Myrtle Cole, who’s running for San Diego’s District 4 council seat, sees herself as an heir to former Councilmen Charles Lewis and George Stevens.

From Lewis, who was elected in 2002 and died two years later, Cole took his vision of building a “Gaslamp East,” a mixed-used corridor of shops, housing and restaurants in the city’s southeastern neighborhoods reminiscent of downtown’s successful Gaslamp District. It’s her development plan.

From Stevens, Lewis’ predecessor who held the seat for more than a decade and died in 2006, Cole has updated his idea for fighting negative perceptions about the district. Stevens famously held a mock funeral to rid the name “Southeast” from the city’s lexicon because he believed it evoked drugs and violence. Cole wants to bury the newer shorthand “Southeastern” for the same reasons. She would like the public to identify the district’s communities by their names — Encanto, Valencia Park, Paradise Hills and 14 others.

“I have them in me, I think,” Cole said of Lewis and Stevens in an interview. “I’m going to be standing on their shoulders.”

Cole has longtime ties to city politics. She worked in various council offices since the early 1990s, most recently as an office manager for outgoing District 4 Councilman Tony Young, as well as on city campaigns. Her most recent job, as a coordinator with the local home health care workers union, linked her with the city’s labor movement. The San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, the region’s union umbrella group, and the local Democratic Party have endorsed her.

She moved to San Diego from Arizona in the 1970s to work as a police officer for the Community College District.

Cole and I sat down earlier this week to talk about the big issues facing the district.

On Healthy, Affordable Groceries and Locally Owned Restaurants

Cole wants to bring a breadth of new food options to the district, such as supermarkets like Ralphs or Vons, and seafood and steak restaurants.

She’s already met with interest groups representing San Diego restaurants and independent grocers and plans to lean on labor for help bringing supermarkets to the district. Mickey Kasparian, who heads the union representing food and commercial workers, told her he would help.

“I’m depending on him as well as other community leaders,” she said.

Cole also plans to work with the area’s newly reformed business improvement district to help train local business owners in sustainable practices.

Her Gaslamp East idea will help attract healthy and diverse food options, she said. Updates to development blueprints, known as community plans, just began in district neighborhoods in and around Encanto and in Mountain View. Cole said she’s spoken with city planners who told her the best location for the kind of mixed-use development she envisions is along a half-mile stretch of Imperial Avenue between 61st and 63rd streets.

On District 4’s Demographics

The district’s Hispanic and Asian populations now outnumber its black population, even though blacks have long held political power.

Cole, who is black, said she plans to hire Asians and Latinos on her staff and have newsletters and other correspondence in Spanish.

“I want my office to reflect the community,” she said.

On the Influence of the Jacobs Center

Cole was non-committal on the $500 million housing and retail development plans of the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. She said she wanted to share her opinions with the center’s new CEO before she aired them publicly.

She is against building a Walmart in the district. The Jacobs Center has been in negotiations with the company for more than 18 months to anchor part of its development. She said she’d rather break off talks with Walmart and start again with a different company even if it took longer to get something built.

“I’m not a person to settle,” Cole said. “I’d rather have the best for the next 50 years than settle for wages that are almost poverty wages.”

On Public Safety

District 4 suffers from two major public safety problems. The district has a reputation as a crime haven, even though it has had the third-lowest overall crime rate in the past three years. But an outsized share of San Diego’s murders occurs in District 4.

Cole plans to meet with the city’s gang commission and neighborhood leaders to better understand the district’s violent crime challenges.

Many of the problems, she said, spring from a lack of jobs and economic development. She wants to promote job-training programs for ex-felons and make it easier for them to get jobs despite their criminal histories.

Seeing the district as a collection of neighborhoods will also help change perceptions about crime, she said. She thinks installing more community signs throughout the district will help.

Her experience as a police officer would help her understand the Police Department’s needs and prioritize public safety funding in the budget, she said.

Cole’s Achilles’ Heel

Cole used to live in the city’s Redwood Village neighborhood. It’s part of the newly reconfigured District 4, but this election will take place under the old lines. Cole moved into the old District 4 in late December, just beating the residency requirement for the election.

The move is a frequent topic at campaign forums, and Cole struggles to address it. At a forum last week, Cole was asked how long she’s lived in the district. She didn’t answer directly and instead emphasized how long she’s worked in the community.

“This district came to me,” she said.

Her supporters face the same problem. A Cole campaign flier paid for by a labor PAC says she’s, “lived and worked here for more than 20 years.”

Cole admitted the flier could have been phrased more accurately.

Her residency continues to come up, she said, because opponents have nothing better to attack her with.

“There’s nothing else to say about me,” she said.

Get in Touch With Her

Office phone + email: 619-735-4526 +


Facebook: Myrtle Cole for City Council

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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