July 06, 2001

Commentary

Our Inner-cities Must Demand Development without Displacement

By Fredi Avalos

The choices the City of San Diego makes reflects its values. So far, it seems clear that this city values a ballpark, and helping a ballpark owner, more than it values the families that will be impacted by its construction. As a city, we can no longer ignore the fact that the ballpark redevelopment project has negatively affected the lives of many people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods of Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, and Golden Hills.

People of San Diego must wake up to the startling reality that people who exist in our inner-cities have been suffering due to out-of-control real estate speculation that has been underway in these neighborhoods since the advent of the proposed ballpark. This has caused rents to skyrocket in what once was an affordable housing area. The most vulnerable of these residents are from immigrant populations and others who exist at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. Many people in these areas have been forced to double up their living arrangements or move from their life time homes. In these neighborhoods, it is not uncommon for two, and in some cases, even three families to live together in single family homes and apartments in order to make the rent. The alternative to this has been life on the street. Although rising rents are a reality throughout the city, many people who have long histories in these areas have no other place to go.

Most San Diegans know that there is little affordable housing in this city. Indeed, forty percent of San Diegans are low income, and many could qualify for government assistance. Unfortunately, the waiting time for this help is averaging five years.

The residents of these inner-city communities serve an important economic service to this city. They are the ones who clean our houses and office buildings, take care of middle-class children, work behind the kitchen doors of the restaurants we frequent, and pick our fruits and vegetables. Without them our economy would collapse. Now where do we expect them to live? It seems that this once forgotten area of our city has become a strategic component of a ballpark redevelopment plan that in the end, benefits only a handful of elite interests. The much touted economic boons to the residents of these communities are laughable: Part-time, seasonal, minimum wage jobs with no health care, vacation, or retirement benefits.

As a Mexican-American, my family has been part of the Logan Heights community for over 90 years. Then, and until relatively only recently, it was one of the few suburban areas where people of color were allowed to become homeowners and find affordable rental housing. Until as late as the early 1960s, racially discriminatory real estate clauses built into the CC&R's (Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions) limited the geographic range of property ownership for people who looked like my family.

Over the course of the last few decades, the city and its leaders have turned their backs on a community that has been crying out for economic equity for years. In a statement that reveals the tragic irony of the situation, a community member explained at a forum sponsored by DURO (Developing Unity through Resident Organizing) that "Our streets are finally being improved, but we are being pushed out." At this forum, nearly 100 residents came to together to share devastating stories of housing and cultural displacement many of them are currently experiencing in these neighborhoods. Later, a panel of experts, including Dr. Nico Calavita, Professor, San Diego State University, Ann Fathy, land use attorney, and David Estrella of Legal Aid provided information and strategies for long and short term solutions to many of these problems. After the panel discussion, residents met together to develop their own plan of action.

DURO, and other resident driven grassroots organizations tied to these communities, are asking that the negative impacts of this "redevelopment process" be addressed immediately. In short, we are asking for economic development without displacement in these areas. We need to more aggressively explore the possibilities for mixed income neighborhoods where people who exist at all levels of the socioeconomic ladder will be welcome. We are asking for economically balanced neighborhoods. For too long, the definition of "affordability" that the downtown redevelopment agency utilizes has not considered the true economic reality of the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods. When it comes to affordable housing, Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) is poised to primarily assist families that are in the 80% to 120% average median income range. This means that a family of four must earn between $45,500 to $68,300 to quality for what they are calling "affordable" housing.

Although serving this community is important, the San Diego Association of Government's SourcePoint Report reflects that in the downtown area and the surrounding neighborhoods there is a 61%, or greater, concentration of people who live well below the range of qualifying for what Centre City Development Corporation calls "workforce" housing.

Although the neighborhoods of Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, and Golden Hills, "officially" exist outside of the downtown redevelopment area, these neighborhoods have been extremely impacted by the increase of development activity generated by the proposed ballpark. The essentially arbitrary circle drawn around the redevelopment area that CCDC is responsible for allows them, and other city agencies, to politically separate themselves from the negative "spillover" effects of their redevelopment plan. Once again, we see the attempt by our city leaders and institutions to dilute the harsh reality of life in these areas by rendering these communities invisible.

At the present time, it is the residents of these historically marginalized communities that are bearing the most severe brunt of the ballpark redevelopment plan. In many ways, the residents of these communities are truly serving as the front line of defense for all our city's neighborhoods. Soon the negative ramifications of the ballpark redevelopment plan will be felt in neighborhoods throughout this city.

Enormous amounts of public funds have already been poured into this project. This is money that would have, or could have, been directed to improvements in infrastructure, libraries, and schools in your own backyards. As a member of DURO (Developing Unity through Resident Organizing), I ask all San Diegans to support the residents of these areas as they work to ensure that their voices and concerns will be part of the public dialogue surrounding these issues. They must be included in our collective vision for our city's future. Please let us continue to demand that our city and its leaders, particularly leaders from the Latino and Chicano communities, put "people over profits."

Fredi Avalos Adjunct Professor of Communication, California State University, San Marcos and member of DURO (Developing Unity through Resident Organizing)

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