The Year of Follow Through, Construction, & Transportation Justice

As our Active Transportation team looks back on 2016, we are reminded of many local achievements to celebrate even as we close out what has been such a difficult and harrowing year nationally and globally. Take a moment with us to reflect on our work in 2016 — The Year of Follow Through, Construction, and Transportation Justice.

The Year of Follow Through

Impressive 2016 Track Record for Grassroots Built Environment Team

City Heights Built Environment Team (BET) leaders successfully advocated for the two strategic targets they selected for 2016. The 54th Street Complete Street transformation, pictured here, included sidewalks where there had been none, and the City’s first protected bike lane. Councilmember Marti Emerald and her office provided crucial leadership during the final days of the 2016-2017 budget negotiations to identify funding. The improvements come after the tragic death of 15-year-old Jonathan Cortez, who died here in a hit-and-run in 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BET, with the support of the local Karen refugee community and Environmental Health Coalition, rallied to advocate for a safer crossing at Altadena Ave and El Cajon Boulevard where a Karen family had been hit by a car, as they tried to cross this intersection in 2015. Installed in November 2016, just months after BET began to advocate for this improvement, the crosswalk, like the 54th St improvements, demonstrates the effectiveness of resident-led advocacy efforts.

The Year of Construction:

Longevity allows CHCDC, Now 35-Years Old, to Turn Plans into Projects

We celebrated the February groundbreaking of the $14 million SR-15 Commuter Bikeway, which will provide a crucial link between Mid-City and Mission Valley via a one-mile separated bikeway along State Route-15 from Adams Ave to Camino del Rio South. This bikeway was negotiated in the late 1980s by Mid City community members in the City Heights CDC-initiated “Visions Project” to help mitigate the impacts of the SR-15’s construction through the middle of our community.

Construction progresses on the $65 million SR-15 Mid-City CenterLine Transit Stations, and first transit-only lanes on a San Diego freeway, along the SR-15 to service the high-frequency and popular Rapid 235 route that connects Mid City to Downtown and North County.

The City Heights Walks to School Report, co-authored in 2010 by City Heights CDC and Walk San Diego identified pedestrian safety deficiencies in and around local elementary schools. In response to the report’s findings and ensuing community advocacy, the City installed Safe Routes To School pedestrian safety upgrades including crosswalks and bulbouts at Ibarra Elementary (pictured above), Cherokee Point Elementary, and Hamilton Elementary. And the Fairmount Ave road diet and buffered bike lanes further increased safety in front of Hamilton Elementary along a high-speed corridor of Fairmount Avenue.

The Year of Transportation Justice:

Creative Engagement to Achieve Transportation Justice

In November, City Heights CDC hosted a Transportation Justice film screening and panel discussion of the documentary East LA Interchange that tells the story of how freeway development and certain urban planning policies negatively impacted the resilient Boyle Heights neighborhood. Local advocates from the 60s, 80s, and today joined the panel to share their experiences opposing the impact of freeway expansion on their San Diego neighborhoods.

Prior to election day, City Heights CDC created and shared this map to educate residents on the correlation between environmental justice communities (in red and dark orange) and the planned freeway expansions of the Measure A sales tax initiative.

Since 2010, City Heights CDC has been involved in the advocacy for pedestrian safety upgrades to the area near 50th St and University Ave, an ethnic enclave of the Somali and East African community that has long suffered from outdated street infrastructure. In June of this year, building on local enthusiasm for newly constructed community-advocated crossing and pedestrian refuge, City Heights CDC, local artists, and the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans facilitated a community conversation about cultural representation opportunities in the immediate business corridor, culminating in a temporary Cultural Gathering Space build-out with benches and tables topped with Ladoo, an East African strategy game. The Gathering Space has been warmly received by the local community and transit riders who use the shaded seating daily.

From all the feedback we received, with 15 bands along a 3.3 mile route through City Heights, North Park, and Normal Heights, this year’s CicloSDias Open Streets Event was the best yet. It was fun to see so many of you enjoying the car-free streets!

Our Active Transportation Team has so much to be grateful for as we close out 2016. We’re proud of our resident-led work with the BET in achieving remarkably quick turnarounds on the funding and construction of critically-needed active transportation safety improvements. At the same time, we’re privileged to be part of an organization that has been involved in the SR-15 advocacy efforts for more than three decades for community benefits that are just now being constructed. And we’re glad to have partnered with so many amazing community leaders, stakeholders, and funders along the way. And we had fun doing it with your support!

