114th Congress is being hawked like a new and improved box of breakfast cereal. This newly minted diversity is relative of course.

A Washington Post article notes that “Congress actually gets slightly more Christian, with nine more Christians, five fewer Jewish members, one fewer Buddhist and one fewer unaffiliated member.” John Boehner, who was re-elected Speaker of the House, opened the 114th Congress with “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad.”

For those of us who recall that only 36% of the voting public elected this new batch of congress people, the connection to the divine is a great deal less discernible. And we may want to hold off on the rejoicing and being glad part for a while.

But it is Liza Mundy’s article “The Secret History of Women in the Senate” that positively makes my teeth hurt.

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For the Love of Tamales

by Anna Daniels 12.24.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Beautiful food, the company of women and the immense edifice of memory

By Anna Daniels

Christmas without tamales is unimaginable. It is unimaginable not because I grew up in a household in which we ate tamales–I didn’t– but because I am here, in this place, where Mexico and the US are all mixed up together. Tamales are a form of gustatory truce. Tamales are the mouth watering accompaniment to baptisms, quinceañeras and la Navidad. They are the proof that corn is indeed divine. Tamales!

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Thumbnail image for The Ferguson Missouri Public Library: A Clean Well-Lighted Place within the Chaos

The Ferguson Missouri Public Library: A Clean Well-Lighted Place within the Chaos

by Anna Daniels 11.26.2014 Activism

“We will do everything within our power to serve our community.  Stay strong and love each other.”

By Anna Daniels

The news and images out of Ferguson Missouri have been grim.  Whether the perception is accurate or not, there is a sense that Ferguson is boarded up, parts are burned down, schools are closed and even the safe havens have not been safe from the encroachment of tear gas.

And then there is the Ferguson Missouri Public Library, which has stayed open and will stay open as long as library staff feel that their patrons are safe there.  This is a remarkable act of commitment to the democratic foundation of our public libraries– citizen access to information and resources in safe spaces that welcome and serve everyone.

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Ferguson’s Smoldering Fires

by Anna Daniels 11.25.2014 Activism

By Anna Daniels

It came as no surprise when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown this past August.

Ferguson’s African American residents expected the announcement, the local and state government was preparing for it and arrangements were made well in advance for the local, national and international media to cover it.

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Thumbnail image for Whose Park?  City Heights Struggles to Define “Our” Park

Whose Park? City Heights Struggles to Define “Our” Park

by Anna Daniels 11.24.2014 Activism

Engagement and resistance at City Height’s Park De La Cruz

By Anna Daniels

This month’s City Heights Park and Recreation Council meeting took a surprise turn when over fifty attendees, mostly young people wearing blue Mid-City CAN tee shirts, arrived to speak during the non-agenda comment section of the meeting.

These skate park advocates and their supporters had hoped to address the neighborhood concerns and opposition that had recently sprung up about the planned skate park element at Park De La Cruz. They hoped that in doing so the rec council would proceed with the scheduled design meeting on December 4 as planned.

District 9 Council Member Marti Emerald announced in July that the allocation of $4.5 million in state Department of Housing and Community Development monies was sufficient to design and construct skate parks in City Heights and Linda Vista.

The second design phase meeting for Park de la Cruz skate park modifications was scheduled for December, but the Park and Recreation Council decided to postpone that meeting and hold a community hearing on the skate park issue instead. Was this an attempt to shift the conversation from how to proceed to whether to proceed?

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Thumbnail image for After the Wars, City Heights

After the Wars, City Heights

by Anna Daniels 11.12.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Why does City Heights physically look the way it does and why does it have such distinctive demographics? The case can be made that City Heights has been shaped both by design–the adoption of the Mid-City Plan in 1965– and by happenstance in the form of the fall of Saigon one decade later.

The Mid-City Plan provided a blueprint of sorts for stimulating business and commercial growth that is reflected in the built environment.  The fall of Saigon and the subsequent resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees in City Heights also became a blueprint of sorts for influencing the ever changing demographics of the individuals who would move within the built environment.

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Thumbnail image for The Day after the Elections: Same as It Ever Was?

The Day after the Elections: Same as It Ever Was?

by Anna Daniels 11.05.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Wednesday dawned in City Heights much like every morning here, with the cough and sputter of cars starting, the occasional twitter of birds, a siren shrieking on El Cajon Boulevard. Kids will pass by the house on their way to school.

There is no indication on 45th Street that four billion dollars had been dumped into national and local elections nor that a majority of the electorate– close to 70% in California– had decided to sit this one out.

