By Raymond R. Beltran
“We were promised a cultural center and a museum … and now its twenty years later and look at this, a dirt lot with a fence around it,” says David Rico, Barrio Logan resident and veteran member of the Brown Berets de Aztlán, a Chicano civil rights organization.
With remains of a cut padlock trampled in the dirt, Logan residents crossed into a controversial lot this Saturday, August 19, to make a statement that they will no longer be shut out of the process to develop a mercado, a project that has been on hiatus for twelve years.
A banner reading, “This Is Our Land” was held up while veteran community members reminisced on days of old when people power led to the creation of Chicano Park, now a cultural venue and an honored anchor of Barrio Logan. But having witnessed the neighboring seven acres of gated land accumulate nothing but tangled weeds, residents say its time they muster that same people power to get the wheels in motion.
“We can do this for ourselves,” says Rico, who is co-organizing a community meeting next week to gather residents’ input about the Mercado site. “We have raza that do construction. We can make a museum or a cultural arts center, maybe even if we just open it up to our youngsters as a soccer field for right now.”
The area sits on both sides of Newton Avenue, crossing Cesar Chavez Parkway. For twelve years, development of a mercado was in the hands of the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee, and then the city sold it to LandGrant Development for $100.00 in 2002 to complete the project. Still, nothing’s been done and last month the City of San Diego retracted ownership and released an RFQ, a request for qualified developers.
The city has narrowed the sixteen responses down to five developers: Pacific Scene, Forest City Property Corporation, DR Horton, McCormack Baron Salazar, and Shea Properties.
Residents suspect Barrio Logan will face an onslaught of corporate chains like Wal-Mart or Target, a move they outspokenly opposed Saturday and say would be very insensitive to such a historically pro-active Chicano community.
Project Manager for the city’s redevelopment department in Barrio Logan, Jim LoBue, says the original commitment, a decade ago, included a Latino theme grocery store, something he says is still in mind. This Sunday, he plans to meet with the Brown Berets and the Chicano Park Steering Committee (CPSC), an independent organization that’s preserved the neighboring Chicano Park for nearly three decades.
Wal-Mart and Target unsuccessfully responded to the city’s RFQ.
Among the five developers, Pacific Scene, DH Horton and Shea Properties are San Diego firms. McCormack Baron Salazar is St. Louis-based and Forest City Property Corporation is in Los Angeles.
Forest City is affiliated with the New York-based Forest City Ratner (FCR), a development firm that has been highly opposed by grassroots community advocates in Brooklyn due to, what they say, have been devious practices while developing a large scale sports arena, Atlantic Yard, in their neighborhood.
Brooklyn-based critics, like No Land Grab, Develop Don’t Destroy, and No Stadium, make claims against FCR and its president, Bruce C. Ratner, relating to eminent domain abuse, under-representing development costs, and misleading the public about the size of the project area and the number of jobs they produce.
FCR did not respond to inquiries made by La Prensa San Diego.
LoBue says he’s not familiar with Forest City’s affiliates.
The five firms now have ninety days to reply to the city’s Request For Proposal, which includes their concepts, types of uses, and a layout design.
An appraisal to determine the property’s value has yet to be made, says the city.
The former Mercado developer, LandGrant, recently released what seems to be a letter in desperation to the CPSC exhibiting an unyielding interest in the Mercado development.
City Attorney Michael Aguirre recently stated that LandGrant is no longer involved in the process and that the city is in the preliminary phase of a lawsuit against the former developer to recoup the city’s expenses and to officially reclaim ownership of the land.
District 8 Councilman Ben Hueso has called a meeting September 7 at Calvary Baptist Church (719 Cesar Chavez Parkway) at 5:30 p.m. to introduce the five development firms to residents and invite input.
“He just called that meeting because he felt he was backed into a corner,” says CPSC Chairwoman Tomasa Camarillo, who revisited the project site on Monday to tie Mexican flag-colored strings to the fence surrounding the lots. She criticizes Hueso for neglecting the issue.
He also did not respond to LPSD queries.
In their recent monthly meetings, the CPSC has been working with the Brown Berets to gather ideas for a community-initiated plan that include the possibility of both a commercial site and educational facilities, which derive from promises, they say, were made by the city decades ago.
“A lot of the youngsters today weren’t around when Chicano Park was created, so, they don’t know about the promises that were made,” says a distraught David Rico, looking onto the blue tip of a bay front view down Cesar Chavez Parkway, choked by an industrial horizon. “There’s more land over there that the raza [uses] all the time, but people don’t know that. And that was the idea, to connect all this. Like the mural says, ‘All the Way to the Bay.’ The youngsters don’t know, but a lot of us old timers are still here and we remember.”
Project Manager Jim LoBue says he will attend the CPSC monthly meeting this Sunday, August 27, at 3 p.m. at the kiosk in Chicano Park.
The CPSC and Brown Berets will also be holding a meeting next Sunday, August 3, at the same location (the time to be announced) to gather their Mercado development ideas and plans of action.