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Making Neighborhoods Successful

Audio

Aired 6/2/10

The first-ever Neighborhood Innovation Forum, a colloquium of local and national community groups, funders and city officials, met in San Diego last week to discuss ways to make individual neighborhoods the driving force of community improvement.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There are neighborhoods here in San Diego and across the country that need a lot help but when that help doesn't come from the top down, sometimes it's got to come from the bottom up. Local leaders and communities can create their own vision about what the neighborhood needs and create an action plan to get it. That's the mission of groups like the Local Service Initiatives Support Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to making individual neighborhoods the driving force of community improvement. San Diego hosted its first-ever Neighborhood Innovation Forum last week, and here to tell us about the programs and projects discussed are my guests. Joe Horiye is executive director of San Diego Local Initiatives Support Corporation, also known as LISC AmeriCorps. And, Joe, welcome to These Days.

JOE HORIYE (Executive Director, San Diego LISC AmeriCorps): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Bill Anderson is the City of San Diego’s Director of Planning and Community Investment. Bill, good morning.

BILL ANDERSON (Director of Planning and Community Investment, City of San Diego): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: We’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. What do you think San Diego’s neighborhoods can do to improve the quality of life? What do you think the City’s responsibility is to fix the problems in our neighborhoods? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Now the issue of how to help neighborhoods be helped and help themselves, become places where people want to live and raise families, is very complex. So let’s start by finding out what kind of neighborhoods that you are concerned with. What are the characteristics of someone – of some – of a neighborhood that would qualify for a neighborhood initiative? Joe.

HORIYE: Let me first start by, again, explaining a little bit about LISC. That’s probably a great…

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

HORIYE: …place to start. So, first of all, LISC itself is the country’s largest nonprofit company that focuses on rebuilding and revitalizing neighborhoods. We predominantly focus on older neighborhoods or low and moderate income neighborhoods across the country and here in San Diego. And our focus is really, our job is really, to create those places where we want to work, live and raise a family. So we’re talking about more than just the investment in physical improvements or real estate housing, commercial retail, grocery stores, but also trying to connect the dots between those investments and other investments, which includes improving access to good schools, improving family income and wealth, ensuring that there are safe streets in those neighborhoods. So I think that all neighborhoods, regardless, deal with addressing quality of life issues although they might be prorated differently in different neighborhoods.

CAVANAUGH: And, Bill, are neighborhoods that fit that criteria concentrated in particular areas of San Diego? Or are they spread out?

ANDERSON: In San Diego, they’re concentrated in three general areas. One are the neighborhoods around downtown, south of Interstate 8, many of our pre-World War II communities, also some of the neighborhoods near the border such as San Ysidro. But we also find we have some neighborhoods that are north of 8 in Linda Vista or up near Miramar that have some pockets of areas that have a concentration of low, moderate income families sometimes associated with being near military bases and that type of thing, which is a different dimension we have compared to some other cities around the country.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know I mentioned in my introduction that there was a Neighborhood Innovation Forum here last week. I know that you were very excited about having that because lots of people came in from all around San Diego but from around the country, too, to talk about what they were doing to improve neighborhoods and, you know, we got to show off the advances that San Diego is making. Which cities, Joe, were represented in that forum?

HORIYE: We had several cities represented in that forum. The cities real quickly included representation from Boston, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, so there were quite a few. We were very pleased that we were able to attract the out-of-town guests to kind of share some of their best practices and – their best practices in addressing many of the same issues that we are in our own neighborhoods.

CAVANAUGH: And what were some of the impressive examples, perhaps, that you picked up from the forum from these other places?

ANDERSON: Well, for me, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston is one of the great examples around the country. Basically, it was – they’ve been working for 30 years to try to turn around a neighborhood that had a lot of disinvestment in the fifties and sixties associated with white flight and a lot of abandoned properties that really created a nonneighborhood situation. So they’ve taken their effort to restore neighborhood facilities and housing and affordable housing as a platform but adding on to it economic development and community services to the community.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with – I’m speaking with Bill Anderson and Joe Horiye and we are talking about the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Putting Neighborhoods First, what the neighborhood needs, creating an action plan to get it, and providing funding support for neighborhoods taking the initiative to become the driving force of community improvement. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Elizabeth is calling us from University Heights. Good morning, Elizabeth. Welcome to These Days.

