Greater Golden Hill, which includes both Golden Hill and South Park, was for quite a while one of the better-kept secrets hidden right in the shadow of Balboa Park and Downtown San Diego. “Renaissance” is an overused word in urban development these days, but the community seems to have experienced something that almost warrants the term’s use. In the last decade, the community developed a laid-back, weirdly trendy business corridor without succumbing to overdevelopment or corporate-chain invasion. And although there has been some turmoil in the not-too-distant past of the area’s community organizations, the grass-roots approach to fostering a cohesive community — especially where local business is concerned — is a model much of San Diego can learn from.
—Hutton Marshall, Uptown Editor
Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation (GGHCDC)
Despite the GGHCDC having been established back in 1991, many aspects of it feel like a young, growing organization. This is because of the sizable controversy that surrounded the area’s Maintenance Assessment District, which was forcibly dissolved in early 2012. Without delving too much into the issue, the MAD and its funding made up a large part of the CDC’s operations, so losing that MAD created something of a vacuum both in the CDC and in the community. And whatever problems the dissolved MAD might have had, an area the size of Greater Golden Hill without a maintenance district is surprising. You may recall in the previous installment of this series that Kensington’s community planning board is currently working to establish not one, but five MADs throughout Kensington. Many neighborhoods throughout San Diego rely on these districts for beautification, upkeep of public space and often much larger civic projects.
With the dissolving of the MAD, the GGHCDC appears to have used the change to focus more on community development and programming. The Golden Hill Street Fair, which returned in 2012 after an eight-year hiatus, continues to be a central focus of the organization. Last year, it drew an estimated 30,000 people to the festivities. Funding for the event has maintained constant because of an economic tourism support grant through the City.
The organization also retains ownership of a 33-unit affordable housing complex, which it oversaw development of, as well as two duplexes. The three buildings are now managed by separate entities.
Board president Blair Ward said highlighting the community’s historic nature is a future goal for the GGHCDC, especially the Golden Hill Park, which he said was the very first piece of Balboa Park constructed. With its origins dating back to the end of the Civil War era in the 1860s, Ward hopes Golden Hill Park can be incorporated into the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration. One of the CDC’s goals will be to foster a relationship with the newly reformed Centennial planning group in order to incorporate the park and the Greater Golden Hill community into the celebration’s programming.
Vice President David Sawicki, a musician, youth community organizer and relatively recent Detroit transplant, also hopes to incorporate youth and arts programming into the scope of the GGHCDC. While currently wading through unknown waters, it’s reassuring to see the new role the organization hopes to play in the community.
South Park Business Group (SPBG)
South Park is a fairly recent invention within the boundaries of Greater Golden Hill, but the name South Park can actually be traced back to historic San Diego.
The modern-day South Park fits itself comfortably between North Park and Golden Hill, centering itself around 30th Street just east of Balboa Park. Geographically, it’s a relatively small portion of Greater Golden Hill, but the once-exclusively residential area now boasts an active, artsy business corridor.
SPBG’s Donna Walker, co-owner of South Bark, said this wasn’t always the case. She’s witnessed drastic change during the past decade since opening up South Bark and helping start the SPBG. She attributes the community’s growth more to the latter, although the dogs seem happy too.
South Bark opened during the time of South Park’s pseudo-creation around the year 2000. Back then, the group started with just five or six businesses in the area, which amounted to the better part of the business community. Dues were about $20 per year.
Today, the SPBG has approximately 50 members, and dues are $150 per year. This gives them the ability to hire an employee, as well as expand their vision for the quarterly “South Park Walkabouts,” which began in late 2001. Last winter’s walkabout, for example, brought a sizable crowd for the holiday with its Luminaria festival (see “Illuminating South Park” Vol. 5 Issue 25 “Illuminating South Park”), although that event had the benefit of grant funding.
Regardless, the SPBG and the community at large have grown sizably from the period not so long ago when Walker would meet informally with her five cohorts in coffee shops while many South Park residents barred their windows to deter break-ins. Walker said despite the benefits of developing the community, South Park’s growth wasn’t advocated by everyone. Many feared that South Park’s off-color charm might be washed away should the area grow too large and affluent.
Walker said while she viewed the community’s growth more positively than that faction, this was indeed a concern of the SPBG, especially in regard to retaining the unique feel of the neighborhood and not letting any corporate chains set up shop.
Now, she said, the concern isn’t as great. There are few vacant buildings compared to 15 years ago; most have been occupied by businesses. Massive developments coming in aren’t a great fear either, since the Greater Golden Hill Community Planning Group so far is successfully advocating reduced densities throughout much of Greater Golden Hill during its community plan update currently nearing completion.
As far as future plans go, the SPBG hopes to continue the success they’ve seen with their walkabouts. The organization is undergoing a bit of reconstruction as well, splitting off into several subcommittees to better divide up their resources.
Greater Golden Hill Community Planning Group (GGHCPG)
Like their neighbors in Greater North Park and Uptown, Greater Golden Hill is on the tail end of updating their community plans. That means even as the Golden Hill plan continues to solidify, there are still plenty of lengthy, often heated discussions being had by the community, City and the GGHCPG.
As previously mentioned, much of the GGHCPG is advocating for reduced densities throughout much of community, and according to the most recent draft plan presented to the board, they’ve been largely successful.
One area on the cusp of the GGH boundary, the City Operations Yard on the southern edge of Balboa Park, is still drawing fire from members of the GGHCPG and the community because of density increases proposed there in the current plan update draft.
Regardless of that specific issue’s outcome, it appears Greater Golden Hill will stave off density increases seen in many areas throughout the city, but that doesn’t mean the area is without its challenges.
Having a community so closely tied to Balboa Park presents its own challenges, for example. The Balboa Park Golf Course is currently undergoing a big renovation, which includes restructuring Golf Course Drive, a commonly used road by Greater Golden Hill residents. Working with the Balboa Park committee — the closest thing to a community-planning group in Balboa Park, which the GGHCPG gets a representative on — to create a bike lane, for example, has been a goal as well.
Beyond that, working to facilitate bike lanes throughout the community with the coming of the SANDAG bike corridor will be on the agenda as well, but like Uptown and Greater North Park, the community plan update process will likely make up a large part of the GGHCPG’s 2014.