Candidates Flores, Gomez Must Cater To Many Issues In Diverse District 9
It's just before 8 a.m. on a recent weekday in the historic neighborhood of Talmadge. Neighbors walk their dog along the rows of single-family homes or rest in the community-maintained park. From the tranquil scene, you wouldn't know just blocks away: An ugly traffic situation is playing out at the intersection of Monroe Avenue and 47th Street.
Longtime resident Kelly Waggonner said the congestion is a frequent occurrence that has plagued the neighborhood for years. She said a recent study shows 21,104 cars came through the Talmadge intersection in a 24-hour period.
"Our neighborhood has approximately 1,700 to 2,000 homes if you include the apartments, and yet having 22,000 cars a day come through is a real burden to the streets and the infrastructure of our neighborhood," said Waggonner, who chairs the Talmadge Maintenance Assessment District.
Waggonner said she hopes the incoming representative for San Diego City Council's District 9, which includes Talmadge, will finally address the problem.
Candidates Ricardo Flores and Georgette Gómez are running for the seat. Flores is chief of staff to current Councilwoman Marti Emerald. He touts his experience leading the council office. Gómez is associate director of the Toxic-Free Neighborhoods campaign for the nonprofit Environmental Health Coalition. She brands herself the candidate who will "Shake Up City Hall."
Since the June primary when Flores edged out Gómez by about five percentage points, the two have been in a tight battle to represent the diverse district, which can roughly be separated into four areas.
In the north, there's Kensington-Talmadge, where Flores resides, and the College Area to the east; then to the south is City Heights, which Gómez calls home. Southeastern San Diego communities sit below that. The demographics shift greatly as you cross into each community planning area, and this diversity presents Flores and Gómez with a wide range of community issues they'll have to address.
In the Kensington-Talmadge area, SANDAG current estimates — adjusted for inflation — show the community of more than 14,256 people is majority white and comprised of single-family homes. Households have a median income of $57,873.
Waggonner said her vote is for Flores.
"We're hoping that he'll have the spirit and the determination to back our community on this issue," she said.
If you drive east past the traffic on Monroe Avenue and head north toward Montezuma Road, you enter the College Area. The median income is about $42,326 and the area is about half single-family, half multi-family homes, according to SANDAG. Estimates show the community is home to 23,635 residents, including many students who attend San Diego State University.
College Area resident Jose Reynoso said it's that mix of students and families that has created his community's biggest problem: mini-dorms.
Mini-dorms are homes that have been renovated to include more bedrooms, which means more people — usually students — in one house.
"With that come a number of issues, associated issues," Reynoso said. "You know you get a larger group of adults together, there's more noise."
Another problem is more garbage, he added.
Mini-dorms have grown to be such a problem, Emerald recently introduced a measure to limit the size and number of bedrooms in a home. Many people spoke in opposition, but the committee moved the measure forward. It's unclear if the full City Council will vote on it before the election, but Reynoso said he hopes whomever is elected as the next District 9 council member will be on his side.
"Now obviously Ricardo has been able to be a little bit more supportive because it’s his boss, Marti Emerald who is spearheading the legislation that is currently before the City Council or being reviewed by the City Council," the community council and planning group member said.
Reynoso declined to endorse a candidate, but campaign contribution records show he has donated several times to the Flores campaign.
Moving farther south in the district down Interstate 15, you reach City Heights. Here, the population jumps to 77,697 residents and demographics shift from majority white to majority Latino. There's a bit more multi-family units than single-family residences and the median income dips to $33,409.
City Heights Business Association Member Juan Pablo Sanchez operates his restaurant, Super Cocina, on bustling University Avenue. Although he's not a resident of the district, he said his Mexican eatery has served the community for more than a decade and his employees live in the area. They didn't want to be interviewed, but Sanchez said he's heard many concerns about one main issue — “affordable housing.”
Both Gómez and Flores list affordable housing as a priority on their candidate statements.
That’s one of the many areas where they overlap, including their support of City Heights businesses, Sanchez said, but one difference is where they draw their experience from.
"One comes from being in office and seeing how everything is working. And one comes from ... more of a grassroots, talking to the community and seeing what can be done to improve our business district," he said.
Sanchez didn’t want to endorse a candidate, but said he has catered an event for the Gómez campaign.
If you continue down I-15, you reach the community planning area of Southeastern San Diego. It’s divided among three council districts, including District 9, and home to nearly 60,981 residents. It has more single-family homes than multi-family units and a median income of $31,401.
The neighborhood of Mount Hope is where Southeastern San Diego Planning Group Member Keryna Johnson lives. She said the area is one of the few places in the city that's still affordable. At the same time, she’s worried that affordability could draw new development to the neighborhood that might not serve the residents’ best interests.
"It's kind of an exciting time, but I guess we just have to be careful because things are changing really rapidly and if the community is not involved in that change, they might not get something that's good for them at the end of the day," said Johnson, who also sits on the city's Human Relations Commission.
Johnson said the Southeastern communities in District 9 need a council member who will speak up for them, and she thinks Gómez is best for the job.
"We have most of our racial ethnic diversity in communities like this, and so I think that Georgette has a long history of fighting for the needs of those people. She's really social-justice oriented," she said.
Johnson's stance shows a split among the residents. A Voice of San Diego review of campaign contributions shows a similar trend; Gómez gets most of her support from City Heights, while Flores’ big supporters are in the northern neighborhoods. That area also has a higher voter turnout in the district.