By Eva Marie Vargas
I have lived in Shelltown my whole life, 60 years. I was a part of the disgraceful history that this community has suffered, when it was split by CalTrans in the 70’s and then again by SEDC redevelopment renaming part of Shelltown to Southcrest in mid-80’s. Because of our unity efforts in organizing Shelltown, with the help of SDOP (San Diego Organizing Project) www.sdop.net, our dream of restoring our community is almost fulfilled.
I urge you, the Commission, to let us reunite Southcrest and Shelltown in District 9. The community that is being spoken of is Shelltown then and Shelltown now. You now have the opportunity to make Shelltown whole after decades of disenfranchisement. Whether we live in the wealthier areas of San Diego or live here, we all want the same things peace, security, prosperity—a little bit of heaven.
I remember that once we had a thriving residential neighborhood—then we didn’t. Bulldozers came in and took more than 66 acres or 280 homes just like that, snap of your fingers. Then we were left with empty acreage and a state that could care less about the upkeep of the land. I remember the dreams I used to have (still brings tears to my eyes) the way the neighborhood used to look like, the friends I lost.
We were constantly calling them to remove the weeds that were growing, the overgrown trees. This state of waste, the whole episode lasted over 20 years. The depression it brought to the community was almost tangible. It’s a fact, freeways, when put into communities do bring about real depression to the people. Any kind of impact that makes the community feel as if it does not matter, will in fact depress us. Finally, they decided that it was time to link the freeways I-5 and I-805 to be placed in Shelltown.
“During an emotional public hearing (in 1986), Councilman William Jones, community activists and longtime residents told supervisors the economy and identity of Southeast San Diego have been hurt by the four freeways that already divided the community.”
The community heard about the freeway coming and we said “no way” and we decided to fight back; I was one of the 2,000 people that showed up for that particular hearing. It was stopped and as you probably know this never happens, especially in a neighborhood like ours.
Then our problems really began. During the years, the state had been suffering due to our constant demands (all intentional) for the upkeep of more than 66 acres of property; consequently, they finally sold it to the City of San Diego. The City of San Diego did an equally job of neglecting the 252 Corridor.
I, my family, abd neighbors living directly behind the corridor had been suffering from headaches, nausea, and other ailments. I decided one day to find out if something in the Corridor was responsible, sure enough, I discovered that in fact toxic waste had been dumped. Not just a barrel, but barrels of the stuff had spilled onto the ground, saturating it with pools of waste. I called the appropriate city departments, and at that time there was no environmental department to call. No one followed up with my many calls, so I called the media. They came out in abundance and with that the clean-up began, but not all was cleaned up they had left the pool of waste there. Again, I had to call the media because no one called me back. Some of the sufferings heaped upon us were: fires in the corridor; there was a rape, robberies and dumping of large items, lawn cuttings, garbage, etc. It seems that landscapers, hauling companies were using the corridor as their cheap, exclusive dump, and there was documentation to prove that it was coming from outside the community.
And remember, through all this, SDOP had been amongst us. We were making phone calls to the appropriate authorities to get some action to remedy our situation. And actions—we had many, many of them with the Mayor, Chief of Police, Councilperson to Department Heads; we called them all out and force them to help us with the many on going problems. This helped the community of Shelltown to heal, all of Shelltown from National Ave to the North (busy, business street), to I-15 (freeway, natural boundary) to the west, onto southwest I-5 (another natural boundary, to National City boundary (Division) (a real natural boundary), to 43rd and No. Highland Av to the east.
The focus of the community was to restore the community and fill it up with homes, school, stores, parks, etc.; we did this with the intervention of SEDC (good to some extent and frustrating). While SEDC and the contracted contractors had their ideas of redeveloping, we had ours, but renaming part of our community was not our idea—it has now become an insult, but that is another issue to be dealt with at another time. It was then SEDC, with the co-signatures of the then City Council. So pardon me if I do not acknowledge Southcrest as a community, no one acknowledged us enough to ask us if this was ok.
When they wanted to stick multifamily homes (4-plex units into the corridor), we said single family homes please (because that was originally there), they said triplex; we said single family homes please; they said duplex, we said single family homes please and this went on for a few years. But we got our single family, well-made homes for we are a very patient, and a resilient community.
Now there was the problem with the San Diego Unified School District, they wanted to enlarge an already crowded elementary school (Balboa). They wanted to impose Imminent Domain to some 14 blocks of homes surrounding the school. This would have been illegal of course, enlarging the school beyond legal capacity, but they didn’t care. In fact, we told them that there was acreage all ready available in the 252 Corridor and would they consider it. No, was the answer an emphatic no.
We were not going, once again, to see a needless, devastating waste to people’s homes, as was done to us by the state. We once again organized and they saw the error of their ways. They built Cesar Chavez Elementary School, and it was designed to our specifications and satisfaction. The last bit of restoring is now ongoing with the 2nd phase of the park development called Southcrest Trails Park. This is the name given to associate the two parks we have in our neighborhood Southcrest Park. We, the community (with help from SDOP) had finished the 1st phase called Petway Park negotiating with the City as to the way the park should look, and SEDC for $funding$ as with Southcrest Trails Park.
With all these hardships, relationships were built and neighborhoods, in community, were reborn and ordinary people like me pushing other people to make this community what it is today. We have a number of churches that inhabit Shelltown, no bars and very few liquor stores and no new licenses being given. (Because we had a talk with the Alcoholic Beverage Control) They were removed from this neighborhood because of the number of walks the people had taken to point out the negativity of them (there were many); the selling of alcohol, cigarettes and drug paraphernalia to minors is all but diminished because the residents here care about their youth. In fact when four teens were shot in drive by shooting within a six-month period, we took to the streets, marching as a unified people once again to demonstrate our love for our youth. We had an action in Southcrest Park with the Mayor, Chief of Police, and Council People to signify our outrage and to our elected officials, for their inaction.
There is so much more that I could say about what is felt in this community and what we did together and still do together, but that could take the rest of this page and more. I just wanted YOU to understand what is felt here and what is being done here. We can’t all shout out in those large rooms about what we feel, but we feel them just the same. Whether we live in the wealthier areas of San Diego or live here, we all want the same things: peace, security, prosperity—a little bit of heaven.
I will end with this history. “Opposition to the freeway arose in the early 1970s when Southeast San Diego residents complained that its construction would cut off and isolate a portion of their community. By 1978 the city of San Diego made its opposition to the freeway official and the state transportation commission in 1980 directed CalTrans to dispose of the right of way.” Colvin, Terry L. “S. D. and National City continue fight over 252.” The community that is being spoken of is Shelltown then and Shelltown now.