I’ve lived in Sherman Heights for over 15 years. I fell in love with the community and its amazing architecture at first sight.
In 2000 I began looking to buy a home in this neighborhood. For almost a year, I knocked on people’s doors and asked if they knew of anyone interested in selling their home. It eventually worked.
Since I moved in, I have always wanted to put Sherman Heights in the best light. I created a website for Sherman Heights in 2004 to showcase all the great architecture and events in our community. I have been involved in many projects in our neighborhood; from being on the board of the Sherman Heights Community Center and the Friends of the Villa Montezuma Museum to graffiti removal, the expansion of cultural events and an art installation on our trolley stop on 25th and Imperial.
With the increase of development happening downtown and the East Village, Sherman Heights residents have seen an increase in homeless people, especially in the Interstate 5 underpass from 17th to 19th streets on Imperial Avenue. It quickly went from being only a shelter from occasional rain to a daily encampment.
I am very lucky that I get to walk from my home to Petco Park; however, walking through that underpass made me aware of the need to clean it. It smells of urine and there’s trash everywhere.
I am aware of some of the needs of our homeless population. I have volunteered many times at St. Vincent De Paul in the soup kitchen. I know the work homeless service organizations do, and I realize some people who are homeless don’t want to be or can’t live in a shelter setting.
I have met many neighbors who have become lifelong friends. Recently, we have been working together on compassionate solutions to help our community deal with homelessness. There’s even a Facebook group called Compassionate Solutions that helps facilitate dialog.
I personally have not had any bad interactions with homeless people in our neighborhood, but hearing so many stories of residents in our area made me very aware of the importance of coming up with solutions. In one of the meetings of Compassionate Solutions – a local group of residents from Sherman Heights, Logan and Grant Hill – Martha Zapata, a friend and now the official representative of our Councilman David Alvarez, informed us of the “rock garden” we were getting in the underpass and the cleaning up that had been scheduled.
Our first reaction was relief that our underpass was going to be cleaned. When we saw images of the proposed rocks, though, my husband and I thought they looked harsh, but we also hoped the rock garden might help. In my mind, though, the rock garden was going to include succulents and more rounded rocks.
After the jagged, sharp rocks were installed, it was very hurtful to see the articles and accusations from homeless advocates that Sherman Heights residents requested those rocks. Our request was to increase the lighting and for cleanup to be done consistently in that area.
After the rocks went in, I immediately started looking into what I would actually like to see happen in the underpass. I have always been of the mind that if you want something done, you can’t just complain and not offer a solution.
I started doing some research on solutions for underpasses around the world. I was most inspired by the art installations in underpasses I found. I found a great project done in Scotland. The concept included a black-and-white silhouette painting of the community on the side walls, and LED lighting that simulated the hue changes over the course of day and night.
Why can’t Sherman Heights do something like that and make our underpass a destination point instead of a place someone wants to avoid because of the smell and the trash?
In our underpass, I see the possibility for a beautiful cityscape silhouette of the Hotel Del, Balboa Park, the historic Villa Montezuma Museum, Belmont Park and other iconic local buildings.
I am grateful that Voice of San Diego recently helped turn away the blame from Sherman Heights residents by uncovering the fact that the city itself put the jagged rocks in the underpass as part of preparations for the upcoming All Star Game.
Perhaps now the city can consider asking what Sherman Heights residents really want to see in the problematic space. We just want a safe experience walking through our community. It’s that simple.
Pita Verdin is a resident and homeowner in Sherman Heights. Verdin’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.