By Brent E. Beltrán
In Part I the Councilman discussed the minimum wage, upgrades to Chicano Park, Barrio Art Crawl and creating a place to be on Sunday afternoons in Barrio Logan. In Part II he talks about the Emergency Winter Homeless Shelter, bringing an outpatient mental health facility to Logan, big rigs rumbling though Barrio Logan streets, the final leg of the Bayshore Bikeway, and the Barrio Logan gateway sign.
Brent E. Beltrán: The Winter Homeless Shelter is probably going to be sited here again. How does this community fight that? Other districts don’t want it. It’s been here for so many years now. I’m under the impression that it’s always going to be here. My issue is how do we mitigate the impact of having hundreds of people not just living in the shelter but also living on the streets and in the park. How do we get more resources to come in without having to use Barrio Logan Association funds to clean up?
David Alvarez: Right. There are some funds to do that but it’s not going to take care of the whole problem. The Association has some assessments that allow it to do that. When the decision comes, it’ll come [October 7] at the City Council as to the placement of the shelter, we need to ensure sure that the voice of the community is heard. There are impacts to the surrounding community and we got to find a way to address those.
The first year it was sited here — was the first year I came into office — we had a really good relationship with Alpha Project and [the shelter] was sort of really well contained. I don’t know what’s happened but I’m going to make sure if it’s sited here again that we have that again, especially for the schools. The first year was very successful. The schools will even tell you it worked out well. They had no problems. As time goes by you kind of get a little lax. You start to feel a little more confident how things are working. Sometimes you just gotta go back and make sure that things are working the way you want them to work. If it were to happen again and if Alpha Project continues to be the operator because I don’t know if they will or won’t. That’s a decision that needs to be made. Then we got to talk about how are we going to address the peripheral issues.
Then long term the sites that we’re talking about, there’s a very huge, empty, vacant lot there that at one time was being discussed as a potential Target development. I’ve reinitiated conversations with folks to see if that can be a potential site for development. To my point earlier, if you activate public spaces, that includes sidewalks and streets, then things like the homeless issue get addressed in a different way. And when there’s people living there or people shopping there then you start to focus, ok, we don’t want [the shelter] to be an impact on the people that live there or we don’t want [the shelter] to be an impact on the businesses that are there. How do we address in a way that is humane, we ought to address the problem in a humane way, but that also doesn’t impact the local community? I think the long term solution really is a development on that big lot that’s just, I think, attracts that as a preferred location for the homeless shelter.
BEB: Then on the National side of the lot between that lot and Reliable Pipe is kind of like a homeless, skid row, right there. A tent city. Kids that take the trolley have to walk this gantlet every day. Whether it’s the kids that go to Monarch School or Perkins or kids that just want to access the neighborhood from the Imperial Trolley Station because the access point on the Newton side that used to go though is now shut off. Now it forces people to go through [the gantlet]. It smells like urine and other bad things. How does that get dealt with? I know the Barrio Logan Association is going to take that on head first.
DA: I’m glad. That’s one of the reasons why the Association was so important to form. I know about that. When I ride my bike to work oftentimes I like to check out different parts of the community and I know that that’s there. This goes to the big issue of homelessness. Because it’s not just let’s push them out of the way. You can maybe do that but you see what happens under the 5 on Commercial or the 5 on Imperial. You get it cleaned up but it comes right back. The issue has to be dealt with at the very core level. As someone that’s been studying the homeless issue a lot I believe that the housing first model is the best model. So we’ve got to get them a stable place to live. And provide them with the right renters. That’s very costly. This Council, in particular, the last four years has really been investing heavily on that. And so we just have to continue.
The other thing is that I’ve said in the past, and I’ve asked the Housing Commission to do, is to study alternative locations for homeless services. Because if you continue to place everything in East Village then it will always be there. All the services are there so all the homeless individuals that need to get assistance are going to go there. And I think that is a shared sentiment but communities outside are not going to want anything.
BEB: There’s no political will from other Council people.
DA: Right. There’s gotta be. We all have to jump in together. And so I’ve been saying it for some time when I asked them to study the homeless shelter location two years ago. I don’t know what they’ll come back with. We have to have satellite locations for services otherwise it’s going to be all concentrated there.
BEB: Speaking of services. Family Health Centers wants to build a mental health facility here on National and Sampson. This community needs that. We need more mental health services. Not just the homeless people but residents within the community. How does a community that needs that get that done?
