(Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood daily. They were in San Pasqual on Friday and will be in and around Nestor on Monday.)
To drive along San Pasqual’s Bandy Canyon Road, which winds past citrus groves, a sod farm and a shuttered dairy, is to drive through a San Diego neighborhood that is a big-city anomaly in almost every way. The homes in this northeastern-most community of the city of San Diego run on groundwater and lack high-speed internet and cable television. Two of the community’s now-gone businesses were devastated by events not usually at the top of a big city’s list of concerns: The dairy fell victim to the plummeting price of milk and the nearby general store to a wildfire.
Benjamin Quintero, a soft-spoken 23-year-old, has lived in the agricultural valley his entire life. All those years his father has worked in the fields that surround their little shoebox house, raising cows, tending an avocado grove on the hillside across the road and harvesting grain for hay bales in a nearby field.
At times, he said, his father would have liked to work in Escondido a few miles away, but couldn’t because he depended on the house that he rents from the city. It owns 55 houses in San Pasqual Valley, which it acquired when it bought up much of the agricultural land there in the 1950s. It rents them out cheap, but only to workers who make their living there.
So Quintero’s family has been tied to the land in San Pasqual not so much because they depend on it to feed themselves, but because they depend on it to house themselves. His father could work in Escondido, Quintero said, but he would be forced to move, and a house elsewhere would be too expensive.
When the city of San Diego bought much of the valley to secure water rights from the San Dieguito River Basin, it didn’t intend to get into the business of housing people.
But it found itself in new possession of a bunch of houses. So to promote economic activity on the agricultural preserve it rented them to the farmworkers, who now form a scattered community along the edges of San Pasqual’s fields. Those workers earn a living there because they have to earn a living somewhere. But like Quintero, who works at the San Diego Wild Animal Park nearby and whose father labors in the fields, they work in San Pasqual in part because to keep their houses, they have to.
During the 2007 fire, Quintero said, his father stayed behind with an uncle and fought back the approaching flames with a hose for several days. By doing that they averted the fate of other farmworkers down the road whose rented houses burned to the ground. Those who lost homes couldn’t return because the city of San Diego did not rebuild them.
The housing arrangement has intimately tied Quintero’s family to the valley, and he has enjoyed living there, he said. But at 23, he’s also frustrated by being so far from friends and the amenities of city life. He’s so unaccustomed to getting visitors that when we approached his house Friday afternoon, he said he thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. His 12-year-old sister, Adriana, struggles to stave off boredom when she gets home from school.
“It’s good,” Quintero said while his sister played with a new litter of puppies and kittens nearby. “But I’m not going to live here forever. It’s too far from everything.”
I was reporting from San Pasqual on Friday as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day. I’ll be in Nestor on Monday. Have a story idea for me? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.