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.”
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.