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Thumbnail image for MTS Ad Policy: Incoherent, Inconsistent and Anti-Democratic

MTS Ad Policy: Incoherent, Inconsistent and Anti-Democratic

by Anna Daniels 10.27.2014 Activism

San Diego’s publicly funded transit system bites the hand that feeds it

By Anna Daniels

MTS- you are a craven, pathetic mess. When Alliance San Diego launched a non-partisan effort to increase awareness about elections in communities with historically low voter turnout like my community of City Heights, they approached San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) with the intention of buying printed bus ads.

The ads would include the message Vote for San Diego, along with the date of the election. Images of native San Diegans were included with motivational messages such as “Vote for what’s best for your community.”

Did I say that Alliance San Diego’s intention was to buy bus ads? They weren’t asking for a public service freebee. MTS declined the request and herein lies the tale of how our publicly funded, public benefit agency proceeded to simply make sh*t up.

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Thumbnail image for Moonstruck!  Watching the Lunar Eclipse in San Diego

Moonstruck! Watching the Lunar Eclipse in San Diego

by Anna Daniels 10.08.2014 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

Did you see the moon earlier this morning? At 3 am, when I rousted myself out of bed, it was already Part Deux of San Diego’s total lunar eclipse –the moon glowed a reddish umber behind the earth’s shadow. It was mysterious and somewhat confusing –the “rabbit” in the moon that was so clearly visible when I went to bed earlier had disappeared.

Holding coffee cups in one hand and binoculars in the other, My Beloved and I sat on the side of the house craning our necks upward. Watching an eclipse from start to finish is the cosmic equivalent of watching paint dry–long moments of nothing seeming to happen, then voila! the moon is occulted. Or it is whole again, a shining coin pulled from night’s pocket.

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Thumbnail image for What Does City Heights Lose when Albertsons Closes?

What Does City Heights Lose when Albertsons Closes?

by Anna Daniels 01.22.2014 Activism

The importance of keeping the public benefit issues alive when redevelopment is dead

By Anna Daniels

On January 15 Councilmember Marti Emerald released a statement about the imminent closure of the Albertsons store and pharmacy in the City Heights Retail Village. This announcement took the community by complete surprise. While it is true that “This planned closure of a major retailer is unfortunately a common story in older, low income neighborhoods…,” this particular Albertsons is part of a unique, extensive redevelopment effort in City Heights.

Albertsons opened in 2001, has a large footprint, carries fresh produce, is clean and well lit and includes the kinds of onsite services within the store that one associates with its more suburban (read successful) counterparts– Starbucks, deli, bakery as well as services tailored to City Heights tastes and needs.

It is frankly difficult to perceive how this particular store fits into the “common story” narrative.

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Thumbnail image for Us He Devours: Government by Crisis, a Shutdown in Wartime

Us He Devours: Government by Crisis, a Shutdown in Wartime

by Anna Daniels 10.09.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

It is easy to imagine that the Republican hostage taking in Congress is little more than a great deal of sound and too much fury that signifies nothing to ordinary people living ordinary lives outside of the Beltway. The words “shutdown” and “default” don’t enter into conversations very often here, John Boehner is an unknown and that is perfectly fine with the madmen and madwomen who are much more concerned about being disrespected, waiting for the end time and the perfect photo-op.

The people who live here on 45th Street keep talking about the same things they have been talking about for the past five or six years– they are looking for full time work that pays a livable wage, affordable housing, health care and enough money to get the car fixed and buy school clothes for their kids. There is also an urgency for the children who were brought into this country without documents to receive legal status through the Dream Act.

It is easy to imagine that these two worlds don’t intersect, but that is not the case at all.

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Travelers on the Street of Dreams

by Anna Daniels 10.02.2013 Activism

“My challenge is to finish high school as a teenage Mom”

By Anna Daniels

Once a year Teresa Gunn, artistic director and founder of Street of Dreams, stands before a full house in the City College Saville Theatre and opens the student performance with these words:

We have the highest prison population that we have ever had in the history of the country. At Street of Dreams we are not willing to put another generation of people in prison because we lack the humanity to produce a creative solution. The solution is education and community collaboration. Street of Dreams is part of the solution.

Street of Dreams has been part of that solution since its founding in 1998, when Teresa Gunn recognized that the power of story telling and arts education could provide a path out of poverty and inter-generational incarceration and addiction for young mothers who had found themselves in the juvenile justice system.

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King Tut in City Heights

by Anna Daniels 09.11.2013 Business

Egyptian Revival Architecture on Euclid Avenue

By Anna Daniels

It is difficult to imagine the excitement and personal interest in Egyptian antiquities that Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamen’s 3,000 year old tomb engendered in 1922. A series of sealed chambers were filled with so many funerary objects that it took days to remove them on stretchers. The final chamber which included the nested sarcophagi of the “Boy King” was filled with dazzling gold and blue adornments and objects provided for Tut’s journey into the after life. Carter had hit the archeological mother lode.

