From Todd Gloria to undergrounding, our take on the top 10 stories of 2012
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
The year is all but done, and in looking back, Uptown has had one good year. While never exhaustive, we have put together a list of the top 10 stories for our neighborhoods. We could not include everything – the last HillQuest guide, Walgreens, the Caltrans building sale in Old Town, lily-gate and parking, parking, parking – but here is our list:
1. Todd Gloria, Council President
Councilmember Todd Gloria has had a pretty amazing year, and through his amazing way of always being at every single community meeting, ribbon cutting, party or otherwise, was able to bring Uptown along for the ride. It was a year of pending redistricting, where Gloria’s D3 shifted west, losing City Heights, Kensington and Talmadge and gaining Mission Hills, Old Town, Bankers Hill and Downtown. Everyone in D3 gained a council president when, after winning his second term easily, Gloria was unanimously selected by his peers as the new council leader. We met with him in March at one of his many coffee talks, where he discussed, among other things, the Plaza de Panama Project in Balboa Park (see number three on our list). In an interview later this year, Gloria solidified his feelings for his district: “My existing constituents are some of the most compassionate people you’ll ever meet.”
2. Mayor Filner takes it to the neighborhoods
While campaigning, Mayor Bob Filner made several stops in Uptown, meeting with community groups and speaking to voters. Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, University Heights, Kensington and Talmadge all welcomed the soon-to-be mayor. But it was after the election that we saw his true love of neighborhoods come out. Filner held his first press conference as mayor-elect in University Heights’ Trolley Barn Park, where he professed his focus on us, and all the other neighborhoods in San Diego, saying, “I purposely held this press conference [here] to show that we are going to respect and concentrate on neighborhoods.” He then went off the beaten path once again, holding his inauguration in Balboa Park. That night, he traveled north to south, stopping by schools and neighborhood groups thanking and celebrating with everyone. One stop was in Hillcrest at The LGBT Center, a party that brought together each and every neighborhood in Uptown, and a few others that were not.
3. Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama
Nothing has stirred up as much passion this year as the Plaza de Panama project, also called the Jacobs Plan, a moniker for the project’s primary donor and supporter, Irwin Jacobs. The approval process was long and sometimes tedious, but supporters of the project went back and forth with different boards and councils, finally winning approval from the City Council in July. In response, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) officially filed suit against the City in August, claiming the City failed to comply with local and state laws in approving the project. SOHO earlier won a lawsuit regarding the plan, when the City entered into a Memorandum of Understanding and prematurely expressed approval for the project before all alternatives could be explored. The current lawsuit has halted the main construction, which was scheduled to begin in October. A judgment is expected in February 2013, and many question whether the Plaza de Panama Project will be complete before Balboa Park’s Centennial Celebration in 2015.
4. Joint-use parks
The City has a partnership with San Diego Unified School District (SDSU) that was put in place in 1948 and updated in 2002. The partnership says there are plenty of places for joint-use facilities; there are currently 76 agreements. The concept is not always so easy for parents to take, and when the Normal Heights Elementary joint-use park opened in March, dozens of community members came out against the use, saying it was unsafe for children. A month later, city leaders welcomed the opening of a similar joint-use park at Jefferson Elementary, to less protest. The most recent was this month’s ALBA school joint-use facility opening in North Park, coming after a $400,000 renovation of a play field and sidewalk, among others. Next? The McKinley Elementary joint-use park in T-32 – an up-and-coming neighborhood within a neighborhood if we’ve ever seen one – that held an open-forum community meeting in November. The discussion was more about keeping the integrity of North Park intact, with the new joint-use field potentially opening in several years.
5. A LGBT Hillcrest
The entire Uptown community had much to be proud of this year when it came to recognizing an important part of San Diego, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community. It was three-fold for Hillcrest, where – piloted mainly by the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) – a permanent rainbow flag was installed, then raised for the first time at the opening of the city’s LGBT Pride festivities in July. What could have been a more controversial issue really came down to one thing: marketing Hillcrest as the center of LGBT life in San Diego will bring dollars to the neighborhood. Symbolically, the monument means more than that to its residents, however, as months later in December, the HBA once again took the initiative and flew the transgender flag for Transgender Day of Remembrance. This is no small feat for a part of our community most marginalized; topped off with Mayor Filner’s presence at the evening’s ceremony.
