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Convoy District's Vision To Become San Diego's Next Great Neighborhood

September 25, 2013 1:28 p.m.


Ping Wang, Owner, Pangea Bakery and Co-Director of San Diego Night Market

Lorie Zapf, San Diego City Councilmember District 6

Related Story: Convoy District's Vision To Become San Diego's Next Great Neighborhood


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

When neighborhoods become trendy, people visit and business improves. Just ask Northpark, South Park, Little Italy. So an often overlooked neighborhood in San Diego is hoping to attract a little of the same magic. San Diego's Convoy district is hosting its first night market this Saturday. This area bounded by the 805, 52 and 163 freeways is probably most well known for its block after block of strip malls. But community leaders want the area to become known as a cultural, dining and economic destination with the added attraction of being home to San Diego's Asian-Pacific community. Here to tell us more are my guests, Ping Wang is owner of Pangaea bakery on Convoy and codirector of the night market. Ping, welcome. '

PING WANG: Think you for having me, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Loriee Zapf, she's the city councilmember from district 6 and Lorie, welcome to the program.

LORIE ZAPF: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Ping, for those of us are not familiar with the Convoy area, please describe this neighborhood if you would, for us. First of all where is it, what do we see when we go there?

PING WANG: It's often referred to as Kearny Mesa or Clairemont Mesa is once again bounded by different ways 52, 805 and the 163, and it is also most famous for its call dealerships as well as Asian restaurants and its you know, largely an industrial area. I think that was it's past historical heart was really as a center of commerce for all of San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering what the history is with them San Diego's Asian-Pacific community. Why did Asian immigrants congregated this area of San Diego?

PING WANG: That's really interesting question. I think largely I think there were large parcel sizes that were accessible and I think it was one of those things where as an industrially zoned area, it just was a natural draw for Asian-American groups to come in and set up shop and have restaurants there and another over 200+ Asian-American owned businesses there in the area and I think it's a de facto culinary art for Asian-American restaurants.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of businesses besides restaurants to the Asian-American population established in the area of Kearny Mesa or Claremont Mesa?

PING WANG: I think you'll find a whole variety. I think the restaurant, that is what draws people there but it's also the home of a large corporations there as well. Usually the heart of General Dynamics, now SDG&E has actually taken over the building sustainability center. There's a whole variety of businesses there and among some Asian-American businesses there. I myself would be on the Pangaea bakery Café. I have the technology working incubator mini incubator in a sense, so a co-working center where entrepreneurs come together. So the Clubhouse for entrepreneurs is to share resources, office space and also share community and help each other out in terms of building the new businesses out these include Internet entrepreneurs, to the where we are getting into sure the food services as well, to so clean tech, biotech what have you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Lorie Zapf, I'm wondering since you represent District 6, do you find that the diversity in what is going on. The kind of businesses the kinds of people that is often overlooked by the rest of San Diego in other words is this an undiscovered territory of San Diego

LORIE ZAPF: Actually I think it is and what is remarkable is that there's actually over 200 Asian owned businesses right in that area, so it really is the highest concentration of Asian business population in the entire San Diego region. And I'm not sure that everybody knows that, you know, I go there a lot, you have all these different like he was talking about all these kind of bigger businesses and a lot of businesses though so it was a great idea when Ping and Tim came to me, I saw them at an event earlier this year. And I have heard kind of conversations about the past two years, but really getting serious about forming a business district around the Convoy area. That is where he really needs to come from. You need some leadership like they are providing to pull the businesses together because they really have to vote and agree to do this as a community. And my role at the city is to really help them facilitate, guide them through the process and help them be successful in that initiative.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ping, when we talk about the Convoy district has become too San Diego's Pacific Asian community, what are the patient amenities are presented? Are we talking Chinese immigrants, Korean immigrants, what, you don't it is not, I think right to just lump all the Asian communities together what are the separate entities we are talking about here?

