At least one official has publicly emphasized the need for more basic services along the trolley lines.

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The sense conveyed is that this can’t be remedied without extensive studies or a significant shifting of resources. But one way to study that idea would be to check their own backyard: Just look to Lemon Grove.

Lemon Grove is a small, blue-collar city with a diverse population. More than that, it’s a city on the move.

Young families looking for affordable housing close to employment centers turn to Lemon Grove for options. New stores and restaurants are opening, as businesses take advantage of the growing residential density in the downtown core. It’s a city that emphasizes serving the public.

The trolley station at Lemon Grove Avenue and Broadway is an example of that. The Lemon Grove transit station has amenities that other stations lack. It’s park-adjacent, with public art in the nearby promenade inviting transit riders to explore our city’s history. Traditional and futuristic windmills provide electricity to the park’s solar trees. The station itself has shelter for both bus and trolley riders, and a convenience store with city-required healthy food choices.

READ MORE: San Diego’s Most-Used Trolley Stops

But this took years to develop. In 1998, recognizing that our city was “98 percent built out,” the City Council got to work on a plan for downtown. After considering input from various community stakeholders, the Council adopted the Lemon Grove Downtown Specific Plan in 2005. The plan emphasized providing attractive public spaces, carrying out transit-oriented development and building on the unique character and community of the city.

In 2010, Lemon Grove jumped on the opportunity to initiate a public-private project that took advantage of the trolley station, two heavily used bus stops, a public right-of-way and adjacent properties that were economically underutilized.

Using redevelopment incentives, grants from SANDAG and the state and private developer financing with Hitzke Development, the city built a 1.2-acre downtown park called the Main Street Promenade, a 56-unit affordable housing complex and an 80-unit senior apartment complex. MTS and SANDAG spent approximately $200,000 on shelter and security enhancements at the station as part of their Trolley Renewal Project.

One other unique amenity: public restrooms.  These are the only public restrooms on MTS’s Orange Line. Though it cost the city approximately $135,000 to build and around $3,000 annually to maintain, it was an important feature to provide for effectively serving MTS bus and trolley riders. Since its opening a year ago, the city estimates the restrooms are used between 375 and 400 times each month, with minimal vandalism or criminal activity.

On top of that, because of the efforts of the city’s former redevelopment agency, Hitzke Development and the community, businesses such as the Lemon Grove International Market are opening next to the Main Street Promenade. The entire area has become rider- and visitor-friendly, a destination in its own right.

As other cities and elected officials struggle to help their communities handle the wants and needs of the public transit rider, Lemon Grove can serve as a model.

Mary Sessom is mayor of Lemon Grove. Sessom’s commentary has been 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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