It’s important to note, too, that the LGBT community led the only pre-primary mayoral debate in Hillcrest, where Filner, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, former-Councilmember Carl DeMaio and former-Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher met in a heated, packed-house debate. Want more proof it was a good year? Just weeks before the flag raising, Hillcrest successfully achieved what once was seen as impossible: the first street named after the LGBT-activist Harvey Milk. The LGBT community and allies alike can feel good about walking from the LGBT Center, looking up and seeing their community’s flag flying above, while standing – quite purposefully – on the corner of Harvey Milk and Normal streets.
6. It’s a bicycle-loving city! (almost)
Aside from parking in Uptown, the biggest push for transportation issues this year surrounded bicycling: how to get around safely, where to park, how to share the road and even, in one case, how to get your bike fixed quickly. The city installed three bike corrals in Uptown: one in Hillcrest, one near El Cajon Boulevard and the other in North Park. Former-Mayor Jerry Sanders and Gloria touted San Diego as the next bike-friendly city, which brought out discussion about safety, if we are ready to take this step and what needs to be done, if we do. University Avenue from Hillcrest to North Park was touted as one of the most dangerous stretches of road for a bicyclist, and the issue came up once again in a story we printed about switching from parallel to angle parking. The discussion is far from over, but this month’s first Uptown Bicycle corridor meeting – where representatives from almost every group had a voice – could be a step, or a pedal, in the right direction.
7. The Vons Onion
Oh, Vons. Not only do people argue over the fact that you should be called the Mission Hills Vons or the Hillcrest Vons – the building lies within the Mission Hills business district, but the Hillcrest neighborhood – but your renovation and reopening caused just as much of a stir. So much so that the building was given an Onion for all-around architecture and design ugliness at October’s annual San Diego Architectural Foundation awards. At the opening in March, Councilmembers Gloria and Kevin Faulconer applauded the new space, welcoming the new jobs into Uptown. When the Onion was announced, a former Uptown Planners board member went online to defend the space, asking the community where they were during the vetting process, which went on for over a year.
8. Kingdom Hall arsons
At the turn of the year into 2012, the Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses in University Heights faced not one or two arson attempts, but three. The first was troubling, the second made everyone question and the third, occurring Jan. 3, was just baffling. It was a failed attempt, with the perpetrator interrupted, but fleeing by foot. It is our most-read story of the year online, which means it must mean something to you. With questions arising of a hate crime – whoever did this painted the numbers ‘666’ on the doorway during the second fire – what was amazing to see was how Uptown came together to reassure each other, everyone condemning what happened. Sadly, it is one year later, and there are still no real answers to the fires.
9. South Park-Golden Hill rejuvenation
Business associations in South Park and Golden Hill have been working hard to brand their neighborhoods this year, with South Park Scene outdoing themselves by organizing four neighborhood walkabouts throughout the year. Without much of a campaign, each walkabout features residents coming out to walk the neighborhood, mingle and feast on food, drinks and whatever is available at the unique shops that stay open. And they all do. On top of that, June was their annual Old House Fair, which broke all attendance records. With the boundaries being mixed more and more, Golden Hill has seen a resurgence as well, even after the neighborhood’s Maintenance Assessment District disbanded in March leaving, among other things, overflowing garbage cans. Most notably was local nonprofit Sezio leading the charge with the Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation to organize and restage the Golden Hill Street Fair in July. It’s a big step in the right direction, as Golden Hill, especially 25th Street, gets busier and busier.
10. To underground or not to underground
Twice this year community members raised their voices about the city’s undergrounding project, a multi-year initiative that is, slowly but surely, putting the overhead power lines underground. It’s a long, complicated process, and one of the results – one that many people don’t like – is the need for the green utility boxes placed on the sidewalks to compensate for the parts of the undergrounding that can not actually go underground. In April, members of the Kensington-Talmadge Community Association relayed complaints from residents about the “unsightly” boxes, they said, which are often marked with community art or graffiti. In response to these complaints and others, the City hosted an undergrounding workshop in September, where several Uptown and citywide neighborhoods were represented, as well as San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the chief target for complaints. Council President Gloria was there too, voicing his concern that the City was spending millions of dollars and hours of time to underground the utilities, only to hear that residents would rather have the overhead lines if they can’t get everything underground. It’s an ongoing issue, one we are likely to see again in 2013. And 2014. And 2015.