Continuing the trek eastward from University Heights, we look now to the most normal of neighborhoods, at least nominally. Normal Heights is a small, mostly residential community surrounding a growingly busy business district contained almost entirely on Adams Avenue.
It has a diverse demographic thanks to more affordable apartment complexes and a vibrant bar scene attracting a younger crowd to move in alongside the single-unit homes that have long been in the area.
Residents of the area will inevitably refer to their neighborhood jokingly as “Abnormal Heights,” but give us a break and feign a laugh; we’re trying.
—Hutton Marshall, SDUN Editor
Normal Heights Community Association (NHCA)
On June 30, 1985, a fire shot through the Mission Valley canyons into Normal Heights, resulting in the worst brush fire, at the time, in San Diego history. It destroyed 76 homes, damaged 57 others, and forced over 1,000 people to evacuate.
From the ashes, a renewed energy spurred through the relatively young Normal Heights Community Development Corporation and the Normal Heights Community Association. The NHCA helped lobby the City to allow displaced homeowners to rebuild without restrictive setback regulations passed since their homes were first constructed. They also gave rise to virtually every community organization in the neighborhood that followed it, even reaching across their boundaries to help spawn the University Heights Community Association to the west. The Adams Avenue Post, the neighborhood’s community newspaper at the time, as well as an early form of the Adams Avenue Street Fair, were also byproducts of the NHCA.
The community association was powerfully active, but it dwindled and deactivated near the turn of the millennium. Many of its founders moved away, and others simply felt the organization accomplished what they set out to do in the community. The CDC also retracted, now concerning itself solely with managing the Normal Heights Community Center.
Now, a new group of residents have now taken up the baton, reforming the NHCA in January of 2013 after years of silence. So far, like any young organization, much of their attention has focused on raising awareness and attracting members. They currently have around 100, which is respectable for the group’s age. Their affordable membership fee ($12, or $13 online) probably doesn’t hurt.
One of the board’s founding members, Nancy Palmer, had been attending meetings of the Normal Heights Community Planning Group (NHCPG) when they convinced her, her husband and a small group of residents to try their hand at reviving the organization. She was surprised when 30 residents showed up to the first meeting, citing it as evidence of demand for a community association in the neighborhood.
She said that while the NHCPG and the Adams Avenue Business Association (AABA) — which we’ll get to shortly — are tremendously active, the scope of what they can do is limited by the nature of their organizations. CPG’s are ultimately restricted to land use, and business associations have an obligation to align with the needs and interests of their businesses. Being a community organization allows them freedom to tackle any project they choose, Palmer said.
So far, they’re planning a summer movie night series in conjunction with the local Methodist church and the AABA, but the $400-per-movie permit is already looming over them.
With AABA handling the neighborhood’s big events like Adams Avenue Street Fair and Unplugged, and NHCPG tackling land-use issues like improving Ward Canyon Park, the NHCA are careful not to constrain themselves, so they can tackle any miscellaneous issue the community needs it to. Among these were community potlucks, neighborhood-wide garage sales and safety fairs — things that “bring the people of our neighborhood together,” Palmer said.
Normal Heights Community Planning Group [NHCPG]
Created in 1990, the Normal Heights Community Planning Group oversees one of the smaller planning districts in the city, but they do so efficiently and with little contention. Board Chair Jim Baross will term out on the board after serving for eight years, and he’s protected the community’s interest aggressively throughout his tenure. One example is how the NHCPG reacted when the I-15 began being constructed directly through Normal Heights. With former City Planners on the board, the NHCPG successfully leveraged the construction to the community’s advantage, using the money for the project to construct more park space in Normal Heights and the only block of covered highway in California, they say. The board even lobbied for a light rail running down the middle of the 15, and they weren’t entirely unsuccessful. The 15 was built with an expanded median to allow for potential transit. Now, a rapid bus line is planned to run through that space.
They also successfully advocated for the creation of Normal Heights elementary, which was the result of a lengthy process working with San Diego’s school board.
Located in one of the few neighborhoods in Uptown News’s coverage area that isn’t in the middle of a community plan update, the NHCPG’s agenda is a little less harried than others, which frees it up to focus on projects of their choosing.
The top priority is revamping Grant Park, turning the dead-end street at its east end into a dog park and community garden, and constructing a new on-site community building. Beyond that, bike lanes, street lighting and crosswalks are all things the NHCPG hopes to see more of this year.
Adams Avenue Business Association (AABA)
The AABA represents 600 businesses along a two-mile stretch on Adams, and since incorporating in 1985, it’s become extremely good at doing so. It operates the Maintenance Assessment District and the Business Improvement District in the area, and it runs San Diego’s biggest, free street fair each year. The AABA technically spans from Kensington to the outskirts of University Heights, although its heart — just like its geographic majority — appears to lie in Normal Heights.
Since its inception, the AABA has played a unique role in the community compared to most business associations, in that it acts almost as much like a community association as an organization promoting local businesses, although Executive Director Scott Kessler would tell you the two go hand in hand.
Operating out of the Normal Heights Community Center on Hawley Street and Adams Avenue, the AABA sits across the street from the San Diego Global Vision Academy, a $1.2 million charter school it constructed in 1999, which continues to meet capacity each year. Kessler said it’s the only time he’s heard of a business association developing a project like this.
Of course, much of the AABA’s attention is devoted to the Adams Avenue Street Fair, which brought in roughly half of the AABA’s $453,000 2013 revenue. Kessler said he’d like to see the many other events grow larger as well, especially their current focus: Adams Avenue Unplugged. The free, two-day acoustic festival hasn’t turned much of a profit in years past, but the AABA is opening up four revenue streams this year in order to change that. One of which is the recently launched Kickstarter campaign, which as of 2:49 p.m. on Thursday, March 27 had raised $2,501 of its $10,000 goal. Want to help them reach the goal? Turn to the calendar on page 22 to find details about the fundraiser Blind Lady Ale House is hosting on Sunday, March 30.
Next week, we look at the community organizations that comprise Kensington and Talmadge.