Special thanks to our funders: The California Endowment, Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Transportation For America, SANDAG, Caltrans, and the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Many thanks to our elected officials: City of San Diego Councilmember Marti Emerald & Staff, Mayor Kevin Faulconer & Staff, Councilmember David Alvarez & Staff, Councilmember Todd Gloria & Staff, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez & Staff, Assemblymember Shirley Webster & Staff.

Huge thanks to our partners: Environmental Health Coalition, City Heights Built Environment Team, MA+O Design House, San Diego County Bike Coalition, Media Arts Center, Speak City Heights, PANA, Youth Empowerment Focus, Climate Action Campaign, City of San Diego Department of Transportation, MAAC Project, Circulate San Diego, The Boulevard Business Improvement Association, United Women of East Africa, United Taxi Workers of San Diego, Somali Bantu Association of America, UC San Diego Center for Community Health, Center on Policy Initiatives, Bikes del Pueblo, Cherokee Point Elementary School, Hoover High School, Bike SD, CalBike, Mid City CAN.

 

Thank you,

Randy Van Vleck, Active Transportation Manager

Anastasia Brewster, Active Transportation Coordinator

Maria Cortez, Outreach Assistant


Measure A: Bad Deal for Mid City and the Urban Core

The SANDAG sales tax, now known as Measure A, was proposed as an opportunity for our region to take a big step forward in advancing transit.  Unfortunately, Measure A falls well short of its purported objective.  Measure A may leave Mid City waiting decades for new, community-advocated regional transit projects.  Further, it will exacerbate environmental inequities by expanding freeways in the most overburdened communities, generate more car traffic in the urban core, and fail to increase bike mode share beyond much further than what it is today.

Unfairly Impacts Overburdened Communities:

Measure A calls for $1 billion in more freeway lanes in overburdened communities, leading to more traffic, noise, pollution, and greenhouse gasses in already overburdened communities. City Heights, National City, Southeast San Diego, western Chula Vista, Sherman Heights, and Golden Hill will be hit the hardest.  

We created a map that overlays these freeway projects with a CalEnviroScreen map that represents the most overburdened communities in the region.  The map shows a strong correlation between the planned Measure A freeway expansions and already pollution-vulnerable communities.

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The proposed freeway expansions highlighted in bright red are a mix of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and General Purpose lanes.  Research shows that overtime additional lane generate and induce more car traffic, increasing the number of cars passing through neighboring communities.  City Heights CDC supports the planned Transit Only lanes, but we do not support HOV and General Purpose lanes additions in the urban core.

Magnifying the wrongs of the past

The United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke earlier this year about the long legacy of freeways being built through low-income communities and communities of color, creating ‘physical, economic, and psychological’ barriers. Secretary Foxx grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and experienced first-hand how a freeway built through the middle of his community ‘destroyed the connective tissue.’

“Decision makers thought of low-income and minority communities, in many ways, as the communities of least resistance. And that’s reflected in how the transportation system was built in the early days.  In fact, certain of those values are still embedded in the infrastructure that we see today and use today.”  

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To undo these injustices, Secretary Foxx (pictured above) and President Barack Obama launched the United States Department of Transportation’s “Ladders of Opportunity” Program.  One of the three principles of the program is to recognize the wrongs of the past and ensure that they’re not being repeated.

By pumping $1 billion of traffic-generating freeway expansions in the most overburdened communities in San Diego – predominantly communities of color and low-income communities – Measure A doesn’t right the wrongs of the past, as called for in the US DOT Ladders of Opportunity Program.  Instead, Measure A reinforces and magnifies the wrongs of the past.

Measure A funds the highly controversial SR-94 Expansion

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The most controversial project of the billion dollar bunch is the SR-94 Express Lanes project on the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway.  City Heights CDC and the Environmental Health Coalition worked closely with community planning groups, hundreds of residents, and elected officials from 2013-2015 to change course on this project.  

In mid-2015, SANDAG and Caltrans listened to the community and came through in a big way.  Both agencies agreed to a host of forward-thinking resolutions: study two innovative community-supported, transit-priority alternatives; build a new $66 million Rapid transit station near 28th Street; and, implement and run a 3-year-long $30.9 million Bus-On-Shoulder Pilot project which will allow the South Bay Rapid to serve our communities without widening the freeway.  We are thrilled to have achieved these wins.