ELIZABETH (Caller, University Heights): Hello. Thanks for having my call. My question is, I’m actually a volunteer with a group called The People’s Produce Project in southeast San Diego. Two of our goals are to start a farmers market and a community garden in that area. We’ve been working on this project for over a year and find it’s very difficult to get these tasks done when working with the City. We want to have residents take charge of their neighborhoods, to be responsible for their health and the improvement of where they live but trying to do this turns out to be so difficult when working with the City. Has your group come across that? What have you done to get through that? And is there a possibility of your group helping our group?

CAVANAUGH: Good question. Let me send that to you first, Bill.

ANDERSON: Okay. On our tour with the outside guests, we took them to the community garden at Colina Park that the First Lady visited a few weeks ago. In our new general plan, which we adopted a couple of years ago, we identified community gardens as a type of recreation and neighborhood serving facility, which was, I think, the first time in the city to identify that as policy. Now we’re trying to sort out the regulations to allow that to happen. And we know there are a lot of neighborhoods who want to see those types of facilities in their neighborhoods. One of the difficulties is finding the land and public land because there’s a whole process for disposing public land. We do recognize it as an eligible use of park land but it has to be under the right context and competes with, you know, other recreational uses for the park land. So we’ve been working on a draft policy with the Park and Recreation Department on how to evaluate that. Also in some of the urban neighborhoods, people have been proposing the gardens in lots that are near the canyons.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ANDERSON: And we do have habitat issues in San Diego, you know, related to runoff or seeds getting into some of those habitat canyons, which is something that can be resolved. It’s something we just have to work on the policies and regulations, and we look forward to working with the community garden and community…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ANDERSON: …in developing those policies.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very interesting, Bill, because I know that there are a lot of neighborhoods and communities that would like to put in a produce garden or some sort of place where some great vegetables could be grown and things of that nature. So who – You say you’re putting together that policy. Who is actually putting together that policy?

ANDERSON: Well, it’s our department in…

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ANDERSON: …City Planning working with the Park and Recreation Department, at least for proposals that are within parks. There’s also sometimes surplus City land and that’s something that has to be worked out with the Real Estate Department within the City. There is a process that has to go through bidding on public land. It’s not something we can gift to any individual group. It’s usually a public process. But, certainly, there might be parcels that just aren’t usable for other purposes and would be valuable as community gardens. We have to look at it at a case by case basis.

CAVANAUGH: This is what is popularly known as a bit of red tape that you have to get through and you have to satisfy everybody involved in the process and make up a policy that streamlines it a little bit.

ANDERSON: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

ANDERSON: One of the good examples around the country, again in Boston, is the Orange Line, which was the subway line that they put underground and on the air rights, they build a linear park with a bikeway with community gardens in the south end of Boston that were within that right of way and then also in the adjacent streets and neighborhoods connected to that right of way, and it was mixed – in a mixed income area and we see that as a possible model that we could look at for some of our communities in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your phone calls on how if – with your questions and comments on how to improve your neighborhood here in San Diego. 1-888-895-5727. Joe Horiye, I want to ask you more about LISC and when you – when there is a neighborhood that maybe’s getting a little older, there are some things that the community would like to see changed and improved. How does that – how does LISC get involved? How do they contact you or you contact them? What do they have to bring to you? A plan of some sort?

HORIYE: There’s a couple of different ways that you can work with LISC. We’ve been here for nearly two decades here in San Diego. We’re celebrating our 30th year across the country. How we first got started in San Diego was really making an investment in affordable housing, working with nonprofit and community-based organizations to provide housing that wasn’t being provided. But what we learned along the lines is once you address housing, there were other issues that needed to be addressed. In particular, if you were going to try and increase the bottom lines for families at the end of the day in neighborhoods. And so we now work through what’s called the Neighborhoods First Initiative. And that provides an opportunity – right now it’s being piloted in two neighborhoods here in San Diego, Colina Park and City Heights and greater Logan Heights. And, really, the community partners on the ground are making things happen there. And what that really entails is allowing the neighborhood to come up with a vision that is neighborhood driven and comprehensive, so one that doesn’t just focus on housing needs but one that really focuses on neighborhood needs.

