Pictured above are the names, locations and a bit of information about 41 community organizations in Uptown News’ coverage area. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, and I won’t dare claim we didn’t miss a few, but the existence of each one is a necessity. While their size and scope varies greatly, every single organization satisfies a unique need of their community. And not to get preachy, but these organizations are the most basic, local and citizen-based level of our democracy. If you’ll allow me to get even more dramatic, without these community associations, planning groups and business associations, our society would have a tough time functioning.
The problem, we’ve discovered, is that many residents, even those committed to improving the community they find themselves in, aren’t always aware of what their local community organizations do for them.
There’s a large group of San Diegans that pour a charitable portion of their time, effort and sanity into these groups, and their work is often done with little thanks.
So for the next however many issues it takes, Uptown News will go neighborhood by neighborhood, explaining who does what, why they do it, and who they do it on behalf of. Hopefully, in the process, the dire importance of these organizations to the cohesive functioning of our city will become clear.
For now, just to give a basic overview, you’ll notice a few different organizations representing the same area. They each serve their own role in the community. To get started, here’s a short overview of some of the common organizations you’ll find on the map.
Community planning groups
San Diego’s Planning Department bases much of what it does off the its General Plan, which the City’s website calls its “constitution for development.” While the plan consists of overarching elements that determine growth, development and land-use policies throughout the city, it also contains specific rules for the 50 different community-planning areas the city is divided into. Each of these areas has specific needs and desires, and because of this, a community planning board exists in each one of them. While the planning boards are advisory committees, they are the “officially-recognized” planning group in their respective communities. Each chair of a community-planning group is also a representative on the Community Planners Committee, which provides citizen input on citywide planning issues.
Town councils/ community associations
These groups are often more informal, but provide an opportunity for a community to tackle grassroots efforts on a broad spectrum of topics. But that’s not to say they’re all small time. They range from small groups planning neighborhood events to registered nonprofits taking on heftier endeavors. Town councils and community associations are grouped together because both typically represent the interest of a community’s residents. They are community involvement in their most unadulterated form, and vital in making that first contact with the area’s elected officials.
Community development corporations
These nonprofits are a big part of how community projects of all sizes receive funding. Originally, CDCs were typically used throughout the nation to revitalize low-income areas to facilitate business and community, but a common use for them in San Diego is to support local business and fund community events. They’re the dense, dry and necessary backbone to community politics, often serving or at least originating as a funding for another community organization. For instance, the Hillcrest Business Association started the Hillcrest CDC, and the University Heights Community Association started the UHCDC, both of which now operate autonomously.
Community parking districts
In 1997, San Diego established the Parking Meter District Program, in which a portion of the revenue from metered parking would go back to the community in the form of what are today known as community parking districts. These meter-funded groups allow the community to create and adopt its own strategies to approach parking in the area. Community parking districts also get representation the City’s Parking Advisory Board, which advises on broader parking issues.
Business Improvement Districts and business associations
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), are areas designated by the City, in which every business in its boundaries are assessed an annual fee that goes toward marketing, beautification and other spending that facilitates increased business in the BID area. Many BIDs go by another name, or are enveloped into an organization that does more than administer BID funds, such as North Park Main Street or the Adams Avenue Business Association. Today, there are 18 active districts in the city, with more than 11,000 businesses participating.
While most business associations also facilitate their area’s BID, their goals are usually broader. Comprised of a community’s business owners, they provide a way to organize events and campaigns that increase local business, advocate on behalf of the area’s business interests and promote coordination and partnerships between its businesses.
Heritage organizations and historical societies
Both heritage organizations and historical societies promote education and awareness about the historic aspect of the area of San Diego in which they are based. Heritage organizations go one step further as “preservationist” organizations, where they not only educate the public on the area’s history, but they attempt to preserve it geographically and architecturally through advocacy.
Maintenance Assessment Districts
Similar to BIDs assessing business owners, property owners in an area can vote to create a Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) in their area. By doing this, they are assessed a fee that’s spent toward services above and beyond what the City normally pays for. Typically, this means public landscaping, additional lighting and beautification projects.
—Hutton Marshall, Editor