By Benny Cartwright
San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria spoke to a full room of community members at the May 12 meeting of the Hillcrest Town Council (HTC). Gloria addressed the crowd for nearly an hour, discussing many city issues that are big on the community’s mind right now.
Gloria started by sharing his opinion about the proposed city budget, saying “this is a very good budget with a $70-$80 million surplus.” Noting that it has been a long time since city residents have heard the words “surplus” and “budget” in the same sentence, Gloria said that the biggest challenge now is figuring out what to spend the money on and how to invest it back into the neighborhoods.
Of interest to Hillcrest is the new fire station that community members have long been asking for. Fire Station No. 5, located on University Avenue at Ninth Street, was placed in service in 1951 and is far too small and outdated. Gloria believes groundbreaking on the replacement station will begin within the next six weeks, and a temporary station will be set up near the intersection of Park Boulevard and Polk Street during construction.
The long-awaited Hillcrest/Mission Hills Branch Library should also break ground around the end of the next fiscal year, Gloria said. Commenting on how long the community has waited for this project to begin, Gloria joked that the faded sign that says the building on Washington Street at First Avenue is the future site of a new branch library will “finally come down after 75 million years.”
Other topics included homelessness in the community, which was also addressed earlier in the meeting by Ben Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA). With the support of Gloria’s office and the HBA, the Alpha Project has been operating in the neighborhood for just over a month, and has provided services to over 90 people. These services range from simply providing bottled water to people in need, to finding shelter. The Alpha Project’s efforts in a month’s time have placed five homeless people in shelter.
Nicholls says that the current program with Alpha Project is a year long, with hopes of finding permanent funding. He said about $50,000 a year is needed to fund the program in Hillcrest.
Gloria encouraged Hillcrest groups to check out the work and programs that some of the resident and business groups in Downtown San Diego have successfully enacted to model programs in that neighborhood.
Other topics addressed include the proposal to raise the minimum wage in the city, which he says will be on the ballot in June 2016, along with referendum reform, climate change and bicycles. While his time was limited on how much he could speak to these topics, he was able to touch on each of them and give updates.
Community members asked questions about a variety of issues, with a lot of discussion centering around the restoration of the Georgia Street Bridge, which is over 100 years old. Gloria noted that the crumbling bridge will be completely replaced but will look just at did a century ago when it was first constructed. The project will include adding sidewalks to both sides of University Avenue; currently only the eastbound side of the street has a sidewalk. The project will cause some disruptions and traffic diversions, but he encouraged community members to contact his office if they think detours aren’t done in the best way so they can consider alternatives.
The next meeting of the HTC is scheduled for Tuesday, June 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Joyce Beers Community Center, located in the HUB Hillcrest Plaza. For more information, visit hillcresttowncouncil.com.
—Benny Cartwright is secretary of the Hillcrest Town Council.