Smiles in Neglected City Heights: Budget Has Cash for Park Project

The park will go into a vacant lot in the 5000 block of Wightman St.

 New city budget money will soon find its way to San Diego's most neglected communities.

It'll pay for more parks, streetlights, libraries and public services -- mainly south of Interstate 8.

Largely because of higher-than-expected tax revenues, San Diego has $12 million more to invest in fixing communities and programs in the next city budget cycle that starts July 1.

On Friday, City Heights residents were cheered to learn that a new park will be in their midst.

In a late-morning news conference on a vacant, weed-covered parcel in the 5000 block of Wightman Street, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Councilwoman Marti Emerald announced that an allocation from the new budget completes the $3 million funding plan for a one-acre neighborhood park on the site.

For more than a decade -- because of city’s financial straits -- it was just a pipedream in a diverse, neglected, low-income community.

Now groundbreaking is expected by the middle of next year, with completion sometime in 2016.

“I said when I was sworn in that when I see an empty lot, we don’t see blight – we see opportunity,” Faulconer told reporters and dozens of grass-roots activists who kept their eyes on the civic prize.

Said Emerald: "What does this mean? It means that we care about the neighborhood. We care about helping to bind the community."

Excited neighborhood residents, on hand to celebrate the community’s progress, predicted that the park will become a focus of neighborly outreach and inclusiveness.

"Coming into here and seeing this across the street and not having any idea that anything was even in the works, and then finding out that this is happening is just excellent!” said Deborah Burr. “It's going to increase the 'heart value' of this community."

Other residents said while they see the park project as an encouraging sign that they’ve finally become a higher priority at City Hall, there are still many more unmet needs in the neighborhood.

"A pool would be great. It's hot; this summer has been brutal,” said Damonte Newcomb. “There's a lot of kids I've noticed running in the streets when cars are going down fast. So I think lights or more stop signs would be helpful. Or a crosswalk at least."

But for the time being, separating kids from traffic will have to take a back seat to the priorities of playgrounds and sports facilities -- a safe haven that Jamilo Hassan said she hopes will serve the purpose of stopping “the violence around the community … getting the kids out from all the gang violence, all the little drug deals.”

Meantime, in one City Hall office, there’s a sense of being shortchanged.

The councilman whom Faulconer defeated for mayor, David Alvarez, issued a statement saying Faulconer’s revised budget priorities for community development don’t go far enough.

“I am disappointed. The neighborhoods I represent are still not receiving their fair share of citywide project funding,” Alvarez said.

He cited a “shovel-ready” 15-acre community park planned in Ocean View Hills: “The only thing standing in the way is the mayor’s approved of the needed funding. I look forward to working with my council colleagues and the mayor to get this project built.”

Matt Awbrey, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said Faulconer is proud of his budget's funding of infrastructure. 

"The majority of items in Councilmember Alvarez's budget request memo are included in the Mayor's budget proposal, in addition to other park and sidewalk improvements that we're sure residents in his district will appreciate," Awbrey said in an emailed statement.

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