By City Councilwoman Marti Emerald
Editor Note: As part of the SDFP focus on the neighborhoods series, District Nine Councilwoman Marti Emerald was invited to participate in our recent coverage of City Heights.
I feel proud every time I attend a neighborhood meeting, a community coffee, or an event in City Heights. After all, it is the most vibrant, diverse, and innovative Council District in the city. My staff and I refer to District Nine as “the People’s District.”
Diversity isn’t a catchphrase in my district; it’s a way of life. Walk around City Heights for a day and you’re likely to see Cambodian immigrants eating at Ethiopian restaurants, African Americans buying the best Vietnamese Pho in town, or Latino, Rwandan, Burundi and Congolese kids playing baseball at a community park. More than 30 languages are spoken here, and dedicated organizations, such as the Great Lakes Union for Development, support the hundreds of refugee families that have settled in City Heights.
Diversity in City Heights goes beyond the residents. The community is made up of 16 separate neighborhoods – many with their own community groups – making each part of the community unique. Instead of one voice trying to speak for the diverse needs of the community, City Heights has numerous organizations constantly searching for creative ways to make the area the best it can be.
As Chair of the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee (PSNS), my objective is to lead a comprehensive approach to ensuring safe and livable communities. One of my goals for this committee is to hire more multilingual police officers for our Multi-Cultural Police Storefront in City Heights. With a community as diverse as City Heights, it’s imperative that our police officers have the support they need to effectively communicate with the community they protect.
Another one of my goals is to provide appropriate response times by our Fire Department. City Heights is surrounded by canyons so it’s important to have the appropriate number of fire stations. We are working on funding a new fire station on Home Avenue and upgrading the one on Chamoune Avenue.
Another challenge I’m working on as we build safer communities in City Heights is combating gangs, which can trap young people into a cycle of crime. To help improve this situation, I am working in partnership with the City’s Gang Commission and grassroots efforts such as the all-volunteer 44th Street Community Mobilization Group, which leads Community Care Walks, a grass roots effort bringing neighbors and police officers together to take a stand against crime.
The city still needs to do more to shine a light on criminal activity – literally! There are almost $30 million in unfunded streetlights throughout the city, and the real need could be much greater. The lack of lighting makes it extremely dangerous for residents to walk to and from school or work when it is dark. My office is working to get more street lights in City Heights. We are also advocating for a comprehensive street light survey, in order to accurately determine the most efficient strategy to finally provide this vital service.
One of the best ways to provide alternatives to criminal activity is by providing parks and recreation centers. These provide a safe, family-friendly area for kids of all ages and promote healthy lifestyles while strengthening valuable community ties. I led the effort, with the support of my fellow councilmembers, to approve several new parks in City Heights. These parks are now in various stages of planning and construction. The Central Avenue Mini Park is expected to begin construction by the fall of 2013, while the Central Avenue Skate Plaza is estimated to begin construction in 2015. The City Heights Square Mini Park should be completed by fall 2013, and the Charles Lewis III Memorial Park, on Home Avenue, is expected to open next summer.
Existing parks were also given some much needed attention. The Colina Del Sol Park Recreation Center was revamped to improve accessibility and ADA compliance. Teralta Park was enhanced with lighting repairs, new decorative park signage, and re-landscaping to deter loitering and criminal activity.
We also need to provide our young people with access to education and jobs. The Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI) doesn’t just educate, it empowers young people in City Heights through scientific research and environmental stewardship. ODI is a model for science education for the rest of the country, and that’s not just me saying it! Last year President Barack Obama gave the institute his Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
The community, including groups such as Reality Changers and Mid-City CAN, has also taken an active role in providing safe alternatives to crime and gangs. To help the almost 50% of City Heights residents under the age of 24 put their education to work, I partnered with the San Diego Workforce Partnership to create a Youth Resource and Job Fair that was held on April 20th. Events such as this help connect the innovative and resourceful residents in our neighborhood with potential employers for jobs and internships.
However, there’s no point in providing education and jobs for our youth if they have no way to reach them. That’s why projects such as the Mid-City Centerline project, which will create two freeway-level bus stations on the I-15 at El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue, are vital. Included in the last budget was funding for a pilot program, spearheaded by Mid-City CAN, to provide free bus passes to City Heights’ high school students in order to allow young people to get to school and work.
I am also working hard to bring jobs to City Heights by providing the support residents need in order to let their entrepreneurship bloom. I led the council in passing a Resolution establishing the “Little Saigon Cultural and Commercial District.” The designated area involves a six block stretch along El Cajon Boulevard, from Euclid Avenue to Highland Avenue. Approximately 70% of the businesses in this corridor are owned by Vietnamese-Americans and others from Southeast Asia. The “Little Saigon District” will promote community revitalization and economic improvement, especially for the existing small businesses in the district. It will also serve as the center of Vietnamese art, music, food, and culture in San Diego, as well as a tourist destination.
Often, residents need access to affordable and efficient healthcare. In City Heights there are several organizations working toward that goal. The La Maestra Medical Clinic is a new state-of-the-art, energy and resource efficient, medical center on Fairmount Avenue. The Family Health Centers of San Diego is a nonprofit committed to serving low income and medically underserved members of the community. And the City Heights Wellness Center is a partnership between Rady Children’s and Scripps Health, which promotes health and disease prevention through health education, counseling and assistance in obtaining medical services.
The limitations of space in this article does not allow me to recognize every organization working to improve the lives of City Heights residents, and for that I apologize.
City Heights is in the midst of an exciting, community-led renaissance. It would not be possible without the countless hours of volunteers from planning groups, town councils and committees finding creative solutions to the issues facing their neighborhoods, and pushing for new projects that benefit everyone.
Since my first day in office, my mission has been simple: Provide safe neighborhoods and deliver resources to our Council District Nine communities. In City Heights we are doing just that!