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Revisiting a 'Small Piece of the City Where Goats Roam'

A library groundbreaking in unincorporated Lincoln Acres brings a neighborhood story full circle.

I was in the tiny, unincorporated South Bay neighborhood of Lincoln Acres on Friday, there to attend the groundbreaking for a new library.

You may remember Lincoln Acres. I profiled it about a year ago.

It is a 227-acre neighborhood whose residents have fought to keep every last acre. They’ve fended off repeated annexation attempts by National City, which almost completely surrounds the neighborhood. From time-to-time, the city is successful in nipping off just a few more parcels.

A year ago, I asked Jose Ocadiz, the branch manager at the one-room Lincoln Acres Library, why the neighborhood was so intent on fighting incorporation. I couldn’t resist his descriptions of the rural flare that persists there amid so much industry — a quality residents cherish.

“I once saw a man walking his goat on a leash,” he said. (You can keep livestock in unincorporated San Diego County.) I’d wanted to find the goat’s owner, but I never did.

Back then, Ocadiz’s voice was wistful when he talked about the new library being planned for Lincoln Acres — a modern, eco-friendly replacement that would triple the library’s current size. The Lincoln Acres branch library is the smallest in the county — 854 square feet. Mothers struggle to maneuver their strollers around each other in its single room. It’s always packed.

So I decided to swing by the groundbreaking on Friday — my first time back to Lincoln Acres — to witness this step toward modernity in a neighborhood that one resident last year described as “a little Pleasantville” in National City.

Unlike recent high-profile library groundbreakings elsewhere, this one had no apparent critics, unless you count the man in the house next door, who for more than a half hour was screaming something about Marxists.

It was a pretty standard groundbreaking. Dozens of library boosters and county representatives descended on the tucked-away working-class neighborhood.

Residents sat in plastic chairs before a podium. Inspiring words were spoken. Mingling librarians from other branches traded dreams about someday being the stars of their own groundbreakings. Some dirt was tossed on an empty adjacent lot where a drug house once stood. A few cameras captured the event for posterity.

Carol Casares, a longtime volunteer at the library, fought back tears addressing the crowd.

When it dispersed, Casares was still around. She sat at a picnic table with Heriberto Escamilla, an active Lincoln Acres resident. They were hard at work making plans for their new library — organizing a nonprofit organization to raise money, sketching out its logo.

I peered at a word on Casares’ notepad: goats.

She’d drawn a rough logo for the library. It was a goat and a chicken.

“Goats?” I asked her.

“Yeah,” she said. She introduced me to Foluke Cota. “Foluke brought her goats here to keep the lot tidy after they tore down those two houses.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. “A year ago, when I wrote the story about Lincoln Acres, Jose told me one of the things he loved about this neighborhood was that you could see goats walking down the sidewalk on leashes.”

Cota laughed.

“Yeah, that was probably me,” she said. “When they tore down those houses, I started thinking about what I could do to help out. There were all kinds of ugly weeds, so I brought my goats.”

I had to meet the goats. “Can I see them?” I asked.

“Sure.”

We walked two blocks down the street.

On the plastic chair by her front door sat their leashes — lassos, really.

She opened the gate on the side of her house and called for the goats. No response.

“Don’t tell me they got out!” There was a moment of panic, then the sound of rustling inside a storage shed.

She opened the door, and out pranced two goats, a brown one named Cocoa, and a spotted one named Dottie. They wore collars.

“Teaching them to lead on a leash isn’t easy,” Cota said. “You have to train them. They’re prey animals, so, you know when you see a nature show and the lion attacks its prey by the neck? They just lay down, they don’t fight it. You have to be careful with goats, because they can strangle themselves with the leash.”

The neighbors love them, Cota said.

On their weekly walks, they’re like a free neighborhood gardening service of sorts — one of the perks of living in an unincorporated community.

“And you don’t even have to be out in Bonita,” she said. “You can have everything but a cow here.”

I asked what she’s going to do now that construction is set to begin on the large empty lot where Cocoa and Dottie once ate their fill.

“I guess I’m going to have to start buying hay again,” she said. “It’s OK. We really need that library.”

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

 

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