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The Reader’s Guide to Marti Emerald

Special Feature What Do You Know About City Heights?

Do you live in City Heights? KPBS wants to learn more about the issues that are most important to you. Your stories and insights will help inform our coverage.

One thing Marti Emerald wants to make clear: she's not a carpetbagger. District 9 moved to her; she didn't move to District 9.

When her husband died last year, she said she went searching for an affordable and appropriate home in District 7 and settled into College View Estates near San Diego State. There, she could continue to represent her district. She says she had no idea that she'd eventually be drawn into a whole new district. But when the city redrew its council boundaries last year, that's exactly what happened.

And as it turns out, her old district got less favorable to Democrats like her.

I spent last week in the new District 9, learning the issues, talking to leaders and residents and putting their concerns to the candidates. Here's my guide to the former television reporter's priorities, how she operates and what she doesn't want to talk about.


Top Three Priorities

• Voter Registration: This is the issue that hangs over everything in a district heavy with immigrants and refugees. The Redistricting Commission created District 9 to give the city a second Latino-majority district, but the voter-registration numbers throw a disproportionate amount of power to the residents of whiter neighborhoods.

Emerald says voter registration will be a top priority, even if it's something that a City Council member doesn't typically deal with from the dais. "We're doing some outreach to beef up tutoring (for citizenship exams)," she says. "I know some members of my staff have said they'd like to be tutors. I know I'll do that too."

She says right now it's hard to create a new program because of the campaign, but she'll step it up after the election.

"Communities that vote are communities that have clout," she says. "So I think the first step to empowering these communities that may feel overlooked or disenfranchised is to empower them to vote."

• Public Safety: As the chairwoman of the council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, this has clearly been Emerald's top priority to date on the City Council.

The general idea of crime comes up as a big issue across the district, though in different ways. Residents of Talmadge, who famously have their own volunteer crime-fighting brigade, say there's been an uptick in burglaries lately. There have been three shootings in Mount Hope in the last two weeks, including the killing of a 14-year-old boy. In City Heights, people are just afraid to go outside once the sun goes down.

"We've got to get more police officers on the beat, do more outreach to the community. We need investigative resources to go catch these killers and bring them to justice," she says. "The community needs to see that there's justice and feel that they count, that their community counts."

Fighting crime, though, means something different to people across the district. In Talmadge, it might be getting more cops on the street. In places like City Heights or Mount Hope, it's building stronger ties with distrusting residents or just getting streetlights installed to illuminate dark streets.

• Redevelopment: Redevelopment, the government program that funneled money toward beautification projects and development subsidies, died at the end of 2011. Its death was at the very least hastened by its excesses in more well-heeled places like Coronado and downtown, as well as a series of scandals.

Advocates want to know what will come of two city-owned vacant plots on El Cajon Boulevard now that government-sponsored redevelopment is dead.
Enlarge this image

Above: Advocates want to know what will come of two city-owned vacant plots on El Cajon Boulevard now that government-sponsored redevelopment is dead.

But in many District 9 communities, government-sponsored redevelopment has been relied on to do the things that redevelopment was originally intended to do: create parks, repair sidewalks and build cornerstone developments to spur more investment. Nearly every community leader I talked to wanted to know what would happen to planned projects now that the city's sorting through the rubble created by redevelopment's death.

Eva Vargas wanted to know what will happen with the long-planned Southcrest Trails Park. Georgette Gomez wanted to about a planned park on Home Avenue. For Beryl Forman, it's two long-vacant plots of chain-link-fenced land at the intersection of El Cajon Boulevard and Interstate 15.

A committee of city, county and education officials, and eventually the state, will ultimately decide what projects can get the remaining redevelopment cash and what gets left behind.

"We're really going to be very involved in getting our projects in the 9th District at the top of the list," Emerald says.

What she's focusing on: Affordable housing projects.


Best Way to Describe Her Pitch

Chief lobbyist for the district.

Emerald sees the answer to many of the district's problems in financial terms. She'll find more resources. And the way to do that, she makes clear, is to be better at getting that money than other people.

Her answer for how she gets the redevelopment projects completed? "We just have to do a better job than other council offices of lobbying for them," she says. For infrastructure? Getting state gas tax and federal money.

"I'm a good nagger. Ask anybody I know," Emerald says. "They'll say, 'Aww she's a noodge.' "


What She Doesn't Want to Talk About

How to actually pay for things.

The city's full of noble projects that need money. But it is just now starting to crawl out from under the massive financial troubles caused by promising a lot but not finding ways to truly pay for those promises.

Emerald isn't impressed by Mayor Jerry Sanders' declaration that the era of budget deficits has ended.

"If you keep cutting back on services, yeah, at some point you're not going to have a budget deficit because we're not spending as much money," she says. "But we have ignored our maintenance, public roads and sidewalks and buildings for far too long."

That led to this exchange:

AD: So should we be raising taxes or are there things we should be getting rid of? What should we do?

Emerald: That's such a hard question.

AD: That's kind of your job to figure out.

Emerald: I know. But that's voters' job to decide. Are they willing to spend more money?

The last time city leaders asked, with the Prop. D sales tax increase in 2010 that Emerald supported, voters turned it down.


What She Claims as Her Greatest Accomplishment

Emerald led the effort to get all new apartment and condo units to have their own individual water meters.

The idea: save water. Most apartment and condo users have little incentive to save water and no sense of how much they use. They don't get a bill. Doing so in apartments can save between 15 percent and 39 percent, Emerald claimed in this Fact Check-approved statement.

She said an assemblyman in Sacramento is pushing a bill to get a similar rule in place statewide.


What She Sees As Important in Each Area

• City Heights: Getting people registered to vote and finishing up redevelopment.

• Kensington/Talmadge: Utility-line undergrounding and crime.

• College Area: Mini-dorms and the new son of mini-dorms: sober living facilities. These are former mini-dorms that have been turned into homes for those recovering from drug and alcohol problems.

She says the city is looking at a way to have them considered commercial, not residential, properties.

• Her chunk of southeastern San Diego (Mount Hope, Mountain View and Southcrest): Crime and streetlights.


Get In Touch With Her

Office phone + email: 619.236.6677 + martiemerald@sandiego.gov

Website: www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cd7/

Facebook: facebook.com/MartiEmeraldSD

Twitter: twitter.com/MartiEmeraldSD


Originally published by our media partner, Voice of San Diego.

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