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Earlier this year, Voice of San Diego published an article on the history of the Frontier Housing Project, a once thriving diverse community located in the Midway District.
The article shared the historic truth that just before World War II, the Navy and federal government made plans to build thousands of units in the Midway neighborhood to accommodate the many workers supporting the military and defense contractors and manufacturers. That came out of concerns that they did not have adequate shelter, as many families were homeless and living in squalor, Voice reported.
This rediscovered history shared how Midway once contained one of only two integrated communities in San Diego, as follows:
“… Only two neighborhoods in San Diego allowed and accepted people of color in any significant concentration outside of southeastern San Diego before the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Frontier was one and Linda Vista was the other.”
The Frontier Housing Project would eventually provide low-cost housing for 20,000 residents – Black, Brown and White – with three schools to serve the new community.
But Point Lomans, who had long derided the construction of Frontier Housing requested that the new racially integrated community be “separated by a 10 or 12-acre strip.” Meanwhile city leaders called the community a “worthless slum” and an area with the greatest deterioration. By the 1950s, the city of San Diego had purchased most of the Frontier land and “was actively plotting to eradicate the neighborhood as soon as possible.”
The City told taxpayers that it would resell the property later for a considerable profit. But for the most part, it never did. The city found a developer who built the current Sports Arena and leased it for $1 per year in rent.
Currently, the city of San Diego is using the California Surplus Land Act – which aims to connect developers who are interested in building more affordable homes on surplus local public land that is both available and suitable for housing development – to lease the 48 acres of taxpayer land within the Midway District.
The goal of the CA Surplus Land Act is “to increase the availability of real property in California for affordable housing development by requiring the prioritization of affordable housing when selling or leasing public lands no longer necessary for agency use.”
Public lands should be used for the greatest public good – which in San Diego means housing, housing, and more housing. City leaders have articulated the importance of housing but the real test will be their decision at Midway.
As San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria has stated, “Residents who grew up here and want to remain here to raise families of their own. We cannot lose our resolve to house our own children in the face of people who fear change. That’s not how a thriving city works.”
San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera was equally unequivocal on the importance of housing when he wrote in a statement about the city’s eviction moratorium, “Housing is a human right.”
Regardless of which master plan is selected for the Midway redevelopment project, the city must focus on building as much housing as possible. The 48-acre site is primed and ready to go for affordable housing with ready access to transit, schools, shopping, and other amenities.
Simply stated, San Diego has a housing crisis, not an arena crisis.
It was recently reported that city staff removed one of the five final developers because they did not have an “arena partner” and could not demonstrate the “ability to renovate the existing sports arena.”
For the city to give priority to a state-of-the-art entertainment complex, intended to attract more concerts and minor-league sports teams, would be a gross example of misguided public planning.
Without sufficient housing, San Diego can’t attract new jobs. Higher education can’t attract students.
I strongly encourage the City Council and Mayor Gloria to match their rhetoric and prioritize the creation of expansive affordable and middle- income housing in the Midway district.
It’s been 60 years since the final 254 eviction notices were sent out to the last of the Frontier residents, putting the end to an era whose shameful legacy lingers today. Now, the city has the opportunity to do the right thing – provide the 48 acres for housing.
Don’t let history repeat itself.
Members of the City Council and Mayor Gloria must not repeat the mistakes of the past. They must find a new path forward to a more equitable and inclusive future for San Diego and especially the Midway District.