In spring of 2016, however, SANDAG created a shockwave when they released their projects for Measure A which included funding for the old SR-94 plan which called for 2 HOV lanes – the same plan they committed to changing the summer before!

In response to this, Councilmembers Marti Emerald, Myrtle Cole, David Alvarez, State Assemblymembers Dr. Shirley Weber and Lorena Gonzalez issued letters to SANDAG and Caltrans urging the agencies to stick to the community-supported plan approved in mid-2015.  In Assemblymembers Gonzalez’ and Weber’s joint letter on April 21, 2016 they wrote:

“We ask that you remove the two SR-94 HOV Lanes and the SR-94/I-805 HOV Connectors from the Potential Funding Measure and allow the pilot project and alternatives analysis process to run to completion before asking voters to support a tax which would fund projects that have the potential to negatively impact the health of the surrounding communities.”

Assemblymember Gonzalez Weber SR94 Funding Measure Letter

Despite receiving five letters from City and State elected officials in the SR-94 area, SANDAG leadership decided to leave the project in Measure A anyway.  They only modified the name of one part of the SR-94 project.  The main features of the project — SR-94/I-805 HOV Connectors – remain unchanged.   In response, City Heights CDC issued our opposition to Measure A, stating that SANDAG’s action was inconsistent with the requests of five elected officials and repeated requests from CHCDC, EHC, and community leaders.

A “yes” vote on Measure A will give SANDAG a $147 million blank check for the SR-94 and will fund an additional $300 million worth of HOV lanes to connect the SR-94 & I-805.   Voting NO on A will give the community more leverage to advocate for the innovative community-supported, transit-priority alternatives we worked hard for years to have on the table.

Youth Opportunity Bus Pass: Not a cent guaranteedunnamed

One of the biggest disappointments with Measure A is that it doesn’t include a cent of guaranteed funding for the Youth Opportunity Bus Pass (YOP), a program to assist student access to transit passes.  The YOP program was shaped by the resident-led Improving Transportation in City Heights momentum team and Mid-City Community Advocacy Network to address the financial burden of transportation by providing transit passes to low-income high school students. While programs like YOP are eligible under Measure A, advocates have experienced a lot of institutional resistance from Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) to continue the program.  Without a guaranteed pot of funding, the community will have to continue to pull teeth every step of the way for YOP-type programs to move forward. Affordable transit can increase ridership at the same time helping SANDAG achieve state-mandated greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

Only 3% Funding for Active Transportation: 40 More Years, Same Problem
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Measure A calls for a meager 3% of funding to be dedicated to walking and biking.  This is up one percent from the TransNet sales tax extension approved in 2004.

For decades, bike mode share has hovered around one or two percent.  Local, state, and federal funding for biking has also hovered around one or two percent. To break out of this rut, a significant increase in active transportation funding is needed.  This is especially true if we’re committed to achieving 18% bike mode share by 2035 in the City of San Diego transit priority areas, as called for in the Climate Action Plan.  Measure A won’t get us close to achieving that. Instead, it perpetuates modal inequity for active transportation for another 40 years.

The City of San Diego Pedestrian Collision Analysis found that low-income communities experience 10 times more crashes than high income communities.  We need a lot more than 3% dedicated funding for walking and biking to make progress on this inequity.

Good Transit Projects, Poor Phasing: We can’t wait a decade or two or three

Measure A includes funding for several transit projects planned for the Mid-City area which we strongly support, such as Rapid Route 550, SR-94 CenterLine Transit Stations, the Purple Line Trolley and Rapid 10 on University Ave. Unfortunately, Measure A doesn’t do enough to make these projects a priority.  

In SD Forward: The Regional Plan, Route 550 is planned for 2025 while the Purple Line is planned for 2035. We find these timelines to be insufficient. Our communities can’t and shouldn’t have to wait that long.

During the planning process for the Regional Plan, we advocated for a phasing advancement for the Purple Line from 2035 to 2025 and an advancement of Route 550 from 2025 to 2020. Unfortunately, these asks were not granted. These two regional transit projects, which will both connect South Bay and Mid-City communities on crisscrossing routes, modeled as high performing new transit projects in the Regional Plan. Both will be assets to the region and Mid-City, which is why we continue to push for greater prioritization.

