Across East Village, cranes zig and zag across a quickly changing skyline. The downtown neighborhood is in the midst of an unprecedented construction boom.

There are 10 active development projects in East Village, according to Civic San Diego, the city nonprofit that oversee downtown development. The agency lists another dozen that will begin construction soon, three more pending approval and another three that just finished at the end of last year.

“It’s safe to say this is the biggest development boom the East Village has ever seen,” said Brad Richter, Civic San Diego assistant vice president of planning.

I recently spent hours walking around East Village, navigating the closed roads and sidewalks, loud noises, cement dust and other obstacles that come when a neighborhood is packed with so many active construction sites. I talked to a handful of people who live and work in East Village about what they hope comes once the cranes come down and the new buildings open up.

Photo by Mike Sumoto
Photo by Mike Sumoto
Construction cranes dot East Village.

David Vanderwall chases shopping carts, working at the Albertsons on 14th and Market in East Village. Magnets are meant to keep carts in the store, but homeless people find a way to get them out. Vanderwall said he hopes the building boom helps get some of East Village’s growing homeless population off the streets.

“I just hope all this construction lowers the rent, that’s about it,” he said. “I hope it helps the people who don’t have a place.”

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Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Kelly Tomke

Kelly Tomke owns Salty Dawg, a small pet grooming shop in one of East Village’s remaining warehouses on Island Avenue. She said she’s both excited and worried about the changes.

“Everywhere I look I see construction and I’m supposed to be seeing dollar signs because it means more business for me,” she said. “But I don’t think it’ll be like East Village anymore. The sharp edges will be gone.”

Photo by Mike Sumoto
Photo by Mike Sumoto

Jennifer Wald is a dog walker and petsitter with a lot of clients in East Village. She said her clients constantly complain about their high rents.

“I think there’s a crazy amount of building in this area,” she said. “I just hope people are going to be able to afford the places that they’re building. It’s getting to be a nice area, but if they keep putting in really high-priced luxury apartments, I don’t know who’s going to be able to afford it.”


Gerardo Cano, a construction worker who’s been working on the IDEA1 project, doesn’t expect the construction boom to produce anything but more luxury apartments.

“It’s going to be more expensive here,” he said. “There are no affordable places to live in San Diego right now.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Painter Jackie Warfield

Jackie Warfield, a painter who lives in East Village with her two kids, said she moved in because she thinks it’s the creative pulse of the city – but she’s worried rapid changes in the neighborhood won’t leave much room for art.

“I’d like to see more creative support from the city and developers to be able to really create a sacred space for artists,” she said. “We need a section of the city where people go to buy art. We need to see a place where creativity can thrive, but I’m very concerned that’s not going to happen.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Chris Valdez has worked at Aztec Appliance’s East Village location for years. He said he foresees a lot of hard-to-fill vacancies in the horde of apartments and retail space being built.

“I don’t know why they’re building so much when they have such a big homeless problem here,” Valdez said. “It drives people away from the businesses and I don’t know why anybody would want to buy anything down here with the homeless problem as bad as it is.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

The old-school, single-story Salazar’s Taco Shop looks out of place amid the towering high-rises that’ve sprung up in recent years. Marisol Millan has been a waitress there for 14 years alongside her mother and aunt, who’ve both worked there since the restaurant opened in the early 70s.

“I never thought this was going to happen here,” Millan said about the construction boom. “It just surprises me how big they are and how many there are.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Diana Oshea

Doozydog! Club‘s manager Diana Oshea said she’s looking forward to more businesses moving in to East Village.

“I hope to have a very bright and vibrant community that can thrive, where everything is walking distance and self sufficient in our own little East Village world here,” she said. “I think more offices would be nice, and more small businesses.”

Photo by Mike Sumoto
Photo by Mike Sumoto

Phillip Sammuli is a regular at East Village’s Mission Brewery. He said if the homeless population continues to grow alongside the new construction, there will be problems.

“I think it’s inevitable that the friction between the people who live in the apartments and the homeless people will grow,” he said.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Kristen Pease

Kristen Pease is a barista at Meshuggah Shack, a coffee cart housed in a repurposed shipping container at the Quartyard pop-up park at Market Street and Park Boulevard. There’s a big new development planned for the Quartyard site, which means the coffee shop will likely be closing its East Village location.

“Quartyard is such a community-centered thing that brings a lot of people and I hate that we’re going to be losing this,” she said. “It’s a great concept. I hope that if we can’t stay here that something similar to it is able to be established.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Justin Fortier (left) and Ryan Gamble

Ryan Gamble is the president of a software startup called IntraRatio. He said he sees a lot of the same type of projects going up in East Village, and that worries him.

“The hope would be to keep it a mixed-mode development, not just all housing,” he said. “I lived in Toronto, Canada, so I’ve seen where developers have come in and turned everything into condos and literally just shoved everyone out and it’s turned into a really stale system. That’s my only concern, is having good accessible space for small startup companies.”

Gamble shares an office with entrepreneur Justin Fortier, who said he’s got mixed feelings about East Village’s transformation.

“It’s nice with all the development that comes in and cleans the area up, but at the same time it kind of loses its edginess and its cool factor,” he said. “So as you put in all these high-rise condos, you get the yuppie crowd in and it pushes out the artists who’ve been here forever.”

    This article relates to: Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, News

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She works to expand our reach and helps community members write op-eds. She also manages VOSD’s podcasts and covers the arts, culture, land use and entrepreneurs. Contact her directly at Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    Reduce rents? LOL! If developers thought that building out east village would reduce local rents, they wouldn't do it. Decades ago, local planning organizations like C-3 believed that Centre City East (as East Village was called at the time) would slowly evolve as local artists moved into old

    warehouses and lofts, creating a real arts community. Then along came John Moores and the new ballpark. As part of the deal to get that project done, the city deeded over half a dozen CCDC owned downtown blocks to JMI, which filled them with highrise hotels and condo towers. That led other developers to buy up the east village blocks not already owned by the Jerome family, and start the highrise glut we see developing there. Talk about things like "IDEA districts" is just so much developer PR fluff to obscure the fact that the gentrification would eventually force more people out of the districts, to live on the streets in some adjoining neighborhood.

    michael-leonard subscriber

    Several (well, two at least) recent articles have bemoaned the fact that an East Village arts community, which was attracted with low rents, has in turn attracted development whose higher rents threatens to displace the arts community. And this criticism is valid. Those who “hope all this construction lowers the rent” are just kidding themselves.

    I’d just like to point out two things: First, it’s been this way in many other places, San Diego is just now getting its share of that particular course. Second, this is the way things have been in arts communities forever. Well, the last 50 or years, anyway.

    John Porter
    John Porter subscriber

    Ah, just in time to  provide enough housing for the homeless down there....