Bishop George McKinney’s language of redevelopment took me by surprise.

For a developer, he didn’t use traditional developers’ jargon. He used terms like “community uplift” and “felt needs” in place of terms like “community redevelopment” or “lack of services.”

I noticed it when he spoke about his plans for developing the long-stalled Valencia Business Park a few days after the Southeastern Economic Development Corp. selected him for the task late last month.

“We’ve been involved in community uplift since the very beginning,” he said of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ, where he is the senior pastor. “Social, economic, housing, and so forth.”

McKinney is a community and religious leader in southeastern San Diego. He is one of the most prominent voices within the large African-American community there, where he leads the 500-member congregation that gathers each week at the church across the street from the Valencia Business Park. He also oversees 40 churches county-wide affiliated with the Church of God in Christ.

His language reflects his role as a spiritual and community leader, but also his philosophy on the role redevelopment should play in a poor neighborhood like this one.

His plans for Valencia Business Park are certainly a shift from earlier developers’ initial plans for industrial development. He said they are designed to address what he calls the community’s “felt needs” — a term that suggests a knowledge acquired by being a member of the community, not by economic studies, though he said his development partner is conducting those too.

Those needs include a grocery and drug store to satisfy the lack of local options, but also a health and dialysis clinic to address high rates of diabetes in the community, he said. A recording studio, he said, will be used by local young adults aspiring to careers in music.

At this point, they’re all ideas. McKinney has not received any commitments from tenants, a challenge that he said he and his development partners are prepared to take on.

He said he plans to hold several community meetings to gather input on what people want to see at Valencia Business Park. Those meetings will start once the City Council approves SEDC’s selection, McKinney said.

“When people who live in this community learn that family and local servants have been involved in developing a project that will provide meaningful job opportunities and healthcare, when they see progress and wealth turning over to people who look like them, they’ll be eager to support it,” he said.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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