On Feb. 20, Albertsons will close its City Heights store forever, leaving nearly 75,000 residents without access to a major supermarket.

Within minutes of the news hitting the streets, conversations concerning the implications of the loss began to ripple across the internet. “Why was the City Heights store targeted for closure?” “When will we get a replacement?” “I don’t know what store would be better, but I know what store I don’t want moving into our community.”

As information regarding next steps starts to surface, one question remains unanswered: “How can City Heights residents ensure that their voices are heard regarding what new store sets up shop in their neighborhood?”

Whether you fall on the side of those grieving the loss of Albertsons or those bidding “good riddance,” all residents seem to agree on two issues. City Heights, including its 16 sub-neighborhoods, requires more than a smattering of small and specialty grocers and convenience stores to meet its needs. And, as future customers and neighbors, residents deserve a say in what eventually takes Albertsons’ place.

Thanks to the internet, advances in social media and a growing base of knowledge about best practices in civic engagement, there is no excuse for City Heights residents to be the last to know the future of the soon-to-be-vacant retail space.

Community forums, online surveys and polling, even a low-tech wall outside Albertsons where people could leave suggestions on Post-it notes — all of these are simple and low-cost ways for people to have their say. Civic engagement done well is not just about sharing information. It’s about providing opportunities for people to come together, solve community problems and define their futures.

Although Kimco, the property manager for the Albertsons space, is “in discussions” with potential replacement tenants, we realize that the bottom line good-for-business decision may ultimately prevail.

But the history of recent redevelopment in City Heights is rooted in public-private partnerships that were informed and enriched by community input. This may be a private business transaction between a landlord and a tenant, but engaging City Heights residents in the selection process could promote positive feelings of community ownership, resulting in a more loyal customer base.

What’s good for the people can be good for business, too.

Home prices in City Heights are finally on the upswing. Buyers are discovering the community’s many assets — a variety of diverse neighborhoods, affordable starter homes, improving schools and easy access to public transportation.

Our neighborhoods are attracting young, middle-class families. More desirable home buyers will come if City Heights offers the basic amenities they require. That means an accessible, clean and well-managed supermarket, with well-stocked shelves and excellent customer service. If this amenity isn’t offered, they won’t buy or they will simply go outside the neighborhood to shop.

City Heights is a place where residents know what they want and need, and will speak out on the issues that matter. Now is the time for active civic engagement to ensure that the voices of people with good ideas are heard, and the decision-makers are truly listening.

Felicia Shaw is a resident of Azalea Park in City Heights, and works for the San Diego Foundation. Shaw’s commentary has been lightly edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

Catherine Green

Catherine Green was formerly the deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handled daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects.

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