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 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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Thumbnail image for King Tut in City Heights

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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Thumbnail image for The Continuing Long Hard Slog for Streetlights in City Heights

The Continuing Long Hard Slog for Streetlights in City Heights

by Anna Daniels 05.10.2013 Activism

By Anna Daniels

There isn’t any mystery as to why residents expect to have streetlights in their respective communities. It’s important to be able to see where you are walking at night; streetlights are an essential element of crime deterrence; and they contribute to our perceptions of personal safety.

City Heights is a transit dependent community and residents don’t tend to work bankers hours. Many of my neighbors go to work while it is still dark or return home when it is dark. Many of these commuting workers are women working in the hospitality and food service industries or providing in home personal care.

This is also a community that sustains elevated incidents of assault, robbery and break-ins. City Heights should be one of the best lit neighborhoods in the City of San Diego simply on the basis of need and yet it is unfunded $26 million for streetlights.

The City of San Diego does not get a free pass on this issue because of the economy. City Heights was starved of streetlights twenty five years ago when I moved here and it is still starved of that critical infrastructure investment. That real story here has little to do with the economy.

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Thumbnail image for The Incredible Lightness of Being Able to Understand Mayor Filner’s 2014 Budget

The Incredible Lightness of Being Able to Understand Mayor Filner’s 2014 Budget

by Anna Daniels 05.01.2013 Activism

Community Power Affecting Budget Decisions that Impact Our Neighborhoods

by Anna Daniels

It is highly unusual for a group of strangers to smile broadly at each other and enthusiastically confess that the workshop they had just attended on how to read the City’s Capital Improvement Budget had been really interesting and very worthwhile. That is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when I got into the elevator with a group of people with whom I had just attended the Community Budget Alliance‘s hands on budget workshop held in City Heights.

It’s budget season! The total City Of San Diego budget is a whopping 2.7 billion dollars, with 1.1 billion dollars allocated to the General Fund, which is where the rubber meets the road in providing core services to residents- police and fire, libraries and recreation. Another 363 million dollars is allocated to the Capital Improvement Program.

This is the annual budget exercise to determine how well our need for safe, sustainable and livable neighborhoods will be met. Mayor Filner has made neighborhood services a top priority, which includes the revitalization of our neighborhood infrastructure. As residents, we should do much more than wait and see what happens– we should be informed and involved.

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Thumbnail image for A Freeway Runs Through It:  A City Heights-Barrio Logan Conversation

A Freeway Runs Through It: A City Heights-Barrio Logan Conversation

by Anna Daniels 04.24.2013 Activism

Resistance, Vision and Community

By Anna Daniels

Chicano Park exists in Barrio Logan because of the construction of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and the loss of property and displacement of lives that it caused. The community responded in a powerful, unique way. Residents couldn’t stop the construction, but they did lay claim to the land beneath the immense concrete pillars that enabled travelers above to make their way across the Coronado Bridge, oblivious to the transformation occurring below them. The land that was being readied for a California Highway Patrol substation was re-claimed as a long promised park. The reclamation began as a twelve day occupation that involved hundreds of people.

City Heights was likewise changed forever when eight city blocks along 40th Street- people’s homes and businesses–were scoured from the face of the earth in the early 1990′s to make way for the last connecting link of I-15, which extends from Canada to Mexico. City Heights would become a scorched earth community divided by an enormous ditch in keeping with Caltrans signature construction style.

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Thumbnail image for Why Do You Have a Fence in Front of Your Home?

Why Do You Have a Fence in Front of Your Home?

by Anna Daniels 04.10.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Thoughts on defensible spaces and private places

By Anna Daniels

A few days ago I realized that every single piece of residential property on my City Heights block, save one, has a fence and or a gate between the residence and the street. The business at the end of the block is also completely fenced.

I only became conscious of this fact after spending a number of hours last month walking along the side streets north of University Avenue a few blocks east and west of 30th Street in North Park. This area looks in many ways like the City Heights side streets off of University Avenue, farther to the east, where I now live. There are the same generic craftsman style detached houses and two story multi-unit apartments and condos, for the most part built more recently.