DA: I think you got to have a good partner from Family Health Centers and they certainly have proved they are a community stakeholder. Mental health is an issue that isn’t being addressed in communities of color. It’s still a taboo, there’s still a stigma. It would be really ideal for us to have a [mental] health center in the community so the community can feel comfortable with dealing with some of these issues that if they don’t get dealt with people don’t live good lives or it leads to other illnesses. It’s a very good proposition. The City owns the land. It’s very under-utilized. It’s hardly ever used. Hardly anybody is there. Why don’t we find a way that we can bring an asset to the community. Continue to have some parking available for community needs. That’s why the RFP is, I believe, out now to see if there’s a good response from Family Health Centers as a community partner to make that happen. Whether it’s there or whether it’s this project or not mental health as an issue in the Latino community yes, but communities of color overall, and I think in the general community it’s an issue that needs to be more openly addressed.
BEB: I mentioned semis to you earlier. What can we do to limit the amount of big rigs rumbling through Barrio Logan streets?
DA: One of the things that was done before, I think ten years ago, was the elimination of Cesar Chavez Parkway as a truck route. Unfortunately, even though this was done ten years ago, just as short as five years ago before I was on the Council I was part of a stakeholders group and we still had the trucks going by. That sort of diminished on Cesar Chavez but now you’re see them go around. Working with the Port, and I’ve already placed calls into the Port administration and Commissioners letting them know that this is continuing, they need to continue to educate drivers that there are specific routes for big rigs. We were successful over here on Main St. getting that facility out of the way so that we could avoid the trucks there. It’s just behavior that we gotta always have to change. It’s not even an inconvenience. It’s actually easier for them to take the actual truck route that is out of the community.
BEB: Yes. There’re some narrow turns going through.
DA: It’s not easy to get around here. Perhaps we might have to go into looking into ordinances that prevent trucks in other parts of the community unless they’re looking at doing a local delivery. That’s an option that we are studying. We’ll see if that is necessary. We are trying to do it through education. We don’t want to penalize anybody yet. But if we have to go there we’ll go there.
BEB: The Port trucks are pretty good. Pasha [Automotive], I never see them coming. Dole is rare. I just happened to catch them recently. The convention center trucks you see. Restaurant Depot gets a lot of deliveries and some of those trucks come through here also.
DA: We should communicate with them then and let the management know at Restaurant Depot. I didn’t know that’s where they are headed. Good that you’re letting me know about that. Usually they pass out little fliers to the truck drivers as a reminder.
BEB: Most truck drivers are working class people. You don’t want to ticket them. You just want them to know not to come through here, there are children. Even if we can narrow it down to times when kids are going to school and getting out of school. That would help also.
DA: Right. Right.
BEB: The last thing I have is the Bayshore Bikeway. The extension from 32nd Street to Park Boulevard is in the works.
DA: It’s funded. Completely funded. They’re having a meeting to talk to the community about getting their input. The design input process has begun and it is fully funded. I’m really excited about that because it’s the last leg that’s missing in the route. If you ride a bike you have to go and check it out. It’s really, really neat. Even in the undeveloped part here in Barrio Logan just to be able to take that road, it’s a nice ride. I did it a couple weeks ago. It’s a couple hours. It’s funded. I’m still in the working group. We’ve got the money identified. Not just this leg of it. A lot of people don’t know we also got money from the end of the bay to the border actually. There’s this concept we call Barrio to Barrio, from Barrio San Ysidro to Barrio Logan. There’ll be a connection. That’s also funded. A lot of good stuff happening with bike infrastructure and I hope that the design of this gets probably completed next year. And then we can go to construction after that.
BEB: [I am the Barrio Logan Association’s] representative stakeholder to the committee SANDAG is running.
BEB: The main reason, I don’t ride a bike, my main reason is to get sidewalks from Cesar Chavez down towards the train yard on both sides. I’m starting to become an avid walker. I like walking to the convention center, accessing the Embarcadero South and the beautiful stuff over there. I think the rest of the community would like safe access as well. That’s the reason I’m jumping in and actively being a participant in this.
DA: I think you’re right about that. Because when I was younger here we had family come to visit and one of the places we reliably took them to was Seaport Village. It’s so easily accessible to us here. I think there’s going to be a dialogue. I think because it’s sort of very limited space you’re working with there’s going to be some sort of shift that happens. We have limitations working there but we need input. If people also want to use it as a mode for walking how do we make that all fit?
BEB: The [Barrio Logan gateway] sign is coming up. Last I heard was November.
DA: It should be up by the end of the year. It’s going to be just as fabulous as the other identifying signs in San Diego’s neighborhoods. But this one is going to be unique because it’s got the history of San Diego and Barrio Logan embedded in the artwork that’s in it. It’s going to be really interesting.
BEB: Thank you very much. Great conversation.
I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to sit down with my Councilman. Prior to becoming a writer for San Diego Free Press I had never spoken to an elected official (though I’ve yelled at a few in my day). I find that David Alvarez is different from most politicians. He still lives in the community he grew up in and genuinely cares for those that reside and work within it. I look forward to having many more conversations about Barrio Logan and San Diego with him in the future.