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In the tiny South Bay community of Lincoln Acres, even the cemetery has its hold-outs.
They’re buried on an ungraded dirt and weed-covered hill at La Vista Memorial Park, in a section called Rest Haven. Their neighbors enjoy manicured plots and tidy headstones maintained by the cemetery’s groundskeepers, for a lifetime fee.
But the residents of Rest Haven don’t care. If they wanted grass they would have paid for it. They like the overgrown flowers and the hand-fashioned wooden crosses that serve as their tombstones, their names and dates etched into them with blades. Families who maintain the plots don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of the cemetery. Hence the garden growing on top of Loi Thi Nguyen.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, for Lincoln Acres, a small unincorporated neighborhood entirely bound by National City. Its residents take pride in what they are — independent, if a little ragged — and what they’re not: National City. The community of roughly 2,100 has fought off several attempts by the city to annex it and its residents are suspicious of any movement that has a whiff of conformity.
There’s the issue of higher taxes, of course, but they also prefer less stringent rules on pets. They can keep livestock.
“Not everyone wants to be run by the city,” said Carol Casares, a volunteer at the Lincoln Acres Branch Library. “We want our chickens and ducks.”
Surrounded by National City’s heavily industrial landscape, Lincoln Acres is a peculiar blip. It is a 227-acre residential neighborhood with a small-town rural flare. Larger parcels lend themselves to more open space, and some streets lack sidewalks.
“I once saw a man walking his goat on a leash,” said Jose Ocadiz, manager of the library.
At 854 square feet, the library is the county’s smallest.
“Campo’s used to be smaller,” Ocadiz said. “But they got a brand-spanking-new one — 2,400 square feet.”
Maneuvering around its single room, mothers pushing strollers bump into each other, laughing out loud. There’s no point in a quiet policy. Even whispers are heard.
Next door sits the headquarters of the Lower Sweetwater Fire Protection District, home to the community’s only elected body. The district board uses property tax money to contract with National City for fire services. Lincoln Acres has neither fire trucks nor firefighters of its own.
The contract is straight-forward, almost a rubber stamp. Still no reason, residents say, to dissolve the board. They voted down a proposal to do that in 2002.
Loosening their grip on the functions they controlled could be a slippery slope. It might lead to annexation, they feared. The same fears led them to rally against a proposal that the library be relocated to nearby Granger Middle School, in National City.
“It was just another way to get annexation,” Casares said. “For the city to expand its tax base.”
Many residents pay for P.O. boxes at the tiny Lincoln Acres post office, which is open two hours a day. Mail delivered to their homes is addressed to National City, but the P.O. boxes carry a Lincoln Acres address.
“They like the sound of it. It sounds like country,” Casares said.
Residents call it “The Acres.”
“When I first heard of Lincoln Acres I thought it was out in Borrego Springs, because just the name of it sounded like it was the boonies,” Ocadiz said.
Ten minutes standing at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Leonard Street will quickly disabuse you of that notion.
From her house on Van Ness Avenue, Linda Garcia hears the sounds of cars zooming downhill to the dead end.
At the top of the street, dilapidated ice cream trucks turn off their chimes and whistles, turn the corner, and race down Van Ness, to restock at the wholesale ice cream warehouse at the end of it.
“I don’t know how those trucks pass smog,” said Violet Baldrica, Garcia’s neighbor.
“You can’t even breathe when they go past you,” said James Small, Baldrica’s father.
The ice cream trucks share the street with tow trucks delivering impounded goods to the tow yard at the end of the street, day and night.
Their street is one of the many in Lincoln Acres where National City meets unincorporated San Diego County. They technically live in the city. The houses across the street are unincorporated.
“This place is a trip,” said Garcia, who grew up in the neighborhood. “It’s like a little Pleasantville.”
On the side of a hill across from her house, beyond the ice cream warehouse, goats bray and emu ruffle their feathers behind a raised fence. It’s the neighborhood livestock daycare.
“People take their animals there when they go on vacation,” Garcia said.
Early in the mornings, locals push shopping carts full of aluminum cans to the recycling center that also operates at the cul-de-sac. Occasionally, they let go, and the carts go rolling down hill, crash, and tip over.
The goats on the hill nearby are startled silent, but only for a moment.
“I sit on that old car fender,” Small said, pointing to his daughter’s nearby car, “and watch what goes up and down the road. You’d be amazed at some of the crap that goes on.”
He shrugs it off. It doesn’t really bother him.
Residents find it charming.
“The Acres is a good neighborhood,” Casares said.