The discovery of the tomb was significant for Egyptologists and it also caught the imagination of the European and American public. Travels to Egypt to view the antiquities became even more popular. Jewelers recreated designs found in the tomb. Scarab rings and brooches became fashionable.

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Thumbnail image for City Heights Prepares for Obamacare: How Outreach Will Affect Enrollment

City Heights Prepares for Obamacare: How Outreach Will Affect Enrollment

by Anna Daniels 09.04.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

While Republicans are busily obstructing and attempting to de-fund (but not replace) Obamacare, California has been gearing up for the day when a significant number of its 7.1 million uninsured residents under the age of 65 can sign up for health insurance on the State’s health care exchange. That day is October 1, 2013. The insurance itself will go into effect on January 1, 2014. All Americans must be insured by tax time next year or face a penalty – 1 percent of their annual income or $95, whichever is higher.

There is a great deal at stake here in City Heights for making the enrollment period a success. There is a great deal at stake here in City Heights for making the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) a success. There is a higher percentage of uninsured adults and children in City Heights than the county and state averages. There are fewer working adults in City Heights with insurance coverage–only 49% compared with 65% of county residents. This translates into lower levels of preventive and routine health care access– the very things that Obamacare will provide. “All new health plans must cover essential health benefits such as doctor visits, hospitalization, emergency care,maternity, pediatric care for your kids and prescriptions,among other services. “

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Thumbnail image for Summertime City Heights: Variations on a Planetary Theme

Summertime City Heights: Variations on a Planetary Theme

by Anna Daniels 08.21.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Perfumed Nights, Skunks, Spiders, Clouds, Bird Calls and Kittens

By Anna Daniels

Spring is all about sex and sugar. The birds, skunks, opossums and cats were doing “it” while the vegetative world turned green, tendrilled and flowering. Summer on the other hand is about flight and foraging, storing up and going to seed, with more sex thrown in just because that’s how it works for spiders. And that’s how it works for cats, to my great dismay.

All this happens here in City Heights, in this flat, densely populated, concrete covered place. This summer has held surprises, variations on the planetary theme of long warm sunshine filled days. Even here in the city we live within a natural world that is shaped by the cycle of seasons.

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Thumbnail image for City Heights, Where the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

City Heights, Where the Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

by Anna Daniels 08.14.2013 Activism

Transit Dependent Communities, Social Equity and Environmental Justice

By Anna Daniels

There is no trolley route through City Heights. This deficiency is not for a lack of trying. In the early 1990’s residents were advocating for significant mitigation to the construction of I-15 through the community. The proposed mitigation included the construction of a trolley line in the center of the freeway that would efficiently carry City Heights residents north and south to their jobs and concentrated employment centers.

The short story is that the steep freeway incline/grade made a trolley route infeasible. So while the heavily transit dependent community of City Heights does not have a trolley, it does have buses and will continue to rely upon buses. If you can get past trolley envy, buses become the workable solution to transit needs.

For decades, the highest bus rider ship in the whole Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) has been on the Number 7 bus. This one bus route carries a whopping 3,903,109 passengers annually. To put this in perspective, the Green and Orange trolley lines each record around seven million passengers annually. The Number 7 bus is a plodding workhorse, definitely not a racehorse.

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Thumbnail image for Welcome to City Heights!

Welcome to City Heights!

by Anna Daniels 08.07.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

It is hard to make generalizations about a community with over 75,000 residents. It is even harder to make generalizations about a community in which 41% of the residents are foreign born and those residents were born in over thirty different countries. City Heights must be understood in bits and shape shifting pieces.

To understand City Heights, it must be rolled across the tongue and savored in the local markets and restaurants. It must be heard in the cacophony of buses, street vendors, garbage trucks, music from quinceañeras and children’s voices. It must be felt on an early morning canyon walk.

The San Diego Free Press focus on City Heights will be delivered up over the next month as a fragmented incomplete narrative. Twenty-one percent of the residents here speak no or little English. It is a daunting challenge to provide a way for myriad disparate voices to be heard. In the upcoming weeks we’ll be covering a variety of topics and people.

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Thumbnail image for Mayor Bob Filner and the Shame that Has No Name

Mayor Bob Filner and the Shame that Has No Name

by Anna Daniels 07.24.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

By Anna Daniels

When Bob Filner was campaigning for mayor last year, he was a visible presence in City Heights. He showed up to support public transit initiatives; he attended the rally calling for George Zimmerman to be charged with murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Filner listened to mid-city youth advocating for a skate board park and free bus passes for low income students to get to school and work. He listened to taxi drivers advocating for livable wages and safe working conditions and called for additional library hours. He recognized the importance of streetlights and supported the needs of vets and the homeless.