CAVANAUGH: Because if you have more housing, you’re going to need places for kids to play, you’re going to need parks, you’re going to need educational facilities, you’re going to – It’s just this – this rolling ball of concerns that, indeed, that’s what creates a healthy community.

HORIYE: Right, and even if you start with just one issue, you realize that issues for families in neighborhoods don’t operate in silos. And so there needs to be a tie-in to good schools or keeping streets safe or ensuring that there’s certainly housing or access to a grocery store. Things like that become important and, you know, even little things become important. So providing an opportunity for the neighborhood to come up with that vision and focusing on neighborhood needs as a whole so it’s comprehensive neighborhood driven but also that there’s local accountability, meaning that it’s not just coming up with this vision and this plan and saying, okay, City of San Diego, you need to do this, and the private sector, you need to do that, and nonprofits, you need to do this. But also, what am I able to do? What is the role of every person that can play in terms of implementation of that plan? So when you look at that, then you realize it’s all about partnership and sometimes often you need the partnerships in the neighborhoods but you need partnerships outside of that to make things happen in these neighborhoods.

CAVANAUGH: Bill, you wanted to add…?

ANDERSON: That’s why we found these examples around the country, and we have some local examples, too, that were exciting because these community-based organizations can sustain that effort and they’re focused on their particular community. It’s difficult for cities, especially given the resources we have today and all the issues associated with San Diego as a whole, to provide that sustained effort day in, day out. And it’s always helpful to have that local partner, that’s their – that’s their mission. And some of the great examples around the country, like the Greater Southwest Development Corporation in Chicago over 30 years, has been involved in half a billion dollars of reinvestment in that area of Chicago, and 6,000 jobs retained or added to their community so they – they’ve started with housing but also got into economic development partnering with the City.

CAVANAUGH: Even though it sounds, from what you’ve just said, that this idea of neighborhood initiatives has kind of been in the air for a long time, a lot of cities have adopted it, I think there’s still this idea in general that, you know, if there’s something wrong with the neighborhood, it’s the City’s responsibility to come in and fix it. You know, fix up the buildings, fix up the recreation, put in a park, that kind of thing, that top down approach. Are you seeing – Is that the right way to think, Bill, or is that something in the past?

ANDERSON: It’s something in the past just even from a practical perspective. City resources, government resources, are thin. You know, we have 55 communities in – community planning areas in the City of San Diego, hundreds of neighborhoods because each community has many neighborhoods within them. And so City resources and staff do get diffused and – over the city as a whole. Also, sometimes when we’re applying a program, it’s from the perspective of meeting the objectives or requirements of that program which may not be broad enough and sensitive enough to particular interests of a particular neighborhood.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha, yeah.

ANDERSON: That really has to come from the community. But it is a partnership working together, and it’s not just a partnership between the community and the City or government, it’s also a partnership with these community organizations and other private organizations in the areas of finance, business development, affordable housing development and social services, public health.

CAVANAUGH: I am speaking with Bill Anderson and Joe Horiye, and we are talking about neighborhoods in San Diego and how to improve them, how to organize a vision for a neighborhood and see it through. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Sally’s on the line from University Heights. Good morning, Sally, and welcome to These Days.

SALLY (Caller, University Heights): Good morning. My question to you is about these community gardens. We have water restrictions, we now have time restrictions of when we can water. Who is paying the water bill for these gardens? And why I ask this is I happen to be a landlord of some property in University Heights and they were encouraged through the schools to have the children put in a garden and their water bill went from an average of $100.00 a month to $350.00 a month, which landlords pay. And it’s like, okay, well, what about these community gardens? Are they under the water restrictions of when they can water and who’s paying the bill?

CAVANAUGH: Great question. Thank you, Sally. And that’s to you, Bill.

ANDERSON: Okay. The – I think you have to distinguish between formal community gardens that are well organized, managed, and are through a formal permit process as a community garden, because there are – they’re subject to all the same water rationing issues that we face citywide, everyone in San Diego faces. Versus informal community gardens that people might, among themselves, see a plot of land and let’s do something here. And you wonder where they hook up their water. But generally the community gardens organizers and the people who use them, have their plots there, would pay for their water use unless they’re subsidized by some other benefactor.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you, Joe, if you have a success story here in San Diego that you’d like to share with us.

