San Diego Culturecast by Voice of San Diego

The San Diego Culturecast is a produced podcast about arts and culture in San Diego. In the first season, Kinsee Morlan will take listeners through the changes occurring in Barrio Logan, one of San Diego's longest-standing and resilient neighborhoods.
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San Diego Culturecast by Voice of San Diego


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Dec 20, 2016

Anna Stump and Daphne Hill are leaving their Barrio Logan art studio. Their rent went up, and while that wasn't the only thing driving their decision, it hastened it.

Artists are often part of the first wave of a neighborhood's gentrification. Attracted to the big, open warehouses and affordable rents found in overlooked and forgotten urban neighborhoods, they move in, making the neighborhood cooler and in turn, attracting developers. Often, artists and other residents eventually find themselves priced out.

So how can artists help keep the same old cycle from playing out?

"I don't know how to solve the problem," Hill said. "Do you have an answer?"

I don't, but I talked to a few people who offered up some suggestions.

For episode five of Culturecast, VOSD’s podcast covering the intersection of arts and gentrification in Barrio Logan, I headed down to Bread & Salt, an arts space inside an old bread factory on the border of Barrio Logan and Logan Heights. I sat inside the warehouse for an entire day and talked to artists, architects and developers about what people are, or should be doing to address gentrification.

John Mireles is a commercial and fine art photographer who doesn't think gentrification is actually such a bad thing. He lives in Logan Heights, shows his art in galleries and coffee shops in the neighborhood and he’s also a landlord who owns and rents out property in the area.

Photo courtesy of J Raymond Mireles
Photo courtesy of J Raymond Mireles

At one of his recent art shows in Barrio Logan, Mireles told me he wanted to make a T-shirt that said "gentrifier" because he's proud of the work he's done to be part of and improve his neighborhood. Last year, Mireles took photos of some of his neighbors and community members, blew them up and hung them on his wooden fence.

He said as long as people who move into the area are respectful of the community, newcomers can be a good thing. Plus, he said, change is inevitable, so he wonders why people would want to try to stop it when a neighborhood’s property values are at their lowest.

"So often when people talk about gentrification, they're talking about a process of change as if it's this evil, horrible thing," he said. "If change is bad, when do we want this process of change to stop? Is it OK to stop when it becomes a very low-income neighborhood? Can neighborhoods only change from higher income to lower income and never reverse course? Can we only change from white to black to Hispanic to some other segregated ethnic group, or is it possible to have multicultural neighborhoods?"

Mireles thinks Barrio Logan is headed toward becoming a more multicultural, mixed-income neighborhood, and that's a good thing.

Musician Bill Caballero isn't as comfortable letting gentrification run its course. He agreed that change can't be stopped, but said artists and residents should work toward softening its blow.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

"The only way that we can stay and not be pushed out is for the artists to buy their own goddamn building," he said. "You get a co-op of artists to buy a four-story building ... and they share the building and they say, 'This is what's it's going to be and we're intractable.'"

Quick note to listeners: This is the last episode of what I’m calling Season 1 of Culturecast. I’m going to veer away from Barrio Logan for a while, but that doesn’t mean I won’t circle back.

I’ve heard from several listeners, and the one thing I keep hearing is that y’all wish I produced more episodes more often.

So I’m going to try to do that. I’ll do it by opening up the podcast to any story related to arts and culture in San Diego. The stories will probably be shorter and not serialized. I hope you’ll dig the new format. If you have any ideas for future episodes, shoot me an email.

Aug 31, 2016

East Village isn't the thriving arts district it once was.

When Petco Park was built 12 years ago, lots of the artists and galleries taking advantage of cheap rent and large warehouses there were priced out.

