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I’ve been exploring City Council District 1 this week to understand what its residents care about. I’ve been hiking its canyons, tasting the local cuisine and killing my cell phone’s battery along the way.
My goal is to talk with residents and understand what they care about. Then I’m going to sit down with the four candidates vying to represent them and see what they think about the same issues.
Below, I’ve compiled a few short stories from my travels throughout the district. I still have a couple days left, so if there’s something you think I should see or learn about, please get in touch by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Linda Miller’s Rabbit
To many in District 1, the environment appears to be their most passionate connection to public services. Philanthropists have helped their libraries stay open longer than most in the city and keep their schools well-equipped. Crime isn’t big concern here.
But city parks, natural preserves and sandy beaches stretch to all corners of District 1. They provide views that residents pay millions to have, walkways to exercise and pockets of wilderness for children to explore.
When I asked Linda Miller how the city could improve her quality of life in Carmel Valley, she paused for few seconds. She couldn’t think of anything, she said. The roads are pretty smooth and her family seems content.
But then she remembered that the city had recently closed a trail to mountain bikers at the Carmel Mountain Preserve just south of Highway 56. Her family used to ride that trail. Now they can’t.
“We were kind of upset,” Miller said. “It would be nice to just enjoy.”
I met Miller at the preserve’s parking lot while waiting to meet Gary Levitt, chairman of Del Mar Mesa’s community planning board. Levitt was running a few minutes late, so I struck up a conversation with Miller.
Her biggest concern at the time wasn’t anything City Hall could fix. She didn’t talk about reforming city pensions, restoring library hours or improving streets like many politicians running for office this year. Miller’s top priority was a rabbit destroying her yard.
That morning, she had finally caught the rabbit in a trap and came to the preserve to set it loose. She said she felt relieved to know it will be far from her yard on the other side of the highway. And she hoped residents bordering the preserve won’t begrudge her for putting it closer to theirs.
Mike Rosenberg’s Trolley
Traffic is a big concern in District 1, so Mike Rosenberg said he’s excited about a proposed trolley line extending to UC San Diego.
As a resident of La Jolla, he wants the trolley to avoid the traffic and parking frustrations that come with driving downtown. As the managing director of the La Jolla Playhouse, he wants the trolley to connect a citywide arts and culture community.
“You have to go out and find it. You have to look for it,” Rosenberg said of the city’s arts scene. “This would make our backyard much bigger.”
Rosenberg said he’s optimistic about the estimated $1.2 billion project, but isn’t holding his breath either. It’s not fully funded and has already been pushed back for years. He wants the city to keep up the pressure and get it done.
Rosenberg also said he wants to see the city continue funding the arts and even expand its grants program. “The city’s making far more than they spend on us,” Rosenberg said. “It’s hard to think of a world-class city without the arts that exist there.”
Lorrain Duffy’s Sidewalk
Lorrain Duffy moved to La Jolla because she wanted to live in a more walkable neighborhood. She got sick of worrying about snakes and cougars in San Elijo Hills, she said. She’s more interested in boutiques and window shopping.
But her weekly walks through La Jolla have spurred their own frustrations. “This is not what I would expect,” Duffy said Wednesday morning, stepping over cracks in the sidewalk. “The city doesn’t really have a maintenance plan.”
Duffy grew up and spent 40 years living near Detroit. She never expected its sidewalks, stressed by much harsher winters, would be in better shape than those in San Diego. “I don’t remember the sidewalks looking this bad in Michigan,” she said.
But what really annoys Duffy is the perception that La Jolla, one of San Diego’s most affluent communities, has been immune from infrastructural decay. “People think ‘Oh, La Jolla,’” Duffy said, waving her arms in a mocking fashion, “but then you fall in a hole.”
Along our walk, I asked Duffy why fixing sidewalks should be a high priority. Ultimately, she said, it comes down to neighborhood pride. “We care about how things look.”
Nancy Warwick, owner of Warwick’s Bookstore, shared a similar view of the sidewalks. She wants these “signs of neglect” repaired so shoppers like Duffy continue walking by each week.
“We want the village to be beautiful and inviting, and we don’t look too good when you look close,” she said.
Janay Kruger’s Fire Stations
Jobs aren’t the concern in University City. Janay Kruger, chairwoman of the neighborhood’s planning board, already sees a huge potential for growth among high-tech and bio-tech entrepreneurs.
The concern, Kruger said, is matching that expansion with public services like fire protection and transportation. In both cases, Kruger said UC San Diego is the 800-pound gorilla that no politician has had the guts to reckon with.
“No one from the city has ever put pressure on them to contribute,” Kruger said. “I tell them what I want. I want a fire station. They pay for nothing.”
Kruger actually wants two new fire stations in University City. The first would be located in the neighborhood’s southern area, where residents have long been concerned about slow response times. The second station would be located near the university’s campus to accommodate the additional growth.
Kruger said the community already has funding to build the first fire station. It’s collected about $14 million from new construction fees that could pay for it. “We got the money,” Kruger said. “The city has just been dragging their feet because they don’t have the money to staff them.”
But the second station? Kruger wants UCSD to pay for that one. She said growth in the area has been driven by partnerships between the campus and entrepreneurs, and it’s about time the campus begins paying for some of the supporting services.
A good start, Kruger said, would be providing land for the trolley Rosenberg talked about. Those details, along with much of the project’s federal funding, are still to be hashed out.
Will Moore’s Backboard
Business attorney Will Moore lives in Torrey Hills, one of San Diego’s newest neighborhoods tucked east of Torrey Pines and south of Carmel Valley. Most of it was built 15 years ago.
So Torrey Hills doesn’t have problems with decaying infrastructure like other parts of the district. “Things have not really started to deteriorate,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of hot-button issues to complain about.”
Later, Moore did think of one possible fix. He said the basketball courts at the neighborhood’s park could use new backboards — the current ones are a little flimsy.
A few seconds passed and Moore laughed at his own suggestion. He conceded that other residents and the cash-strapped city government must have bigger needs at the moment.
“We’re pretty high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” he said.
Alexander Granatoff’s Library
I met Alexander Granatoff on Wednesday outside La Jolla’s public library. I wanted to write this story. He wanted to catch up with friends through email and charge his cell phone.
However, both of us were locked out of the library because it wasn’t scheduled to open until 12:30 p.m. My wristwatch showed the time was a few minutes after 11 a.m.
Granatoff said he wishes the neighborhood’s library was open more often, but said it still seems a lot better here than his hometown, Richmond.
“Everything’s so great,” he said, pointing to the blue sky above. “What can be better? Maybe they should just stand out there and throw out money.”
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