Wandering the District 4 Food Desert - Voice of San Diego

City Council District 4 Race UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Wandering the District 4 Food Desert

A healthy-food advocate in the district explains why there’s lots of fast-food options. But it’s harder to say why local restaurants and good grocery stores don’t stick around.


Magnolias. Annie Belle’s. Huffman’s Bar-B-Q.

These locally owned, full-service restaurants all closed in San Diego’s Fourth Council District in recent years.

Popeyes. Jack in the Box. McDonald’s.

These national, fast-food restaurants all remain. They’re within steps of each other at Euclid Avenue and Federal Boulevard, one of the area’s main commercial corridors.

Just a block from this trio, Diane Moss sat in her office and explained the proliferation of quick, cheap, junk food restaurants in the district.

“That’s what’s here,” Moss said. “That’s what’s easy. That’s what people know.”

Moss runs Project New Village, a community nonprofit focused on local, healthy food.

She’s well aware the neighborhood has trouble sustaining the kinds of restaurants she’d like to promote.

“But the why?” she asked, throwing up her hands.

She paused for a while before answering.

“I cook most of my own food, so I don’t know,” she said.

Residents in District 4, which encompasses the city’s southeastern neighborhoods, say they want better places to eat and shop in their community. Quality food isn’t only a restaurant problem.

Not one food store in the district’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, which has about 5,800 residents, met state standards for healthy, affordable food in a recent survey Moss’ organization helped conduct. Lincoln Park is home to a Food 4 Less, one of the district’s few supermarkets.

Whatever the reason for the lack of quality restaurants and grocery stores in the community, it’s not solely financial.

The district’s median household income is $57,996, which ranks sixth among the city’s nine council districts, according to statistics from the San Diego Association of Governments. That figure is boosted by the relatively better-off Skyline and Paradise Hills neighborhoods. (There’s a Ralphs supermarket in Paradise Hills.) But even taking into account less affluent neighborhoods, such as Lincoln Park, a recent study found that less than half the money residents paid for groceries, restaurants, clothing and other retail items was spent within district boundaries.

The district, which has a reputation as poor and crime-ridden, still has a stigma that plays a role in its lack of quality food choices, Moss said. The stigma holds even for residents, she said.

“People want to go somewhere else rather than somewhere in your backyard,” Moss said.

She has taken her push for better food to the community’s backyard. Moss runs a weekly farmer’s market in Chollas View.

Her market is struggling. The end of winter is the worst time of the year. Now only about 50 people each week are coming through to buy from the market’s 10 or so vendors, she said. The key to improving business, Moss said, is greater effort and education about healthy options within the community, and that takes time.

Meanwhile, Moss continues to grow her own vegetables. The best thing that ever came from her garden, she said, was eggplant.

“I had stopped watering it and then I pulled up all these weeds and things,” Moss said. “Here were all these big, purple eggplant. It was easy.”

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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