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Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars

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.
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.
Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars
Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars
Southeastern San Diego Hits Barrier To Healthy Food Access: Cars GUEST:Keryna Johnson, boardmember,Southeastern Community Planning Group

Southeastern San Diego has been described as a "food desert." That means fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find. Some residents are working hard to change that. But as KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen explains, there's an unexpected barrier: Cars that drive too fast. You have the dry table, we've got tomatoes, avocados, which pretty much, every day, apples and bananas. She is showing me around fresh garden market, it's west of Interstate 805. Watermelons, grapefruits, it's cheaper than my grocery store. It definitely is. Hernandez and her husband have on the five and half years. When they took it over it did not have much in the way of fresh healthy food. A lot of the shopping was held for juices and sodas. Those bottled drinks are joined by produce and meat counter. We turned it from a convenience store to pretty much a mini market. Hernandez recently got in $1000 grant from the city to help renovate the shop's façade. She said she is grateful and excited about how it's going to look. But as she was making plans with city officials and other need came up. A crosswalk at the intersection where her markets its. She takes me outside to show me how unsafe it is for pedestrians. Says we are rate on the 805 freeway, coming down in going up, everybody uses it pretty much like a speed area. They do not stop for a lot of the people, you have to literally start for your life. A lot of people trying to cross the street or her customers. Others are trying to get to the mount Oak -- Mt. Hope Community Garden. She runs the Project New Village , the nonprofit that started it. There are a lot of people, the quality of food will be raise for everyone, growing up, picking it, or buying it in the store or at the eateries. She is advocating for the crosswalk. She says that car traffic is not just a barrier to crossing the street. Is a barrier to her whole vision for the neighborhood. She sees her garden, the mini market, as a slowly emerging good food district. In order for this good food district to work that we are proposing, you need to be able to go back and between establishments and muster on the side part but the sitting of the gathering area will be across the street. The cities transportation department surveyed the intersection and agreed that it needs a crosswalk work but there is no money for it in this year's budget. The crosswalk was placed on a list of unfunded needs. Obviously, there's a lot of need but there's not enough money for everything. He works in the city's office, they have done several reports with San Diego's infrastructure deficit. Last measured at 1.4 Ilion dollars over the next five years. This one crosswalk which would cost $10,000 is a tiny sliver of that. Crosswalks, city streets, fire stations, water pipelines, sewer infrastructure, parks basically everything physical that the city does provides physical access to citizens is what were talking about. All he can do is shift money around from one priority to another. If and when the city bills this crosswalk, it would essentially take money away from other needs. There would be another crosswalk in another neighborhood that would have to wait for another year. If they cannot find money for the crosswalk in this year's budget it will be funded and the next -- next fiscal year. Pedestrian safety is one of the factors they use for predatory zing -- predatory pricing prioritizes -- prioritizing the project. Adding flashing lights, cameras, two other crosswalks that are relatively safe the city agrees with the findings and is working on improvements. Hernandez is not about to let the city off the hook. We told them, it is something as mandated. Is something really needed, in need's -- the traffic needs to slow down in the area. Talking -- joining me now is Karina Johnson. A resident of Mt. Hope. Thank you for coming and. Thank you. There has been quite a bit of lobbying for this and Andrews story has helped us, showing us what a difference it would make for the community. What are the next steps? He came to the South Eastern planning group on the informational basis talking about the steps that have been taken so far, talking to the community, and to start gathering input of their feelings of safety in regards to the intersection. And they talked about what is in the works for that market. It is part of I think a really great integration of a lot of efforts to improve the corridor. A lot of people do not have cars, a lot of people that use that market walk. It is a pretty busy corner for a lot of residents. How important is it to invest? There can be a perception sometimes that there is not the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, we have a lot of liquor stores in the neighborhood and one of the differences with that market, it is where you can do your grocery shopping. In fact I do miss my grocery shopping there. Outside of it, it changes the community and away that you may not expect. Yes, I think when you are driving down the street and you are thinking about what you need to get done for that night mail, thinking, there is a grocery store, if you cannot tell from the outside is a grocery store you will not stop. Making it feel welcoming and improving some of the design aspects. Looking familiar and safe. Yes. To live well community market program, what was going on in that program behind the scenes to improve the community? From my knowledge of the program, it is an understanding that not all markets or corner stores, actually have healthy foods inside. They are working with market owners to both improve the offerings fresh and healthy foods but also to advertise that they have those foods. Again, going back to the look and feel. Making sure there are more advertisements for vegetables, healthy items and lust for cigarettes and liquor. So for markets they do have those foods inside making sure that people can tell, this is a market. It is amazing that people make? Isn't it? How do you build community around food, a good food district? This is a great opportunity, because there is a lot of things coming together, with that intersection, we have a community garden that's been there for several years, is a beautiful community gathering space, the market literally next-door. The market has expressed some interest in selling some of the items that are thrown at the garden. Then there is a vacant lot across the street, for those of us who saw with the intersection looked like before the garden, we can look at that vacant lot and say, hey, I know something really cool to go there. So I know that the manager of the garden is working with the city to get a long-term lease for the lot across the street. So there is a lot of things working together presuming what else? What else is happening you are resident or what else would you like to see happen to make the community thrive? We are starting to see a lot of outdoor community gathering spaces. The garden is one idea of what could happen. But also I would reference the courtyard, and some of the place making downtown, a place we can have events, food trucks, outdoor eating, I think it is a matter of bringing the community together and creating more opportunities for that. There are some training programs for local residents for helping them with programs? Project New Village runs the community garden has been helping outreach to the market, is having a resident leadership Academy, this weekend. They are taking residents from Mount Hope exclusive be, residents will be talking to them about the future of the work that they are doing with this good food district. And getting them involved, as a Mt. Hope resident, I've neighbors down the street with kids at that local school, I've been beating parents of kids rolled -- enrolled in that school. It is amazing to that you have to meet people to get the word out. You are leading a workshop? I am teaching the workshop with land use. How it can influence axis. You are really empowering people. She is a resident of board member of the Southeastern -- Seth Etherton community planning group at Thank you for -- of the Southeastern community planning group at

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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.

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

Pedestrian Safety Audit
A city audit found San Diego does a poor job prioritizing which areas are in most need of pedestrian safety improvements.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

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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