It was 2008, and we were on the blue line trolley heading to San Ysidro, where we would cross the border into Tijuana. We were gambling with this homeless hustler. He had a crack rock and three cups, and he shuffled them in circles on a bible while we picked the cup the rock was hiding under. I picked correct on my round and won twenty bucks. He turned to my friend, “Double or nothin’, what d’ya say?” My friend agreed and lost our last $40. The hustler hid the rock behind his ear and was shuffling 3 empty cups. We decided he cheated, so we hopped off the trolley at Park and Market and followed him into the desolate abandoned buildings along Island Ave. to retrieve our money. At the time we called this area the bottoms.
Today you may be familiar with this area– it’s the East Village. East Village has become a hub of incoming yuppies who’ve flooded into San Diego since the economy started improving. They live in the newly developed condos that now litter the skyline. The homeless were pushed further down Island Ave. towards 16th St., which is a constant spectacle of blue and red flashing lights as the police struggle to contain the homeless crisis. But just this year they developed the tallest building in the city right there, in the heart of the homeless encampments of downtown, around 16th and Island. This was the epicenter of the recent Hepatitis A epidemic that became national news. It’s pretty sad when there are people dying of Hepatitis A and starving at the base of a building selling condos for $1.1 million a pop.
When the market started to bounce back, the developers moved in and claimed real estate that was previously unavailable. The city reaped the rewards, and a the blue collar workers were excited to be going back to work. Yet, as the big city development firms moved in, so did the greed, and the skilled tradesmen faced wage cuts as workers competed for jobs. Meanwhile, they built state of the art buildings and brought world interest into this corner of the country, bringing with it masses of upper-middle class young and upcoming people to fill these new city dwellings and to buyout the homes that were foreclosed on during the recession. Schools were beginning to be remodeled and resources were being dumped into them, and property values and taxes started to soar. Lower wages, higher taxes, higher cost of living, and a market transforming under a blueprint tailored to upper-middle class business professionals.
Surrounding downtown are inner-city minority communities. The public schools in these communities belong to the San Diego Unified School District, one of the poorest and low achieving districts in the state. Twenty years ago downtown was surrounded by impoverished minority communities that were ridden with drugs and gang violence. Nobody cared about the children attending the schools in these communities, or the high-risk environments they were raised in. Neither the state nor the city reached out to allocate the necessary funds to the schools in these areas, and the communities were forgotten–only whispered about in prejudiced judgement or mentioned on the news as another child got shot. However, as the population boomed and demand was high for housing in and near the city, developers saw opportunity in the inner-city communities. After being abandoned to a drugs, gangs, and a prison industrial complex, they were now getting ready to face a corrupt land grab.
In 2010 I was living in a halfway house in Sherman Heights, a low-income inner-city barrio that splits its borders with Barrio Logan to the south, and downtown to the west. Sherman Heights and Logan Heights are divided by the trolley tracks leading into downtown. At the time, I was the only white boy in the neighborhood. One day, closing in on 2011, the manager came in and told us that a city inspector had arrived and put a notice of condemnation on the house. The slum lords of the neighborhood had held strong, but the business interests and the city came up with a resolution: condemn the houses, if they refuse to make repairs repossess the house, and then sell it at auction for a fraction of its worth back to the flippers. It was brilliant. It worked.
All the inner-city neighborhoods surrounding downtown started facing this problem, and the house flippers were stealing homes for a fraction of the price, and then reselling them at markups as high as $750,000. Before the years end, Sherman Elementary was upgraded and allocated more resources to serve its growing white populace, and a Walmart replaced the long standing local red brick farmers market building–a landmark of the city and a cultural stronghold.
I would write the rest, but it was a land grab, and we never stood a chance. What I described happened over and over again, and is continuing to happen as the wave of gentrification pushes out in all directions from the city. The people with money and big city ambitions lobby and establish seats on boards and committees responsible for the future developments of these inner-cities, and as time goes on these places are looking more and more like the massive cities these people came from. The freeways are clogged like in LA. The locals? We’re here for the time being, but we’ll eventually get fed up and leave, or we’ll continue getting pushed east until there’s nowhere left to relocate.