But these North Park side streets look different aesthetically in terms of the colors of paints utilized and kinds of landscaping; and they look different in terms of overall appearance than the area where I live. I was really struck by the fact that so many of the residences in this part of North Park, close to a busy commercial area, still do not have fences in front of the property.

So why are there so many fences in some parts of San Diego, and less or so few in others? Why are there so many more fences in the mid-city areas than there were thirty years ago, when I moved here? Do fences make good neighbors? Do fences make good neighborhoods?

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Thumbnail image for San Diego Street Trees:  My Love-Hate Relationship with Palm Trees

San Diego Street Trees: My Love-Hate Relationship with Palm Trees

by Anna Daniels 04.03.2013 Activism

A requiem for the palm at the end of the mind

Street trees in urban areas are important. They provide a human scale to our surroundings and soften the mind numbing linearity of vast expanses of concrete. They clean the air we breathe and provide much appreciated shade. On an often unconscious level they impact our feelings about a street or neighborhood’s economic status and safety, which is to say its desirability as a place to walk or live.

A specific iconic tree can define where we live on a particular street or in the city of San Diego itself. For many residents of Ocean Beach, that iconic image is of a Torrey Pine. I can remember a spectacular late afternoon descent over the downtown cityscape which had been turned into a massive violet bouquet of blossoming jacaranda. And of course, there are the eucalyptus in Balboa Park and lining Park Boulevard.

But the ultimate iconic image in San Diego is of palm trees. A line of sixty foot palm trees silhouetted against the sky is a stirring sight, but it can only be appreciated from a distance and therein is the palm tree problem. Walking under or close to them day in and day out is a sure way to kill your palm tree passion.

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Thumbnail image for Springtime and the Art of Wisteria Hunting in San Diego

Springtime and the Art of Wisteria Hunting in San Diego

by Anna Daniels 03.27.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

People in the eastern part of the country tend to think that Southern California is the land of no seasons and perpetual sunshine. Those of us who live here can produce rubber rain boots and hefty heating bills as proof otherwise.

This is my twenty-sixth spring in our little house on 45th Street in City Heights. Every February I start sniffing the air like a winter crazed creature until one day I can smell….It! “It” is an almost imperceptible whiff of a delicate green freshness rising from the moist cold earth and carried on the wind. I can hear Colette’s words– “To sing of spring would never do for me; I must go to meet it when it first strikes out through the long shadows, feeling its way…”

By mid- February the immense jasmine vine outside my window is filled with slender claret colored buds. It will burst into a cloud of fragrant shooting stars within a few weeks if the weather is warm. Spring, like all of the other seasons, is unpinned from calendar reckoning.

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Thumbnail image for Ten Years On: A Dying Mother, The Invasion of Iraq, and Samsay on the Porch

Ten Years On: A Dying Mother, The Invasion of Iraq, and Samsay on the Porch

by Anna Daniels 03.20.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Memory is a capricious thing- it shuffles all of those cards that signify the days, weeks and years of our lives and lays them out in a manner that doesn’t necessarily cleave to chronology– or even the truth.

 

I cut the deck, turn two cards face up on the table- the Queen of Hearts and the Jack of Clubs. It is March 13, 2003. I say that with certainty even though I do not trust my memory.

I have finished zipping up my suitcase and am nervously walking around the house stroking the cats and staring at the art on the walls as if it were for the last time. I will be taking a red eye flight to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My brother and sister have persuaded me that our mother is close to death. I would have one more chance at total denial of that indisputable fact.

My normal propensity for high drama was heightened significantly by the war drums that had been sounding for weeks, the rumblings that we were about to go to war, to invade Iraq. The sheer loathsomeness of Bush-Cheney had turned into something much darker, frightening and utterly incomprehensible. I was going to be 3,000 miles from My Beloved and my home while George W. Bush was explaining why war was necessary and inevitable.

