In this first of two parts the Councilman discusses the minimum wage, upgrades to Chicano Park, Barrio Art Crawl and creating a place to be on Sunday afternoons in Barrio Logan
By Brent E. Beltrán
I woke up on Monday morning and, as I usually do, checked my email first (then Twitter and Facebook). In my inbox was an email from the Raise Up San Diego campaign stating that they were holding a press conference with David Alvarez at Chicano Park at 10am.
Feeling compelled to attend a presser across the street from where I lived I went about my morning business of getting my son Dino ready for preschool and walked him the two blocks to Perkins Elementary.
With him starting school I’ve been on a walking kick to get rid of some of the “sympathy” weight I gained in solidarity with my wife during the pregnancy. From 9am to about 10am I’d walk from Barrio Logan down Harbor Dr. — dodging traffic since there are no sidewalks — to the Convention Center stairs and then back to my barrio.
Knowing that I’d be dripping sweat, from not only walking but from the muggy weather we’ve been having, I thought I’d hang in the background of the presser once I arrived to Chicano Park. That was not to be the case.
Seeing me the Councilman came over to say hello. As I continued to sweat from the heat and walk we engaged in some chit chat about our kids going to school and then I asked him if at some point, when he has the time, if we can sit down and have a one-on-one conversation about all things Barrio Logan. He was interested and it was just a matter of scheduling it.
Cool, I thought. I had wanted to have an in depth interview with him since he was running for Mayor but never asked. It’s all about seizing the opportunity. He was in front of me so I asked.
Apparently the Raise Up campaign had also scheduled a press conference at 10:30am at City Hall with Councilwoman Myrtle Cole and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and pretty much all of the media decided to attend that instead of the one at Chicano Park.
Recognizing the dearth of reporters, there was only a Spanish media journalist and myself, they did a quick photo-op and the presser was over. The Spanish media reporter took off for the other one leaving me alone, still sweating, with my Councilman.
Since I’m all about seizing journalistic opportunities when they arise I asked him, “How about that interview?” He graciously accepted and we sat down on a nearby bench and talked about the minimum wage, how it affects communities in District 8, and the interests opposed to it. We then we talked about various things Barrio Logan.
Here is the first part of the interview with some minor editing.
Brent E. Beltrán: Similar interests are going against the minimum wage [raise], that went against your campaign, that went against the community plan here in Barrio Logan.
David Alvarez: And similar tactics.
BEB: Using similar tactics. So this issue of the minimum wage affects this community as much, if not more, than any other community in San Diego. So what are your thoughts on how it affects residents here in Barrio Logan and other communities in District 8.
DA: It’s a very disturbing trend that we’re seeing that the council, who gets elected by the public to make decisions, makes decisions and then big moneyed interests overturn those decisions. This goes back to the Phil Thalheimer decision. [He’s] a big Republican here in San Diego that sued the city to allow more money in politics. It goes to the Supreme Court decision [in Citizens United]. So we’re seeing this trend of just ton of more money from big, in this case, corporate interests that are undoing the will of the people. Because Council gets elected by the people to make those decisions. It’s really disturbing.
And the fact that the last two referendums you referenced, it’s really issues about people who are low income, people who live in communities that have been marginalized and fear tactics that are being used to scare others into believing things that are not true. You’ve got freedom of speech, right? Anybody can say anything they want. But when you start lying that is what turns people off about politics. It just been lie after lie on Barrio Logan, it was lies on minimum wage. I don’t blame people for feeling just fed up with politics because of what we see the other side doing.
And like you mentioned, in this case, it’s a Latino community who benefited from the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update. It was minority communities who would benefit more from an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave. It’s an attack on working people, on people who are struggling, and people who are just trying to get by and try to be successful and creating an even bigger divide between those that have and those that don’t have. That’s what I take away from the two instances of both Barrio Logan and this minimum wage.
BEB: Todd Gloria has stood out really well with this issue with the minimum wage. You’re speaking out very well. I’ve seen Ed Harris out there, Myrtle Cole. It seems like the Democrats are pretty strong on this issue. It’s just the intransigence of the other party.
DA: Yes. It’s definitely Republicans: It’s individuals, the Republican Council, the Republican Mayor, the Republican establishment of this city, whose controlled this city for such a long time. We’re united in this because we believe that people should be given opportunities.
I grew up in this neighborhood. My parents had minimum wage jobs. Back then in the eighties you could survive even in a very poor neighborhood like this one on minimum wage. That’s not the case anymore. Now if you don’t have two jobs then you’re probably aren’t making it or you’re probably living with a couple other families. As I find to be the case. You most definitely can’t focus on getting your kids to do well in school. You can’t focus on buying a house, achieving the American Dream, starting a business. Those are not even options for you if you’re on minimum wage today.
BEB: Let’s move on and talk about a few other things. Some upgrades are coming to Chicano Park. A bathroom. Has the funding been secured or will it eventually get fully secured?