Measure A bumped the Purple Line up to 2032 from 2035 under the condition that federal funding is secured and committed to utilizing ‘best efforts under its control’ to complete the project by that time. While a step in the right direction, we believe that this doesn’t go far enough.

Important questions have been raised in the last week about the ability to secure needed funding in time. Urban planner Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa points out in a thorough analysis of Measure A, it took SANDAG three decades to secure federal funding for the Mid-Coast Trolley, which is finally now under construction. A Voice of San Diego report indicates that Measure A might not generate the funding it anticipates and could be used to backfill previous funding shortfalls.

Route 550 is scheduled for 2025 but the project-level planning has not yet begun. Keep in mind that it took SANDAG about 10 years of project-level planning before the Mid-City Rapid on El Cajon Blvd could be complete.  Purple Line still has a lot of work left to do, too. SANDAG is drafting an internal technical feasibility study, but no public review of the study has been available yet.

SANDAG has promised to utilize ‘best efforts under its control’ to build the Purple Line and a few other Urban Core area transit projects by 2032. City Heights remembers that a similar commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made to our community once before.  During negotiations around the State Route 15 which was built through the middle of City Heights, a commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made in the adopted Memorandum of Understanding in 1992.  The MOU called for ‘best efforts’ to be made to provide non-motorized access from Adams Ave to Camino Del Rio South.  The SR-15 Commuter Bikeway will finally provide non-motorized access when it opens next year, 25 years after a commitment to utilize ‘best efforts’ was made in writing.

A commitment to build a Light Rail Trolley or a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in the SR-15 was also made at this same time.  The SR-15 opened for cars in 2001, but the CenterLine BRT stations still aren’t complete.  They are also scheduled to be complete next year – 25 years later and 15 + years after the freeway opened to cars.

Unfortunately, these long project delays aren’t relics of the past.  We’re experiencing them now with the Early Action Bike Projects (EAP) commitment that SANDAG made in 2012 to build 38 bike projects in 10 years. This 10-year timeline is approaching its half-way mark, yet only 1 of the 38 projects has been implemented.  At this rate, the actual timeline may end up being twice as long as SANDAG originally committed.

For these reasons, as Measure A stands, we believe we may not see both the Route 550 and the Purple Line complete for one, two, or possibly three decades.

Unprecedented Opposition to Measure A

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Measure A is opposed by over 40 community, labor, environmental, and economic organizations including Democratic Party of San Diego, Republican Party of San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Councilmember David Alvarez, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, Sierra Club, Environmental Health Coalition, Mid City CAN, San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, Bike SD, Climate Action Campaign, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, National City Chamber of Commerce, San Diego Free Press, City Beat, San Diego Union Tribune, and more.

Because Measure A will facilitate environmental injustice, fails to provide sufficient phasing prioritization of transit projects, significantly underfunds active transportation, unfairly impacts City Heights, Mid City, and the urban core, City Heights CDC joins a large regional coalition in urging City Heights voters to say “No Way Measure A.”  Please vote NO on A this November 8th.

We can and must do better for City Heights, Mid-City and the Urban Core area.

 

-Randy Van Vleck, Active Transportation Manager, City Heights Community Development Corporation

-Maria Cortez, Co-Chair of Improving Transportation in City Heights & President of Teralta West Neighborhood Alliance

 

This post was updated on October 31, 2016


Nancy Vera

Nancy Vera joined the City Heights Community Development Corporation as one of our Resident Services Coordinators in March of 2016. She comes to us with several years of experience serving families and individuals experiencing homelessness. Nancy grew up in City Heights and has a passion for helping others. She enjoys working with diverse communities and holds a master’s degree from the University of San Diego in Nonprofit Leadership and Management.


Tricia McKenzie

Tricia McKenzie joined the City Heights Community Development Corporation as one of our Resident Services Coordinator October 2015. She comes to us with three years of teaching and community outreach experience, primarily working in Central America. Tricia has a passion for working with families and, especially, youth in underserved areas. She holds an MA in Intercultural Studies with an emphasis on Children at Risk. Tricia was raised in San Diego and has always loved the rich culture, diversity, and natural beauty that this city has to offer. Tricia and her husband are residents of City Heights.


Leticia Leal

Leticia Leal joined the City Heights Community Development Corporation’s Resident Services Program in May 2015.  She comes to us with 9 years of experience in the Resident Services field from direct service to program development and implementation throughout San Diego County.  She leads the development, implementation, and staff supervision of the resident services in City Heights at our 3 affordable housing locations.  Leticia has a passion for empowering youth and families in underserved areas to reach new milestones in their lives.  She is a graduate of the University of San Diego and holds Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Studies and Spanish.