So there you have the setting- The Queen of Hearts. The Jack of Clubs. But now one more card- The Joker. City Heights is always the Wild Card, the Joker, that becomes part of the mix. This place that I have called home for longer than anywhere else is a shape shifting character that looms large in my life, and so it was on March 13, 2003.

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Thumbnail image for A City Heights Response to the State of the Union Address (and the Responses to the State of the Union Address)

A City Heights Response to the State of the Union Address (and the Responses to the State of the Union Address)

by Anna Daniels 02.13.2013 Activism

I crawled groggily out of bed this morning and ambled out to the kitchen. My Beloved turned to me and said “I don’t know how many more State of the Unions I can handle.” Last night we listened to President Obama’s hour long speech, then Republican Savior-in-Training Senator Marco Rubio’s, followed by Congressman Rand Paul’s, as the voice of the Tea Party, which is the other white meat of the Republican party. Afterward, we smoked.

The Designated Survivor One odd little factoid that was revealed during the pre-speech(es) buildup was that Energy Secretary Steven Chu was selected to skip this year’s address.

Because the president, vice president, lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices and members of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff are all sitting together in a confined space in the Capitol, one Cabinet member is chosen to skip the speech every year.

The concept of a designated survivor is an interesting one.

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Thumbnail image for Graffiti and Shattered Glass on 45th Street: Unknown Causes, Unclear Remedies

Graffiti and Shattered Glass on 45th Street: Unknown Causes, Unclear Remedies

by Anna Daniels 02.06.2013 Activism

A few days ago I was sipping my morning coffee and heard loud voices in front of our little house on 45th Street in City Heights. I walked outside to find two neighbors gathered around the broken windshield of a car parked there. Their voices were strained and angry. Then they would go quiet for a few shocked moments before resuming the conversation.

This is the third time that the windshield of this particular car has been smashed. James poked around in the plants outside my fence and found a large triangular rock that fit the bill for the weapon used to smash the windshield. I learned that this particular car has also been hit in the past with graffiti and its tank filled with sugar.

The conversation changed to one of speculation about motives. Was there something about the owner of the car that engendered these acts of vandalism? This is City Heights, so the first question is whether the vandalism was gang motivated, right?

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Thumbnail image for The Inexact Cartography of the Heart: Going Home

The Inexact Cartography of the Heart: Going Home

by Anna Daniels 01.30.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

When neighbors in City Heights talk about going home, that home may be as close as Los Angeles or Tucson, or as far away as Vietnam, Eritrea or the Philippines. My neighbors have family in Mexico and make an annual December pilgrimage to Mexicali or Oaxaca so that their children can spend Christmas with their grandparents, their abuelos.

Distance, which translates into time and money, and unstable political circumstances in one’s home country are limiters on whether the wish to return home for a visit is ever realized. But beyond those considerations, can you go home if your home no longer exists?

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Thumbnail image for A Different Kind of Listening: John Cage on 45th Street

A Different Kind of Listening: John Cage on 45th Street

by Anna Daniels 01.23.2013 Activism

It is only half past January and I have had it up to here, estoy harta, with the right wing rage and whining that followed the election; enough, basta already, to the manufactured misery of the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling threats that immediately shut out the voices of citizens who made their intentions and desires known in the November election. There is a ringing in my ears from the dreadful noise, and I worry about my ability to hear what is really important and stay focused. …

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Thumbnail image for Dear Mayor Filner:  Can We Talk about Gun Violence and City Heights?

Dear Mayor Filner: Can We Talk about Gun Violence and City Heights?

by Anna Daniels 01.16.2013 City Heights: Up Close & Personal

Dear Mayor Filner: The Sandy Hook school massacre last month has opened a national conversation about gun violence in this country, and well it should. The lives of twenty-six human beings, the majority of whom still had their baby teeth, were snuffed out in the amount of time it took to discharge a high capacity magazine from a gun that was developed for the military’s conduct of war.

It didn’t take much time and the devastation was total, consistent with the military’s expectations in the conduct of war, and so not consistent with our assumptions of what it means to send our children in safety to elementary school.

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