HORIYE: Oh, we have quite a few but I think what I’d probably like to share is maybe a couple of things that have come out of the Neighborhoods First Initiative here in San Diego. And so, you know, directly responding to neighborhood needs, in both Colina Park and greater Logan Heights, just a couple of months ago we launched what are referred to as financial opportunity centers. And these places have three primary objectives. It’s to work with families and individuals over a period of time to help them increase their income, reduce expenses, and build assets. And the interesting thing that comes out of this is what we’ve learned is that by bundling three specific services, workforce development, financial education and access to public benefits, whether those are food stamps or the earned income credit program or other, that over the course of time, that families and individuals really have an opportunity to improve their bottom line. And so the International Rescue Committee in Colina Park and the MAAC Project in Logan Heights are – have been taking the lead on that and I think that’s a pretty interesting – and interesting in the sense that in terms of innovation, it’s not a new program but it’s a new way of thinking, a new way of doing. For example, San Diego has had and will continue to have workforce development services, the access to public benefits, and the financial education pieces, but the interesting tweak to this is bundling them and what we learned was that even groups that had these services underneath their umbrella weren’t bundling together and yet the impact is so much more significant for the families at the end of the day. And I think when you look at that, if we’re going to help neighborhoods out, we really have to increase the bottom line for families that are there so that they can access, again, the good schools, have the cleaner, safer streets and whatnot. I think that was good. And also from a youth standpoint, in Colina Park, on any given day at Crawford High School, more than 35 languages can be spoken there. And there the youth participated in creating a cookbook that really showcased special recipes, excuse me, from their culture…

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

HORIYE: …and, more importantly, the stories behind them. One of the things that was identified in Colina Park was one of their greatest strengths was their diversity and also one of their biggest weaknesses was also the diversity. And, of course, I would hate to fathom the weakness in focusing, certainly, on the strength of that diversity. So this provided an opportunity for the youth to share their different cultures, traditions and background through food. The students who are interested in journalism wrote on that. The small businesses within the communities, the small restaurateurs on El Cajon Boulevard also participated in that. They have put together a cookbook that’s on sale for five bucks to help support – continue to support this project. But when you talk about, again, there are the connections. You’ve got education tied with small business with the engagement of youth. I think when you look at older neighborhoods, you have a high concentration of a youth population. How do you ensure that everybody’s getting engaged? And this was a great way of, as an engagement tool, to have the youth play a role within their community.

CAVANAUGH: And, Bill, when we talk about engagement, and you already told us about the fact that the top down approach doesn’t really work anymore, just for practical reasons. There’s just not enough money to fix all that needs to be fixed in neighborhoods, and you also told us a little bit about the kind of red – what I described as red tape that the City has to conform with. How is it working with nonprofit groups and other funding partners in order to get something done for a neighborhood? How much flexibility does the City actually have?

ANDERSON: We have quite a bit of flexibility. It also depends on the context and what specifically is being proposed. We’re trying to get to a point with a lot of our community plan updates to make more things easier to implement in the future. But we have, in California, the CEQA process, California Environmental Quality Act, that has to evaluate permits and the zoning. You know, people are concerned about the impacts of different government actions or major private developments, and so all of that needs to be addressed. But once we’ve worked though those issues, hopefully, projects that come forward can be implemented more easily. Now a lot of the community-based type of projects that are being done right now do conform to their community plan and should be easier so if there’s red tape, it’s from another angle, it’s not from the development regulation, maybe it’s from the health side or water or just disposition of property. And so those are things that need to be worked out. One of the interesting things that’s happening in San Ysidro is Casa Familiar, which is a community-based organization there, is looking at the idea of building affordable housing for small lot subdivisions, taking your single family lot and maybe adding a couple of units to it to create more opportunities for affordable housing and sharing some common facilities in a neighborhood that is close to support services that they provide to the children and families that live there.

CAVANAUGH: There are so many ideas and I thank you for sharing some of them with us today. I really appreciate it. My guests have been Joe Horiye and Bill Anderson and they’ve been talking about changing neighborhoods in San Diego. There are a number of people who wanted to join our conversation. If you weren’t able to get – contact us on the phone, just go online, KPBS.org/thesedays.

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