Diana Ross can list off the ways that she sees inequity in City Heights: a lack of job opportunities, crime near schools, subpar education, and few elected representatives of color. But there’s one sign of the wealth gap between neighborhoods like City Heights and richer areas of San Diego that really gets under her skin.

“We’re, what, five miles from the beach? And we have kids from this neighborhood who have never seen a beach. There’s just something philosophically wrong with that.”

Ross is the executive director of the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (Mid-City CAN), one of many nonprofits in San Diego using moral arguments to try to bridge the equity gap in San Diego.

Now, they have economics to back them up.

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(LtoR) UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, Mid-City CAN Executive Director Diana Ross, and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation CEO Mark Cafferty discuss the implications of a USC report on San Diego’s economy.

How San Diego’s Disparities Impact Economic Growth

At the San Diego Grantmakers 2015 Annual Conference, philanthropists and community leaders discussed a new report from University of Southern California that asserts the region’s long-term growth will be stifled if we don’t address the existing system of social, economic, and environmental inequity. The report, Innovation and Inclusion: Demography, Equity, and the Future of San Diego, recommends a set of principles and strategies that could unite diverse regional stakeholders toward a more inclusive and sustainable future.

A lack of career pipelines, unreliable public transportation, and high housing costs among San Diego County’s low-income and predominantly non-white neighborhoods has led to the exclusion of those residents from San Diego’s high-tech economic sectors. This missed opportunity to develop a major portion of home-grown talent for San Diego’s future workforce has far-reaching social and economic repercussions.

Fixing all of these problems might seem like a lofty goal, but Jennifer Ito, a co-author of the report, says that there are organizations in San Diego working to change this.

“The good thing about San Diego is that it’s not like they need to choose which policy to start. There’s already a lot of effort happening. It’s about paying attention to the things happening in all different arenas.”

Increasing Civic Participation

One way that Ross’s group, Mid-City CAN, tries to bridge San Diego’s equity gap is by showing the youth of City Heights that they have a voice in the political process.

Her efforts parallel one of the report’s recommendations: increasing civic participation among low-income youth through “patient and intentional strategies to prepare the kind of leadership and the level of organization that can elevate and move the needle on community concerns.”

Mid-City CAN creates “momentum teams” that focus on a specific civic issue. One momentum team, the Mid-City CAN Youth Council, got a $1.75 million skate park built in City Heights. For Ross, those successful, community-based drives are the way to build civic engagement among low-income groups and truly begin to address the equity gap in San Diego.

“You can see the growth. We had kids come in, 12 or 13 [years old], and they were so shy … and when they’re done, they aren’t just leading a skate park campaign. They’re going off to college and they are taking on other community things that they want to do on their own.”

For Ito, that sort of engagement can carry on through a person’s entire life.

“Once you have residents bought into that process, they become important stewards, and ensure that [accountability] happens.”

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The Social Equity Funders is a philanthropy and community collaboration with the goal to contribute to the improved economic, social, and physical well being of San Diego’s low-income residents.

Increasing Political Representation

To Judy McDonald, co-chair of San Diego Grantmakers’ Social Equity Funders collaboration, the people representing various communities in San Diego do not reflect the county’s demographic shift of the past several decades.

In order to bridge this gap, the Social Equity Funders, with funding from The Parker Foundation and other San Diego Grantmakers members, recently launched a Leadership Development Project to allow potential leaders within disadvantaged communities to find pathways to public office.

One of the strategies is to identify natural leaders within various communities – those who would frequent PTA meetings or public forums, for example – and show them ways to augment their skills and, ideally, come to represent their communities in elected office.

“The idea is to get people who are interested in or have shown some leadership capacity moved into decision-making positions, and ultimately, into political positions,” McDonald said.

Eventually, McDonald hopes to see a San Diego where leaders across a broad spectrum of cultures and affiliations are connected and able to learn from each other.

Increasing Educational Attainment

Another of the report’s major recommendations is to “bolster community capacity through university partnerships,” a goal to which UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla has committed his university.

UC San Diego, which was ranked as the No. 4 school in the New York Times’ “College Access Index” measuring schools that do the most for low-income students, offers a program called UniversityLink, partnering with local community colleges to allow students to transfer to UC San Diego

“We want to ensure that if students in our community work hard and do their part academically, we are ready and able to help them succeed at UC San Diego.”

Khosla also pioneered the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars program, which allows high-achieving students from low-income communities to come to UCSD tuition-free. He is currently working to expand the program to allow 600 students to receive the scholarship per year.


On the Road to San Diego’s “New Economy”

The report (right), Innovation and Inclusion: Demography, Equity, and the Future of San Diego, recommends strategies to ensure San Diego’s future economic success.

Thanks to these types of efforts, combined with some of the other of the report’s recommendations to include the people and places traditionally left out of conversations about economic growth, San Diego can continue down the path toward a thriving “new economy” like those of Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, and even Silicon Valley, where business, community, and civic groups are actively working together to promote economic growth and confront inequity simultaneously.

How can you or your industry contribute to this pursuit of an equitable and economically viable San Diego?

The Innovation and Inclusion report was funded by Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, and The San Diego Foundation Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement – Climate Initiative.

San Diego Grantmakers is a network of engaged philanthropic organizations and individuals who give significantly and strategically to multiple nonprofits each year. To learn more about San Diego Grantmakers’ Social Equity Funders and its other funder and cross-sector collaborations, visit www.sdgrantmakers.org or call (858) 875-3333.

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