By Jim Miller
When we at the San Diego Free Press decided to turn our focus to the community of Golden Hill, one of the first people I thought it would be good to talk to was my friend, neighbor, union brother, and colleague Judd Curran.
Judd and his wife Victoria both teach at Grossmont College, live in Golden Hill, and sit on the board of the Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation Board and are quite active in the community. I know Judd and his wife as smart, progressive, compassionate people who want the best for their community.
Thus Judd is uniquely suited to speak to the issues of community identity, gentrification, and the past, present, and future of Golden Hill.
How did you end up in Golden Hill?
Looking for a more vibrant and diverse community of hard working people that we could relate to, my wife Victoria and I were elated to discover beautiful Golden Hill, the golden gem of San Diego. We moved into the neighborhood in December of 2011. From our initial investigation of this historical neighborhood, with its magnificent views of the downtown skyline, bay, Pacific Ocean, Coronado Bridge, and even the Islands and Mexico, we had the impression that the neighborhood had a good community vibe. But, we really didn’t understand fully what that meant, nor did we experience first-hand the significance and magnitude of community engagement and sense of ownership of this unique place within San Diego, until we got involved with the Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation (GGHCDC).
Tell me about the Golden Hill Community Development Corporation.
This is not your typical “CDC”. This CDC has a primary focus on the “C”—community. A non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, the GGHCDC is entirely volunteer-run by community members with no paid staff. And, it has been recently transformed (since April of 2011) from a somewhat dysfunctional and financially troubled organization into a viable support mechanism that has made great progress in engaging the community and local businesses while creating a greater sense of identity for the neighborhood.
Although some might say that the best thing the CDC is doing for the community is providing low income housing, or supporting the development of a children’s playground in Golden Hill park, or hosting a Saturday farmer’s market with local organic fresh produce and food, or successfully acquiring grants for community needs, or developing a Golden Hill Business Group to support the local businesses, or advocating on behalf of the community with regards to the State Route 94 expansion project, or working on the acquisition of a low frequency FM radio license for the community, these activities are part of something much bigger.
That something is bringing together and engaging all who live in Golden Hill. It doesn’t matter whether you are a property owner, renter, business owner, visitor, or student. It’s about unifying and empowering the people of Golden Hill. For my wife and me, it is this incredible sense of community that makes Golden Hill so golden. We have finally found a neighborhood in San Diego that gives us a feeling of belonging. We are Golden Hill.
Lots of long-time residents of South Park used to think of themselves as living in Golden Hill and think of the South Park designation as a real estate promotion and your CDC envisions a Greater Golden Hill as well. Why do you do this and what’s your take on the community boundary and identity?
If my history knowledge is correct, in the early 1900’s developer E. Bartlett Webster did subdivide the area East of Balboa Park with the goal of creating a “high-class residential district” which he then named South Park. But, for residents already living in the area, it was still known as Golden Hill. The CDC does recognize the historical boundary and refers to the whole region as “Greater Golden Hill”.
Golden Hill provides an important access point getting to and from South Park and connecting the area to downtown and SR94. More recently though, South Park’s gentrification has led to a significant increase in the cost of living over Golden Hill that has forced a change in demographics, further accentuating an identity for South Park that is different from Golden Hill.
Golden Hill is ripe with potential to experience a similar gentrification, and possibly to an even greater extreme when one considers the incredible views, proximity to downtown and the planned growth in the Jerome’s property area, excellent accessibility, and adjacency to Balboa Park. These are many valuable assets that South Park doesn’t have. Thus, the Golden Hill community needs to be engaged to insure that we can continue to improve the quality of life while incorporating the residents of Golden Hill within that plan, so that we don’t lose our hard-working culturally diverse and vibrant residents. Volunteering for the CDC is one way for the community to get engaged.
You and I are both more recent arrivals, middle class Anglos living in a primarily working class Latino community. What are the downsides to gentrification for the long-time working class residents? Does the CDC factor this concern into its philosophy and activity?
I think the downside to gentrification is that with neighborhood redevelopment and investment in brick and mortar improvements, the value of properties and rents could increase to the point that many of the existing residents may no longer be able to afford to live in the neighborhood, forcing a change in demographics towards higher-income earners, less diversity, and thus a deterioration of the Golden Hill community.
