Unexpected and Accelerated Sale of Two Key Properties in the Good Food District
The Good Food District in Southeast San Diego is at a critical juncture, with an unexpected “Land for Sale” signs posted on the Mt Hope Community Garden and the vacant lot across the street. These two pieces of property were centerpieces of the Good Food District regenerative place-making concept. The properties, owned by Civic San Diego, are accepting offers by April 12th with escrow scheduled to close by end of July. These properties have been vacant for decades and the accelerated timeline for sale of these two properties without community input is troubling for many of us invested in the growth of the Good Food District.
Good Food District, a Collective Agency for Developing an Alternative and Equitable Food Environment in Southeast San Diego
For the past year, San Diego Food System Alliance has been partnering with Project New Village to witness and support the evolution of the Good Food District in the neighborhoods of Mt Hope and Encanto in Southeast San Diego. Stories of the process employed to develop an alternative food system are captured in our quarterly “Food Leaders of the Good Food District” series (Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 3, event recap). The Good Food District, facilitated by Project New Village, is a place-making approach which builds upon the assets within the community of Southeast San Diego: vacant lots, food entrepreneurs, residents, and other partners.
The Good Food District aims to enhance urban agriculture’s connection to economic opportunity by changing the relationship between how people sell and source their food. Project New Village is engaging with restaurants and retail outlets in the Good Food District to shift their urban agriculture production based on demand. On the consumer end, Project New Village is working to mobilize neighborhood leaders in their community to engage the community around good food while pushing back against gentrification. For Project New Village, “good food” is food that is sustainable, equitable, healthy, affordable, and accessible for all residents.
The South-Side: Mt Hope Community Garden
The centerpiece of the Good Food District is the two properties owned by Civic San Diego. Project New Village has a long history with the “South-side” of the land. (Note that the “current use” of the property mentions “community garden” in the flyer below). Project New Village established the Mt. Hope Community Garden in 2011 on the one-third acre parcel of land with the support of City of San Diego Councilmembers Tony Young and Todd Gloria. It took two years for the garden to come to fruition during which Project New Village and others successfully advocated for landmark policy change that enabled other community gardens to exist in more places within the City of San Diego.
Advocacy was required to clear away the bureaucratic hurdle that kept the garden from being planted due to city zoning laws, prohibiting community gardens on land zoned for commercial use. After much due diligence from a county-wide coalition of supporters addressing community concerns via various public hearings and meetings on the issue; and a payment of $29,000 from the $50,000 allocated to Project New Village to cover cost for the City planning department, Project New Village broke ground for the Mt Hope Garden on September 28, 2011. The lease agreement for Mt Hope Community Garden triggered the beginning of deregulation of community gardens in the City of San Diego. Permit fees dropped from thousands of dollars to zero.
Mt Hope Community Garden is now a thriving community garden which many individuals often refer to as an inspiration and symbol for health and wellness. Diane Moss, Managing Director of Project New Village, reflects on the progress made to develop the garden and the community that’s been created around it.
“There was a woman in the neighborhood who was opposed to the garden in the beginning. She is now very involved. The people in this community really appreciate the garden in the neighborhood,” says Moss. For Ms. Moss, the garden is more than a place to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a place for residents to come together to discuss holistic solutions around health and wellness, band together to support each other and advocate for the food system they deserve. Southeast San Diego is often considered a food desert or a food swamp with lack of access to healthy food options.
The North-Side: Healthy Food and Housing Complex
The last several years, Project New Village has been envisioning the use of the “North-side” property on Market Street to create a “Healthy Food and Housing Complex”. To develop the place-making concepts, Ms. Moss has been working with a set of experts in the Good Food District Advisory Committee including food maker business accelerator organization, planners, developers, county health department, area business improvement district, philanthropic organization, landscape architects, culinary programs, land use experts, community organizers, academicians, political representatives and human capital specialists.
The community garden and the desire to use the “North-side” property for healthy food access is consistent with the City of San Diego Southeastern San Diego Community Plan. The Community Plan “promotes development of spaces that can be occupied by fresh food retailers and policies that promote community gardens, urban gardening, and farmers’ markets”.
Access to healthy food and economic opportunity are vital components which should be addressed in development projects, particularly in the Good Food District. Food is about health, but it is also about community. We request the City of San Diego and Civic San Diego to engage with Project New Village and the Good Food District Advisory Committee to discuss the use of the two properties before soliciting proposals from developers. Project New Village’s history and the experiences working with residents on the use of the properties provides a unique perspective around creating win-win-win solutions for the residents of this community as well as the City.
Contact: Diane Moss, Managing Director, Project New Village firstname.lastname@example.org