Jenny Trang

Jenny Trang joined the City Heights Community Development Corporation as our Youth Development Coordinator in August of 2015.  Jenny was born and raised in City Heights. She earned her B.A in Political Science with an emphasis in Child Development at San Diego State University (SDSU). She is an active member in the community and has worked with several non-profit organizations in City Heights since she was in high school. Jenny currently sits on the Mid-City CAN Coordinating Council. Prior to that, she held internships for Councilmember Marti Emerald of District 9 and former President of the Board of Education, Marne Foster. Jenny was also a Student for Economic Justice (SEJ) alumni where she worked with the Center in Policy Initiative (CPI) on several campaigns regarding economic justice. In her youth, she has served as the Vice President and Public Relations for the San Diego Asian Youth Organization (SDAYO) and has continued to serve for several of years as a mentor to past and current board members. She has also volunteered as a tutor with the San Diego Rescue Mission and STAR/PAL and she will continue serve the community with CHCDC by working with our residents at our properties.


54th Street: Transportation Justice Achieved

AT1Over the last several months, community members have worked together to achieve a series of transformative safety improvements for 54th Street, a historically under invested, neglected, and dangerous corridor in the Mid-City area of San Diego.

54th Street now hosts the City of San Diego’s first ever protected bike lane – a critical first-step in a city-wide future we’re working to facilitate.  The City used plastic bollards to close off a high-speed, highway-style free right turn at the dangerous Chollas Parkway intersection and to install a wide, green bike lane in its place.   The City also took advantage of the freshly resurfaced road to make additional safety improvements through striping, such as narrowing excessively wide lanes and closing off an awkward left turn.  These improvements were installed on Bike to Work Day on May 20th.

And since then, the improvements keep coming!  On May 24th, Councilmember Marti Emerald’s office shared big news – The community’s voice had been heard!  Funding was identified and would be expedited to construct sidewalks on both sides of 54th Street, where none existed, plus the City would create a crosswalk at Chollas Parkway.  And as promised, as of June 22nd, installation of the west sidewalk is already complete! Currently, construction of the east sidewalk and intersection re-design at Chollas Parkway are underway.   These mobility upgrades come as a direct result of the City Heights community lifting up its voice, strong leadership from the Mayor’s office and Council District 9 office, and, unfortunately, an untimely death.

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Last October, we lost 15-year-old Crawford High student Jonathan Cortez in a hit-and-run crash along a stretch of 54th Street where no sidewalks exist while he was skating, or possibly walking, home two days before his 16th birthday.

In the years preceding the fatal crash, City Heights CDC staff and residents had made requests for the City to upgrade the 54th St bike lane,to maintain the asphalt and dirt footpath, and to fund a plan that would implement sidewalks. The tragic death of Jonathan galvanized the community to raise their voice for these needs and more.

Immediately after the death of Jonathan Cortez, City Heights CDC renewed our call to the City to implement bike lane enhancements and to fund the Chollas Triangle Master Plan.  The plan calls for a conversion of Chollas Parkway into a park — which would remove a dangerous intersection – and it calls for the installation of sidewalks where Jonathan was hit.

In January, the City Heights Built Environment Team (BET), a grassroots advocacy group facilitated by City Heights CDC and the Environmental Health Coalition, chose the 54th Street sidewalks as one of their two 2016 priority targets.  Local resident leaders crafted a strategy to raise the profile of these needs including media exposure, letter writing, and budget hearing testimony.  The BET drafted a letter to the Mayor and City Council outlining the critical need for the sidewalks and implementation of the Chollas Triangle Park, including the closure of Chollas Parkway.  This BET letter, when delivered to the City Council in May, was signed by 150 community members.

In February, City Traffic Engineers confirmed that a buffered bike lane and other striping improvements would be installed where Jonathan was hit.

In March, Veronica Cortez, the mother of Jonathan, reached out to City Heights CDC in response to reading our blog post “One Death is Too Many” to find out how she could lend her voice to making the street safer.  Ms. Cortez’s participation in the public process was motivated by her desire “to bring peace to this horrific tragedy, so this will never happen ever again, at least not at this intersection. I want to know that my son’s death wasn’t in vain.”  You might have seen this heart-wrenching clip on Speak City Heights, produced by Media Arts Center, where Ms. Cortez shares her heart about how much she hates 54th Street and why residents have been asking for safety improvements to 54th Street from University Ave to Streamview Drive.