East Village has been gentrifying since the ballpark went up. High-priced condos and nice restaurants are popping up, but the neighborhood's also home to the region's largest homeless population,

In episode four of Culturecast, VOSD’s podcast covering the intersection of arts and gentrification in Barrio Logan, I talk to people who are worried that Barrio Logan's development will mirror East Village's if the Chargers get their new downtown stadium. They say the arts scene that's been flourishing in and around Barrio Logan will die if the stadium's built.

Brent Beltran, who lives in Barrio Logan and is part of the Barrios Against Stadiums group, said he's concerned that both the very poor and the very rich will come to their neighborhood if Measure C passes in November. He said he and his neighbors have already seen an influx of homeless people, and he thinks more will come if the measure passes.

On the flip side, Beltran said he's already seen an uptick of real estate investors swooping up properties.

"There are people that support the Chargers in this neighborhood," he said. "A lot of people in community may not understand the impact of what the stadium's going to do on them. They don't know anything about gentrification. Some people don't know the rising property values are going to go up and they're going to be pushed out – they don't understand the correlation between that."

The Chargers are asking voters to approve an increase in the city's hotel-room tax to help pay for the new stadium, which would also include a Convention Center annex.

The San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council, a coalition of 22 local construction and trade unions, has come out in support of the proposal, but Carol Kim, the council's director of community engagement, said the support comes with strings attached.

Kim said she's been talking to people in Barrio Logan and the other neighborhoods surrounding East Village about their stadium concerns. She said her conversations almost always stray toward the community's more deep-seated problems.

"That's really where it gets tricky because these concerns they're dealing with, things like gentrification, things like parking and traffic, environmental concerns, health concerns, other mitigation, all of those things are things that are really big, complex issues and they're the culmination of basically decades of neglect," she said.

Kim took the community concerns she collected to a meeting with the Chargers and walked away with a letter signed by the team's owner Dean Spanos. In it, he commits to a community benefits agreement, or a contract with community groups from Barrio Logan and surrounding communities. Nothing is set in stone yet, but the letter lays out a framework that says the Chargers will consider doing things like starting a public land trust and pitching in money to help build affordable housing, help create a parking district, put on job fairs and outreach events to hire folks from those communities to work at the stadium and offer job-training and apprentice opportunities.

Of course, everything is contingent on whether the ballot measure passes in November, but Kim said she thinks the opportunities the Chargers are offering are the only set of solutions available.

"Right now it seems very apparent that there's a lack of leadership at the city level to address these problems," she said. "So absent that leadership, here's an opportunity for us to actually try and do something, and we've got a stakeholder here who's willing to contribute some significant resources toward doing something about these problems, where, what else is on the table right now? There's not a lot."

When I contacted the Chargers, the team’s spokesperson put me in touch with Marcela Escobar-Eck, principal of Atlantis Group Land Use Planning. Escobar-Eck, who was brought on as a local land-use consultant, said the team is interested in working with Barrio Logan and the other nearby neighborhoods to soften the negative impacts of a new stadium. She said she thinks the Chargers can do things to ensure the arts community isn't pushed out.

"I think there are definitely going to be opportunities to not only bring the Barrio art movement to East Village, but to continue to have the East Village art movement there," she said.

Escobar-Eck said the land trust could be used to build affordable space for artists and galleries, and ointed out that the current stadium plans include a space for a museum. She said it's too early to say, but it's possible the museum could serve as a resource for Barrio Logan and all of the Greater Logan Heights neighborhoods.

When Beltran found out about the letter and the possible community benefits agreement, he voiced his complaints in a Facebook post.

“No matter how many benefits are given by the Chargers and the city in a community benefits agreement they won't be enough to stop the displacement of renting residents and small businesses from Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights and Logan Heights,” he wrote. “The barrios might get some new shit but will the new shit be enough to make up for getting pushed out? Nope. That new shit will be for the gentrifiers.”

Logan Avenue Is Blowing Up

Also on the podcast, I talk to Alan Cassell, a real estate investor and consultant who's working on three new projects (here's a peak at one of them) on a block of Logan Avenue in Barrio Logan that's seen an explosion of new businesses, art galleries and redevelopment.

