(Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood daily. They are spending Monday in and around Nestor.)

San Diego is a city of neighborhoods, but Nestor, in the South Bay, is suffering an identity crisis. Its mail carrier knows that better than anyone.

“Nobody knows this is Nestor,” Ramiro Garcia said Monday afternoon as he was loading his truck up with a bunch of mail from a local Postal Annex. “Everyone thinks it’s Imperial Beach.”

A telltale sign that a family is new to the neighborhood? They’ll have their mail addressed to the right street address, but the wrong city. Imperial Beach’s Post Office will forward it to Nestor’s, and it’s left to Garcia to correct their mistake.

“I have to tell them, ‘This isn’t Imperial Beach!’” he said. “It’s San Diego.”

Nestor and the surrounding South Bay neighborhoods of Egger Highlands and Palm City are suffering from many problems. Their infrastructure is aging, their commercial corridors are packed with unsightly auto shops and recycling centers and their residential neighborhoods have been packed since the proliferation of subdivisions in the middle of last century.

But they have a more fundamental problem. They lack the sense of identity that makes many San Diego neighborhoods — like Hillcrest, Barrio Logan, even San Pasqual — neighborhoods. It stems from the way they’ve developed and from their separation from the rest of San Diego, geographically interrupted by Chula Vista and National City.

It’s a problem San Diego city planners recognized 15 years ago, when they tried to figure out how they could try to stamp the neighborhoods with a sense of identity and belonging.

But a big part of the neighborhoods’ problem was their location. In 1957, the city of San Diego annexed a big swath of the South Bay adjacent to Imperial Beach from San Diego County. Not long afterward, developers started subdividing the land that contained roughly 1,000 residential units, turning the mostly rural community into the suburban snarl it is today.

By the time the City Council intervened and started downzoning in the late 1970s, it was too late. Only a few large parcels remain in the Nestor and Palm City neighborhoods, toward the south where they approach the Tijuana River Valley.

There’s no neighborhood center in Nestor (named after late state assemblyman Nestor Young) or Egger Highlands (named after Robert Egger, one of its largest landowners) or Palm City (named after tree-lined Palm Avenue). Today, the neighborhoods are pocked with houses, mobile home parks, motels and only a few main shopping centers. Planners hoped those shopping centers could be rebranded to provide points of pride in the neighborhoods and distinguish them from nearby Imperial Beach.

But Garcia has noticed that even Nestor’s business owners make the mistake. In their advertisements, they list their decidedly San Diego businesses in Imperial Beach. It would just make Garcia’s job a lot easier if people would start getting it right. The mistake is understandable from new residents. Not so much so from business owners.

“But I have to tell them too,” he said.

I’m reporting from Nestor and surrounding South Bay neighborhoods today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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