PING WANG: Absolutely Convoy district is pretty unique in that regard. We traditionally think of ethnic enclaves is usually set of a singular racial group whether it be Japan town or Chinatown whatever Convoy is actually quite a different mix of all the different groups and that's why we refrain from calling it any particular group in regard. We already have for example little Saigon in about Boulevard and Asian-Pacific heritage corridor in downtown. This is really unique in that its contemporary quarter with active life businesses. Already a destination point for many San Diego's at least and we are trying to bring the neighborhood focus but a global reach innocence with even more, event such as this. So yeah you absolutely have a mix of Chinese Korean Thai Vietnamese all have mixed there so it's really hard to save their separate quarters as an XYZ Korean what have you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When people outside of the district as I said in the introduction think of Convoy Street getting of strip malls and car dealerships as Ping said, not an area with a real neighborhood feel. How, then, do you overcome that challenge?

PING WANG: I think it is through the event we are having this Saturday we have culminating events where you bring people together as opposed to just being, people mixed and enjoying others cultures as well. That's probably through that and partly through community leadership in terms of binding and speaking with one voice and organizing ourselves and that is something the different areas whether it be Little Italy or Northpark will have you have prevent and shown the way and it's possible to do so.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you just a moment more about this night market event that's happening this weekend but Lorie I just want to know what you think needs to happen for the Convoy district to become more visually welcoming to people did you, you know does there need to be a change of streets, a change of infrastructure parking, what do you think it is?

LORIE ZAPF: That stuff you are talking about, those are big-ticket items that are really costly, but you can actually do a lot, like a lot of neighborhoods do like for example if you talk about Little Italy, they the business improvement district would have to self assess and take a vote so that they've got a pile of money, the city helps collect and distribute back to them, so that's how that just works great that, the different bits and there are many throughout the city use the money differently. Little Italy you see they do a lot of trash pickup. You see the outside benches and tables and stuff like that. Along Garnet in PB, that's actually a (inaudible), but they do a lot of festivals and banner programs and bike racks. So again is going to be up to the Convoy area to determine what would visually bring people and tie them together. So, it could be like the night market coming up, that brings people in. Playing some banners up, some beautification things that they could do. Along the way. But you're never going to get away from the fact that you know, they are on a big, busy street and it's not a cozy little India Street like in Little Italy. But there are things you can do with the money depending on how much they self assess, and what they come together, they will have a board and how to spend the money, and you know, what they want to do to beautify the area because I can tell you realigning streets and right now big-ticket infrastructure, that kind of money will not cover it, but some really cool banners, maybe entry, you know, you could do marketing the area even, you could use the money for marketing campaigns. And some of those public improvement projects. But, there's a lot of things, and it's up to the community again, what is the goal. You want to bring a lot more people in, but I just think bringing people together like that, is going to create some buzz, and they can do joint marketing campaigns instead of all these different individual businesses trying to individually market their business.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Ping, tell us about Saturday's night market you said it's modeled after night markets in larger cities in Asia.

PING WANG: Yeah, absolutely, so in the cities of Taipei Shanghai Singapore, what have you you have all these it's almost like a farmers market at night but there's a lot more to it. It's a lot more food centric with a lot more food vendors and stalls and serving a variety of very interesting dishes that you normally would find. Even in the restaurants necessarily. So there is this whole culture of street dining, street food and streetwalkers and vendors and we are trying to bring a little bit of the essence to San Diego within its context and to be as pan Asian and encompassing as possible. And so, there will be over 30 or so businesses largely half of the booths are more will be actually food centric actually.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, you had a taste of the Convoy even earlier, didn't you?

PING WANG: We did, yes.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did that go?

PING WANG: It went very well. We had over a dozen or so businesses actually participate in the event and you know, they gave discounts actually had set menus for people to taste to really sort of explore the area.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does, Lorie, you were talking about the Convoy district of business associations wanting to become business improvement district and contribute to a fund. How does that happen? What is the process like?

LORIE ZAPF: Typically it is initiated like we are doing. I don't want to get everyone bored with the whole process, but typically you have to vote, the community wants it, they vote on it, there's different methods of assessing, you know the size of the property and so forth, how much you're assessed, the city actually has to approve it at the city Council and so forth, so it is, if it is approved and then they are assessed, again, the city collects it, and we facilitate the payments they need to show receipts, and it is a whole bureaucracy right here at City Hall.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is your office supporting these efforts, Lorie?

