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What’s That Lot: Transit Riders See Possibilities in Two City Heights Spaces

There are 57 million square miles of land on earth, including the 4,206 square miles of San Diego County. Even as our population grows, spaces in the midst of our concrete jungle lay strangely fallow. This is an occasional series to explore those mysteriously unused or seemingly untended bits of land.

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What’s that lot? We’re talking about two related lots, each abutting Interstate 15 in City Heights. One is at the southwest corner of University and 40th Street, the other is at the northeast corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Central Avenue. Each lot is about a quarter acre – about as big as an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

What's That Lot by Ry Rivard [1]Who owns those lots? The city of San Diego’s Real Estate Assets Department – for now.

How’re those lots used? Both lots are part of the long history of City Heights and the interstate, which physically divided the city’s midsection. They’re unused for now, although the University Avenue lot will be used to temporarily store construction equipment as work continues on the bus station in the middle of I-15 [2].

The thing is, city officials have been thinking about selling off both pieces of land as surplus property.

Sales talk prompted opposition from City Heights residents who believe the sales would renege on promises made over the years, dating back to the I-15’s construction two decades ago and the razing of houses and businesses that preceded the road work.

One promise involved plenty of public transit, including the rapid buses that will run down the middle of the interstate. That interstate bus stations will be accessible by elevator and stairs from University and El Cajon bridges, and each lot is right next to those bridges.

Residents are now worried the lots will end up being turned into a KFC or, ironically enough, a gas station useful primarily to people with cars.

“You’d have these great transit places, and then you’d have to walk by gas stations to get by them,” said Stephen Russell, board president of the City Heights Community Development Corporation.

He and others are pushing for something else, perhaps a beer garden akin to the Quartyard in the East Village, or some place for bikers to stash their bikes and have a coffee.

The city, for its part, has for now backed away from plans to sell the lots, but that could change. One option would be to sell the lots with strings attached, ensuring they couldn’t be turned into a gas station or a fast-food joint.

“Some of the conversations we’ve had with a handful of community members, a lot of it leads not to just what they want to see but they do not want to see there,” said Ralph Dimarucut, a policy adviser to City Councilwoman Marti Emerald.