DA: We’re on that track. I think we’ve got the money for it. It’s like everything else that has always bothered me about the City the fact that it takes so long. To be honest when I got to the City Council we did not have the money to build this bathroom. This is now a regional park which means that Chicano Park is eligible for citywide funding. It’s a special pot of money. It gives us a little bit of an advantage over regular parks, rightfully so because Chicano Park is such an important park. It is a regional park. It’s now a national historic place. So now we actually have the money. Now it’s gotta go through design. It’s gotta go through building. Everything just takes a long time. At least we’ve got the money. That’s the first challenge in government projects. And then comes the design, the input from the community, we want to make sure the community knows what’s going on, and then the construction. We’re still a couple years away.
BEB: Best case scenario would be about two years?
DA: Best case scenario is two years. But we’re probably more like three or four.
BEB: There are going to be some recreational improvements added to Chicano Park. Hopefully some skater amenities for that section of the park down there which has become a de facto skate park. Which I think is great though some people may not like it. It’s being used by people throughout San Diego. It’s become world renown as a skater haven. This will add to it.
DA: Like every other public amenity, public facility and especially parks, if you are actually using it, if there is activity, if there are people on the site then that’ll attract more people and people will feel safe to come here. You are successful in keeping away the nuisances that you don’t want in public spaces like parks. The more you can activate a park, like we are doing with the grants, then the better it is for the community so they feel that it’s a park they can go out to like any other park. And it’s becoming that. You see it more and more. There’re a lot of young people, a lot of kids around here. So let’s give them something they can enjoy in a positive way. So that’s what we are trying to do with these amenities.
In addition, there’s going to be some handball editions. That place is always full. That’s unique. This is the only park that has that. So that’s kind of cool. And then as part of the study we’re going to figure out if we can light up the murals. That [Barrio] Art Crawl was very inspirational. As someone who has seen these murals my whole life I had never seen them at night. And they look even more beautiful if they’re lit up at night. There’s a study that’s going to be done. The money is not there to light it up but we’re going to figure out if we can. And then how much it costs and then go after the money for them.
BEB: That’s great news. You mentioned the Barrio Art Crawl. These art spaces opening up in Barrio Logan, these grassroots art spaces have revitalized the community somewhat. It’s not an official city project. There’s no grant funding coming in for it. It’s just people doing it themselves. So how do you feel about this and maybe how can your office and the rest of the city help promote this even more?
DA: I think government is always behind the 8 Ball on this, on everything. As someone who spends a lot of time here and lives here I get to enjoy what’s happening naturally. It’s evolving on its own. When that happens, and I’ve said this from the beginning, you’ve got to have grassroots movements in the communities. There are opportunities in government but government is not going to support something that doesn’t exist. Now we have this art movement that exists. Now you see people getting organized. And so now it is more sophisticated and so now that’s where government can come in, and not do everything for the arts organizations — and that’s not what they want — but how do we come in and sort of fill in the gaps? How do we get to the next level as a community.
The Art Crawl is a great example of that. We had the Art Crawl and it was organized in a grassroots manner. So now we think towards the future. That worked out so well. What can we do to add to that? Can we find some grants from, for example, the Arts and Culture Commission to do some more nighttime activity? Can we do a festival in the evening? An idea that I had, and I have to talk to the [Chicano Park] Steering Committee about this but, can we expand Chicano Park [Day] to be more than just until sunset? Can we do an evening part of Chicano Park Day? I think that would be really fascinating. You start to see things opening up as possibilities.
BEB: More art is coming. It’s coming all the time in various forms. Myself, with Georgette Gomez, is organizing a concert series on behalf of the Barrio Logan Association. That’s coming up at the Mercado del Barrio Plaza. That’s another addition to this community. It’s going to be all local bands performing. Hopefully the average Northgate shopper on a Sunday afternoon is going to see it, come out, and enjoy some music.
DA: I was out there the Sunday that Family Health Center did a little thing at the plaza. It was really successful. I’ve been telling Martha [Zapata] in my office that we gotta to do a concert series at the plaza. A lot of the roots of the people that live here go back to Mexico. On Sunday afternoons people go hang out at the plaza. They’d listen to acts or walk around and chitchat. I think we need to activate space like that here. This is a perfect community to do that. I’m really pleased that that is happening. I hope that we can come in and with the Association and my office can go get some more funds and try to enhance whatever you guys are trying to do. Make it the place to be. That’s what I always imagined. Let’s have a place to be on a Sunday afternoon for the families that are here.
In Part 2 of the interview we talk about the Emergency Winter Homeless Shelter and its impact on Barrio Logan, the Family Health Center’s interest in creating an outpatient mental health facility on City land on the corner of National Ave. and Sampson St., semi-trucks rumbling through Barrio Logan streets, and the Bayshore Bikeway extension from 32nd St. to Park Blvd.