These are all tangible meaningful issues in City Heights. For the first time in my memory, a mayoral candidate acknowledged not only the importance of our government in addressing these needs, but our government’s ability to do so–right here in City Heights.

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Thumbnail image for Tying Up Loose Ends: Around City Heights, Jacaranda Weather, Too Many Cats and This Very Old House

Tying Up Loose Ends: Around City Heights, Jacaranda Weather, Too Many Cats and This Very Old House

by Anna Daniels 06.05.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

I’m taking a month off from writing my weekly column and will return July 10. Next week I will start working on projects that have piled up inside and outside our aged house–more on that below–and nothing will get done once the weather turns hot.

City Heights News–the very good, the good and too soon to tell… City Heights will be getting its first skate park plaza! The Central Avenue Mini-Park and Skate Plaza in City will include a tot lot, a playground for older children, small open turf area for passive recreation, a plaza with games, landscaping, and relocation of trees.

This is the very good news-construction will begin in October 2014 and the park will be open to the public in November 2015. Congratulations and thanks to the amazing skateboard community, Mid-City CAN, Council members Marti Emerald, Todd Gloria and Mayor Filner.

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Thumbnail image for Where Will Taxi Drivers, Hotel Maids, Grocery Clerks, School Aides and Retired People  Live?  A City Heights–Golden Hill Conversation

Where Will Taxi Drivers, Hotel Maids, Grocery Clerks, School Aides and Retired People Live? A City Heights–Golden Hill Conversation

by Anna Daniels 05.29.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

The San Diego Free Press neighborhood focus during the month of May has been on Golden Hill, one of San Diego’s oldest communities. One of the most visible elements of Golden Hill is the elegant old mansions that comprise the historic district.

These mansions are a tangible reminder of individual wealth and power amassed in years past. Today, many of those mansions are still owner occupied, while some have been divided into rental units; others are now attorney offices or operated as half-way houses. These disparate uses reflect a more nuanced story about wealth, power and changing demographics in Golden Hill today.

I spent a few hours walking around Golden Hill, not along the historic or commercial district, but along one particular side street off of 25th Street that has been beckoning to me. I set off down a steep hill and explored streets that dead ended at the 94 Freeway or on the other end, at a flight of steps up to Broadway.

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Thumbnail image for Budget Matters:  The One Minute Citizen Goes to City Hall

Budget Matters: The One Minute Citizen Goes to City Hall

by Anna Daniels 05.22.2013 Activism

…because it is important to say “Yes.”

By Anna Daniels

Final Public Hearing on the Fy’14 Budget
Wednesday May 22, 2013 6PM- 9PM
202 C Street, City of San Diego Public Administration Building
12th floor City Council Chambers

Wednesday May 22 is the last day to provide public testimony about Mayor Filner’s budget before the San Diego City Council. This is the third and final public budget hearing. Inside I’m going to give readers a few reasons why they should make an appearance.

The past decade has been a tough one for San Diego residents. The Wall Street meltdown in 2008 was piled on top of the city’s long term structural deficits. In addition, there has been an effort to make government so small that it can be drowned in a bathtub. City Heights is one of a number of San Diego communities that was thrown out with the bath water.

Those of us who provided testimony at past budget hearings were there to say “no” to the budget presented by then Mayor Sanders. This year we have the opportunity to say “yes” to a budget.

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Thumbnail image for Do We Have the Will to Invest in Our Children? City Heights Youth Take the Lead for Free Mid-City Student Bus Passes

Do We Have the Will to Invest in Our Children? City Heights Youth Take the Lead for Free Mid-City Student Bus Passes

by Anna Daniels 05.15.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

Adults have historically established the parameters and content of public policies as they relate to children. The results in recent years have been ghastly as local and state governments have been starved of revenues by virtue of the economy. Conservatives are using the spending cuts necessitated by a weak economy to advance their ideology of small government, hoping to impose a permanent state of austerity on governmental entities.

One in five kids in this country lives in poverty. The ticket out of poverty has been access to quality education and the availability of jobs that provide economic security. Neither of these conditions are currently being met. The kids living in poverty now may very well spend their whole lives in poverty.

There has been an astounding sea change in City Heights as youth themselves have taken an informed and powerful lead in shaping public policy that affects their lives and their families. Mid-City CAN has been pivotal in mentoring and providing a platform for that leadership.

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