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Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars

Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars


Keryna Johnson, boardmember, Southeastern Community Planning Group


Janice Hernandez and her husband have owned Fresh Garden Market for about five and a half years. In that time, they’ve transformed the small shop at Market and Denby streets just west of Interstate 805 from a convenience store into a mini market.

“A lot of the shelving was used for the cooler products and stuff, the juices and sodas,” Hernandez said in a recent interview at the store. “And we’ve brought it into having a full line of produce (and) a meat counter.”

Hernandez recently got an $8,000 grant from the city of San Diego to help renovate the shop’s facade. She said she is grateful and excited about how it’s going to look. But as she was making plans with city officials, another need came up: a crosswalk at the intersection where her market sits.

“Since we’re right on the 805 freeway coming down and going up, everybody uses it pretty much like a speed track,” she said. “So it’s gotten really bad where they don’t stop for a lot of the people. You’ve got to literally dart for your life.”

Many people trying to cross the street are Hernandez’s customers who arrive on foot. Others are trying to get to the Mt. Hope Community Garden next door.

Southeastern San Diego has been described as a “food desert,” where residents have little access to fresh, healthy food. Diane Moss, who helped found the community garden through her nonprofit Project New Village, sees the garden, the mini market and nearby restaurants as a slowly emerging “good food district.”

Many people live close to those businesses, but residents on the opposite side of Market Street are essentially cut off. Car traffic, Moss said, isn’t just a barrier to crossing the street — it’s a barrier to her whole vision for the neighborhood.

“In order for this good food district to work, you need to be able to go back forth between the establishments,” she said.

Photo caption: Diane Moss, managing director of the nonprofit Project New Village, speaks wi...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Diane Moss, managing director of the nonprofit Project New Village, speaks with KPBS reporter Andrew Bowen at the Mt. Hope Community Garden, Sept. 1, 2016.

0.0007% of the problem

The city’s transportation department surveyed the intersection in May and agreed it needs a crosswalk with flashing beacons. But because the crosswalk was not included in this year’s budget, it was placed on a list of unfunded needs.

The city has about $4.2 billion worth of infrastructure needs over the next five years — everything from crosswalks and sidewalks to police stations, parks and libraries. But the city expects only about $2.8 billion to come into its coffers during that time through taxes and fees.

The resulting funding gap of $1.4 billion is San Diego’s oft-reported infrastructure deficit. With a price tag of about $10,000, the crosswalk at Market and Denby streets is about 0.0007 percent of the total problem.

The city’s independent budget analyst has done several reports on the infrastructure deficit, and has repeatedly warned city officials of the need to explore new sources of revenue. Those could include tax increases, new parking fees, or ending free trash pickup for single-family homes.

Most of those ideas are politically unpopular. So faced with a massive funding shortage, all the city can do is shift money around from one priority to another. Charles Modica of the Independent Budget Analyst’s Office said if and when the city funds the Denby Street crosswalk, it would essentially take money away from other needs.

“In all likelihood there would be another crosswalk that would have to wait another year,” Modica said.

Photo caption: A car drives by as a woman waits to cross Market Street in southeastern San D...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

A car drives by as a woman waits to cross Market Street in southeastern San Diego, Sept. 1, 2016.


Pedestrian Safety Audit

Pedestrian Safety Audit

A city audit found San Diego does a poor job prioritizing which areas are in most need of pedestrian safety improvements.

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City spokeswoman Alma Rife said in an email that there is a chance the crosswalk would be built relatively soon.

“As some of the current projects near completion, left over funds may become available,” she said. “If not, it will be funded in the next fiscal year.”

Rife also said pedestrian safety is one of the factors the city uses when prioritizing projects. But a city audit released last week found San Diego has failed to improve some of the most dangerous crosswalks while adding flashing lights and timers to other crosswalks that are relatively safe. City officials told the City Council Audit Committee on Wednesday they would implement the audit’s recommendations by fall 2017.

Hernandez, meanwhile, is not about to let the city off the hook on building the crosswalk by her market.

“We told them it’s something that’s mandated,” she said. “It’s something that’s really, really needed, because the traffic needs to slow down a little bit in the area.”

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