LORIE ZAPF: Oh, absolutely. This is something from even before I got elected that I heard they wanted and it was really great when you know, Ping and Tim when and others have actually stepped up to lead it because you cannot have it unless you have this kind of leadership because a lot of these individual owners are all over the place and you need to see the value and benefit to them. If you're going to charge, if you're going to self assess where's the money going how are they going to benefit and you need that kind of leadership. So it's been great, our staff has been working with them all this year and we are making a lot of progress, aren't we, Ping?

PING WANG: Absolutely, Lorie's office has been crucial to making things like this happen obviously there are a lot of permits and processes that one has to go through, and they are there absolutely to help and have been extremely helpful.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, and what is the goal, is the goal to make the Convoy area more like Northpark or Hillcrest, someplace that a family, or a couple would go and say yeah, going to go there and basically hang out, have something to eat, walk around a little bit and that kind of thing?

PING WANG: I think the idea is to find and make the community a little bit more cohesive but also to address this irony that San Diego is the largest cities in the US amongst the 10 largest cities in the US. At the same time, it has as a proportion of Asian Americans, has the largest percentages here in San Diego compared to the other cities, and yet we don't have a definable sort of cultural gem or attractive town whether it be Japan town or Chinatown what have you of that nature where you have a large nationwide centers apparently it is to honor our historical roots. Partly it is to provide sort of a cultural attraction point in San Diego, and not only for local San Diego and also about inclusivity not just about sort of Asian-American businesses. Obviously were not calling iteration count. We are actually trying to draw in all of the other businesses whether it be car dealerships, whether there are a number of microbreweries or craft breweries and they are actually participating by the way in the night market.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's good to know.

PING WANG: It's a unique hybrid, across (inaudible) it's not just honoring one particular culture but really coming together.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me change the subject just a little bit. So next year, 2014 is a big year on the political landscape for the sixth District. Let's talk about the upcoming changes. San Diego city Council does not have an Asian American Council member. Lorie is going to be running in the second district, I think that is the way it works because of redistricting, isn't it, Lorie?

LORIE ZAPF: Yes I actually live in District 2 now.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There you go, so what is planned for District 6 politically?

PING WANG: It's actually looking to be a very exciting runoff for District 6. We have quite a number of candidates including Thomas also, it's already a very diverse group of individuals that for sure, whoever gets elected actually will present and bestow upon the city Council a lot of diversity which has been sorely lacking for the past couple decades actually.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the benefit to your community and actually to San Diego in general that you see in having a representative represents the largest ethnic community and district 6 sitting on the city the city Council?

PING WANG: I think it's absolutely crucial that in order to have a voice. Traditionally Asian-Americans have been largely sort of a-political in many senses. Both in sort of outlook and we are really trying to change that and in fact there was a new coalition put together for the whole redistricting effort in 2012 that is APAC, the Asian Pacific American coalition. To bring awareness. As more and more people become aware of the need to engage in politics to create things for example in Little Italy or Northpark or create better neighborhoods you need to have a voice in city government to be able to access for example Lorie talked about, the various funds that are sitting there. And traditionally we've been very remiss in being able to do that and now with a political voice we can do that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I think that you made the point before Ping, that this may be a generational thing. The people who first came here from other countries in Asia needed to settle here, needed to take care of their families and create their businesses. That was the first priority, but now with second and third generations more of a political viewpoint?

PING WANG: Yeah more political but also from a identity standpoint we associate with each other as there are these issues, where it's primarily Chinese Japanese what have you didn't always associate with each other second generations associate with each other and have a common experience growing up as sort of a minority group in the US. But once again it's about inclusion, so not only being plantation, but also ban Pacific Rim that includes Latin America the fact that we are really next to, close to the border and America and just really we are a product of our historical roots as well as our context here in San Diego and in the US. So I think the second generations Tim Wyn as was mentioned before is a copartner in creating this and he's of Vietnamese background I'm from Taiwanese Chinese background but really we consider ourselves Americans first and foremost

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone the night market will be held this Saturday from five to late evening in the Convoy district the event will be located in the new Zion market parking lot at the corner of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Convoy Street, admission and parking is free. Ping Wang owner of Pangaea bakery and codirector of the night market, thank you so much.

PING WANG: Thank you very much, Maureen

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And thank you so much San Diego city Council member Lorie Zapf.

LORIE ZAPF: My pleasure, thank you.