YEF Justice for 54th Walk

In April, City Heights CDC hosted a public meeting about Safety Improvements at 54th Street to invite more residents into the conversation.  Youth Empowerment Focus, a leadership club at Crawford High, after participating in a walk audit and a series of class lectures with City Heights CDC, prepared a presentation to share with the community how they feel scared for their safety when walking this corridor.

Finally, in May, the Mayor released his proposed 2016-2017 Budget, which didn’t include funding for 54th Street sidewalks. In response, City Heights CDC laid out our case at multiple daytime City Council budget hearings for the sidewalks.  The Transportation Department immediately responded that they would be able fund sidewalks on the west side of the street and the Mayor’s Office shared encouraging words about funding the sidewalks in the budget.

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The tipping point in this campaign came when Ms. Cortez took the podium at the evening public budget hearing on May 16.  Flanked by her husband, local advocates, resident leaders, and Crawford students, Ms. Cortez shared the depth of her loss with our elected officials, calling on them to prevent future tragedies on this street.  With posters of Jonathan’s sweet smiling face, the testimony of Ms. Cortez and fellow community members humanized the dry topics of large dollar figures and traffic engineering prioritization.  Testimony and photo exhibits focused on the need for sidewalks on both sides of the street due to equally poor conditions.  A week later, the full funding for sidewalks on both sides of the street was announced!

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The Cortez family and local residents are ecstatic about the City’s quick and thorough response in implementing these safety retrofits.  Mrs. Cortez is thankful for the showing of community support to remember her son, while acknowledging that the improvements are “7 months too late for my Jonathan, but if I can help save another life, I will do it for my Johnny boy.”

This advocacy campaign was born out of a growing concern in surrounding communities for safe mobility choices.  Thank you to the Cortez family, City Heights Built Environment Team, Environmental Health Coalition, Youth Empowerment Focus, and Crawford High Students for your advocacy leadership.  Thank you to the City of San Diego – Councilmember Marti Emerald’s Office, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Office, Transportation Department, Bicycle Program, City Council – for listening to the community and for acting swiftly to implement these transformative improvements.

These Transportation Justice achievements underscore how everyday people, working together with their local government, can realize community change, improving the lives of thousands of their neighbors.

City Heights CDC is forming new working groups that will continue to advocate for the design and implementation of solutions that foster safety, health, and connectivity for all users, however you move through our community.  Contact us directly if you want to join our efforts at abrewster@cityheightscdc.org (619) 961-1057.


Take Back the Alley at Humble Heart

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Contact: Avital Aboody

Economic Development Manager

(619) 961-1080

aaboody@cityheightscdc.org

                                                                                         

High school students, community organizations, small business owners, and local artists come together to transform a local thrift store parking lot into a new public gathering space!

 

San Diego, CA—May 17, 2016:  This alley beautification project has been designed and will be facilitated by students and teachers from High Tech High Chula Vista, and City Heights-based artist Vicki Leon, with support from City Heights CDC, the El Cajon Boulevard BIA, and LISC San Diego. Community volunteers are invited to come out and paint alley murals and assemble tables, planters, and a living wall in the alley behind the Humble Heart Thrift Store, 4323 El Cajon Boulevard Friday, May 20th – Sunday May 22 from 10am – 4pm.

 

Last May, the City Heights CDC and El Cajon Boulevard BIA created a temporary parklet with live music on El Cajon Blvd, an art installation/mapping activity at the bus stop and murals in the alley painted by community members.

 

This weekend we are continuing this project by painting another mural, a colorful pedestrian pathway, and converting Humble Heart’s back parking lot into a public gathering space where the City Heights Coffee House will operate a coffee cart. Students from High Tech High Chula Vista worked closely with the owner of Humble Heart and City Heights CDC to design and pre-fabricate the different components of the gathering space that will feature a living wall, planters, picnic tables, lighting, and a ping pong table.

 

“We are so grateful for all the support we have received for this project”, said Mike Modrow, owner of Humble Heart. “We can’t wait to unleash the true potential of this space by opening it up to the community”.

