Years ago, southeastern San Diego residents were urged to imagine something more on 60 vacant, grass-covered acres that sit just blocks from a bustling trolley stop and a freeway exit – properties that would be highly coveted if they were almost anywhere else in San Diego.
But more than half of the properties the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation began buying up about a decade ago still sit dormant. Disillusionment and frustration has set in among residents who were told the properties would be developed into community assets that would revitalize the neighborhood.
Now the Jacobs Center is trying a different tack to bring in businesses, retail and housing. CEO Reginald Jones, who took the helm four years ago, has declared that the nonprofit will partner with developers rather than do that work itself. It’ll likely even sell some of its land.
Jones says the nonprofit’s committed and that obstacles are falling away but it’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen. He’s not offering specifics yet.
What is clear is that the nonprofit has struggled to cope with an onslaught of roadblocks, including some of its own making. On top of the recession and long-standing infrastructure and zoning challenges, it’s wrestled with doubts about whether it’s got the mettle to do what it’s promised amid waves of layoffs and stalled progress. Community support has fallen off, and the residents who are interested want different things.
Along the way, Jacobs managed to build a shopping center at Market Street and Euclid Avenue with a grocery store and a Starbucks. It’s welcomed the area’s first drugstore, teamed with a developer on an affordable housing project, invested millions into a creek restoration project and opened the Joe and Vi Jacobs Center, a community meeting space that’s also the nonprofit’s headquarters.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Thank you, Mr. Jones, for promoting a balanced community economically in Southeastern San Diego. Under federal law, it's illegal to concentrate poverty in one area. The same principle should apply to affordable housing developers that market rate developers adhere to by including 15% or 20% affordable housing units in market rate developments. In the case of affordable housing developers, 15% or 20% of their developments should be market rate. The City needs to dust off its Balanced Community policy 600-19 and implement it.
The Jacobs family should be commended for their interest and substantial investment in upgrding that neighborhood. While it is important to get local residents involved, the nonnprofit went too far. You cannot just ask the community "what would you like to be built here?" Well developed alternative plans should have been developed with experts, before asking the community which one they would like. That said, the neighborhood has a bright future. The demand for residential properties, and low supply of buidable lots within the city, will ultimately bring about a truly mixed-income neighborhood.