The CDC has not only incorporated this concern into its mission statement, but has emulated the importance of preserving the cultural diversity of our neighborhood to our best ability through many of the programs and activities that we support and or run. For example, the CDC has an affordable housing program that provides low-income housing to some of our residents. We would like to expand that program over time.
What is the composition of the CDC? My wife and I are renters for example. Are there renters on the CDC or is it primarily home and business owners? Just wondering since the area is very rental-rich.
The CDC is the community. If you are a resident of Golden Hill, you are automatically a member of the CDC.
To become a voting member, the CDC has recently reduced their annual voting membership to less than ½ the cost it used to be. Now, for $25/yr, whether you are a business owner, homeowner, or renter, you can become a voting member. The price reduction reflects the move towards further embracing our community, recognizing that our median household income is around $36,000.
If your question was aimed at the composition of the CDC board, the board is currently composed of homeowners and renters. I don’t think we have any business owners on the board at the moment, but that could change as the recent Golden Hill Business Group was formed and our business owners play an important role for our community. Our current board represents a diverse cross-section of the community, but we do need more board members.
In April of 2011, there was a major change with the CDC. All of the former board members, staff, and president are gone. I think our new board members better represent our community. We have no paid staff, and we are all volunteers. The CDC is unique in that it is a 501c (3) non-profit. We are essentially a vehicle for community engagement, and a mechanism for bringing in grant money to our neighborhood. Therefore, we rely heavily on community involvement and engagement.
What new projects either in the neighborhood or that the CDC is involved in are you particularly excited about?
My wife, Victoria and I are particularly excited about the 2nd Annual Golden Hill Street Fair to be held July 28th, as we wrote an Economic Development and Tourism Support grant on behalf of the CDC, and I think it will be funded. This is not your typical street fair, as it will focus on local Golden Hill history, Golden Hill art and music, Golden Hill food, and it will have free access with fun things to do for all.
But, some other great things that we do, support, and are working on that I am also very excited about include the Golden Hill Playground Project, Golden Hill Low Frequency Radio Project, the recent formation of the Golden Hill Business Group, we are hosts of the Golden Hill Farmer’s Market bringing fresh organic fruits and vegetables to our neighborhood, and where we have a booth manned by a board member that allows the community to engage with the CDC every Saturday.
We run the Affordable Housing Program, and the After-School Programs at the Golden Hill Recreation Center. We are working with the Youth Under Construction program headed by David Sawicki to develop a performing arts program for disadvantaged kids. All of these things work towards unifying and empowering the current residents of Golden Hill, and they improve the quality of life here.
Could we do more? Absolutely.
What we are doing right now is with only a few volunteers. If we had more volunteers, we could do a lot more. I hope that people don’t think that the Greater Golden Hill CDC is an exclusive club of business and property owners. It is defined by the people who live in Golden Hill, and it has a lot of potential. I hope we get more people to volunteer, more people contributing their ideas, to insure that Golden Hill continues to be such a cool place to live.
When I first asked you to do this interview, in your reply you attached a poem about Golden Hill from the late 19th century that I quoted in my introduction to our Golden Hill focus here at the Free Press. Tell me about that poem and what you know about the history and development of Golden Hill.
The poem was written by former resident Daniel Schuyler and was published in the March 1887 edition of Golden Era Magazine. Schuyler successfully petitioned the city to name the area “Golden Hill”.
In its initial phase of development, with its spectacular views, proximity to downtown, and access via the electric streetcar, the trendy neighborhood was popular amongst some of the elite of San Diego (judges, senators, lawyers, mayors, etc.) Thus, many large homes were built at the time.
In the mid-1900’s after WWII, with urban sprawl and a greater demand for living space, the area was re-zoned to allow for higher density development to quell some of the demand for residential housing. This provided the opportunity for multi-family developments to be constructed in Golden Hill (often at the expense of larger historic homes) and for existing larger historic homes to be partitioned into multi-unit properties.
The shift from primarily single-family owner-occupied housing to a mix of single-family and multi-family represents a major shift in the demographics of the neighborhood to the culturally and economically diverse Golden Hill that we know today, with a vibrant lifestyle and urban appeal. To get a real sense of this, compare Golden Hill with Kensington (where our most recent past mayor lives), whereby most of the homes are still single-family owner occupied.
My wife and I, in a recent search for a new home, thought Kensington was the place to be. This was, until we realized how expensive it is, how little opportunity there is to live there, and how culturally sterile it felt to us compared to Golden Hill. Once we discovered Golden Hill, there was no looking back.