 

This project is part of City Heights CDC’s Economic Development Program which is focused on working directly with community members to beautify commercial corridors, and supporting the growth of locally owned businesses that meet community needs.

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SR 15 Commuter Bikeway

Today was a beautiful day to ride a bike.
But when your commute requires you to brave unsafe conditions like the free-flowing, high-speed on-ramps and off-ramps of Fairmount Avenue the stress from that experience can cloud a beautiful day.
As a result of 35 years of community advocacy, Mid City residents will have a safe biking alternative to the northern section of Fairmount Avenue.  The SR 15 Commuter Bikeway, part of the SR 15 Visions Project which calls for a complete and multi-modal freeway corridor, will provide that alternative when the separated bike path opens next year.
This Tuesday, March 1, the SR 15 Commuter Bikeway goes to construction with a groundbreaking ceremony to kick it off.
Come out to learn more about the project and to celebrate this milestone.  Hope to see you there; this Tuesday at 1pm at Ward Canyon Neighborhood Park (3095 Adams Avenue).
Ride safely,

Randy Van Vleck

Active Transportation Manager


Ceramic Heights: A New Creative Outlet for City Heights

Picture2Have you ever taken a ceramics class? If you were lucky, maybe your high school art class or summer camp let you play around with hand building. But for most of us, we’ve either never had the chance or think of ceramics as “that thing I tried once upon a time”. For Amanda Gardner, ceramics has been a hobby since she was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago.

Fast forward to adulthood and Amanda joined the coast guard. She was stationed in San Diego in 2007 and spent 4 years in the service as an electrician. After leaving the coast guard, she found herself picking up a variety of different jobs, constantly learning new skills.

Several years ago, Amanda applied for a ceramics director position at the City Heights Rec Center. By this time, Amanda hadn’t done ceramics in years and though she didn’t get the job, just talking about the job possibility inspired her to take the opportunity to pursue ceramics more seriously. Amanda found and fell in love with the UCSD craft center, with its live trees growing in the middle of the building, and occasional raccoon visitors. However, the University didn’t see the value in keeping the center open because the building was in disrepair and they could no longer justify using student fees to maintain a building and program that catered more toward the general population. Despite many attempts to save the craft center, the University ultimately decided to shut it down, and the San Diego ceramics community lost its home.

As a kid, Amanda had always noticed cute storefronts and signs. She imagined having a small business of her own, but didn’t know what she would sell. She started thinking of how she might be able to fill a little bit of the void created by the closure of the craft center by creating a ceramics teaching studio. She started by offering workshops at the North Park Arts Festival and the Adams Avenue Street Fair and once she saw how much traction she was getting, she began laying the groundwork for the storefront.

 

Picture3The idea for Ceramic Heights started to emerge….

Amanda started to look around for a space to launch her business idea and decided that she would love to be on El Cajon Boulevard. As a resident of University Heights, she is a frequent visitor of the Blvd and City Heights. She has always been interested in the way that you can watch the Blvd change character as you travel across its great length, and wondered many times about why there is so much empty space. She started to dream about filling one of those vacancies. Finally she found a spot near the intersection of 41st Street and was especially enticed by the fact that it was a former salon which already had all the pipes in place that she would need to connect the sink and kiln. Once she moved in, she was delighted to discover that all her neighbors on the Blvd were also small local business owners like herself.

Amanda got to work quickly getting the space ready to open. As she thought about her own struggles with the notion that art is only art when someone says its art, she sought out to create a space where everyone’s creative expression, both novices and experts, would be valued. My partner and I recently participated in the Valentine’s Day couples class modeled after the ceramics scene in the movie “Ghost”. Neither one of us had ever used a pottery wheel, but Ceramic Heights provided a non-judgmental and laidback environment where diverse groups of people could draw inspiration from each other and have fun. More than anything, Amanda wants community members to see Ceramic Heights as a comfortable outlet for stress-relief and creativity. And she has done just that!

Now Ceramic Heights is part of the Boulevard and City Heights family. The space features small and affordable ceramics classes for children and adults. You can also find her teaching ceramics at the City Heights Farmers Market and she is hoping to continue building relationships with local schools to ensure that ceramics classes are affordable to neighborhood children. Amanda is constantly coming up with new ideas and fun events for the space. She has also talked about offering other types of art classes in the future, like life drawing. We are thrilled to welcome Ceramic Heights to the neighborhood and look forward to all the creativity that it will unleash in City Heights!