I also pop in on artist Chris Martino and chat with his business partner Paul Basile about their new galleries and creative spaces they're building on Logan Avenue.

Jun 24, 2016

Most days, at least a couple of tour groups can be spotted making their way through Chicano Park, the park tucked under the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan.

Folks stop to snap selfies in front of the colorful, Mexican-themed murals as they learn about the park's history and significance.

Each mural has a story. Each artist who helped paint the murals has a story. And of course, the park itself has a story that's packed with politics, turmoil and community pride.

For now, volunteer tour guides - local educators, historians, longtime neighborhood residents and the Chicano Park muralists themselves – are the keepers of the park's history.

But those guides are getting older and some have already passed away. That's part of what's behind the push to turn a currently vacant, city-owned building that borders the park into a museum where the park's narrative can be stored and accessed by the public for decades to come.

In episode three of Culturecast, VOSD's new podcast covering the intersection of art and gentrification in Barrio Logan, I dig deep into the movement to open the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center.

May 17, 2016

The first episode of Culturecast, our new podcast that for its first season examines the tensions created by gentrification and the artistic renaissance in Barrio Logan, ended on a cliffhanger.

This week, we pick up where we left off and dig into the challenges local developer Greg Strangman faced after rehabbing a few buildings in Barrio Logan.

Strangman’s firm spruced up two apartment buildings and a few commercial units on Logan Avenue, a street that’s become the center of the artistic renaissance happening in the historically under-served, Latino neighborhood. Soon after the projects were finished, the grumblings from the community began.

Strangman opened the project with a bang in January by inviting two local arts nonprofits to take over the residential buildings for a night with a huge exhibition featuring almost two dozen San Diego artists. CityBeat arts reporter Seth Combs slammed the “Parallel” show. There were fliers and posters advertising the building’s available units hanging throughout the event, and Combs said that made the whole thing feel like a sham.

“‘Parallel’ wasn’t an art event,” Combs wrote. “It was a carefully staged marketing party that happened to include some art.”

Combs said the project itself was a bellwether of the onslaught of gentrification in Barrio Logan.

I sat down with Combs and Strangman to talk about the neighborhood’s transformation and whether there’s a right way to redevelop a neighborhood like Barrio Logan. Strangman defended his event, talked about his passion for art and culture and said he moved his company’s office to Barrio Logan because he genuinely digs the vibe there.

“After sourcing out North Park, South Park, Little Italy, Mission Hills, we kind of settled on Barrio Logan [and decided it] was going to be an ideal home for us because of some of the cultural history and the richness of the people that are here,” he said.

Also on the podcast, a real estate agent who grew up in Barrio Logan offers his take on gentrification, and a business owner who rents one of Strangman’s commercial spaces and has been in business for 16 years talks about the good and bad effects of the change he’s seeing. Strangman also directly addresses criticisms of an art installation – an old scoreboard alongside a controversial quote – that’s on the outside of one of his buildings, and details why he thinks the neighborhood is safe from big, bad development, at least for now.

“I think it’s going to grow really organically,” he said. “I really do. I just don’t see anything coming in here and tearing this place apart – I just don’t see it,” he said. “I could be wrong. … But who knows, maybe a Chargers stadium will come in and change the whole dialogue.”

Apr 26, 2016

Milo Lorenzana and Teresa Montero are just two of the dozens of people who've been driving an arts renaissance in Barrio Logan. Their most recent project is the redevelopment of an old building on Logan Avenue where they've opened a coffee shop and leased out the rest of the space in the building to a record store, an art school, a vintage shop and other small locally owned businesses. Milo and Bucky are wary of all the outside developers setting up shop in Barrio Logan right now. But they, too, have stepped into the role of developers themselves now, so they're being extra careful with how they go about things. They want to be the change they want to see happen throughout the rest of their neighborhood.