Both instrumental in and wary of these endeavors is the North Park Community Association, which formed in 1984 in response to the slowly but steadily changing landscape and increasing population as recommended by the Greater North Park Planning Committee, an advisory group to the city council that, at the time, had very little resident representation. Beth Swersie, president of the North Park Community Association, explains, "[The organization] started out in a time when the planning committee in the community was heavily populated with developers, and things were going differently than the general community really wanted in terms of knocking down bungalows and putting up six- and eight-plexes, what we call the Huffman Era. And eventually, a lot of the NPCA members ended up on the planning committee."
While the community association supports things like the renovation of the theater, it frowns upon the disruption and upheaval of some of North Park's finer features. To address this problem, the North Park History Committee was formed as an offshoot dedicated to preserving the neighborhood's landmarks. The reopening of the North Park theater has been a real treat for them. "[It] opened in 1929 as one of the first theaters set up for talkies," says Katherine Hon, secretary of the history committee, sitting across from the lily pond in Balboa Park. "[It's] really a beautiful theater, and it was empty after about '86. It was actually a church for a little while, and then it was just vacant, and then just in the last couple years it's been restored to essentially its original glory."
Among the history committee's efforts is a push to designate the area around 28th and Pershing a historic district, thereby placing heavy restrictions on the demolition of the residences, and a full-length book chronicling North Park from 1946 to 1996, originally authored by the late David Covington and now in the hands of the committee. At the forefront of the book's publication is Hon herself. "I would say [Covington] was probably about 90 percent done with it, and then he contracted leukemia and died in the summer of 2002," she explains. "And his wife, Karen, was trying to pull [the book] all together from his electronic files and his notes, and that was just really difficult for her. And then this June, I think, she felt she trusted me enough to turn it all over to me." The book is almost entirely laid out, and Hon and the committee hope for publication.
Understanding the groups formed to upgrade North Park is complicated at best. Swersie draws them out on a scrap of paper over coffee at the Other Side Coffeehouse. She explains, "There's the NPCA, and there's the planning committee. There's the PAC, which is for redevelopment issues. There's Main Street, which is our business improvement district. There's a MAD, which is the maintenance assessment district. [The North Park Community Association] keeps tabs on what's going on in all these other groups. We help out when we can, we offer community input, and we offer our website for getting the word out about what's going on in the community." The North Park maintenance assessment district picks up the slack where the City of San Diego leaves off, steam cleaning sidewalks and keeping public greenery fresh. The PAC advises the Redevelopment Agency on projects and tasks, and the business improvement district is called North Park Main Street, which acts as a liaison between the City and businesses, helping owners renovate their old buildings. Jude Thomas, Main Street's interim executive director, explains from a seat at his conference table, "Basically we're the business association, and we've been charged with the revitalization of University Avenue from Park Boulevard to 805." He continues, "I think the goal [is] to have a downtown area in North Park that is economically viable and self-sufficient in the sense that it serves the residents and the other businesses in the area so that people can come and get all their goods and services [locally]."
But still, there are skeptics. Despite the combined efforts of each committee and group, disdain remains palpable. "Actually, North Park's sort of a hole," Brandon Cornalo declares, as he puffs on a cigarette outside Scolari's Office, the dive bar/music venue just off University Avenue. Cornalo, 28 and a welder by trade, is a lifelong San Diegan and lived in North Park until recently, when he made his way to Clairemont. He doesn't appear to miss his old digs. "There's a lot of degenerate nigger fuckin' spic Jew bastards that don't give a fuck about anybody else," he continues. "It's the fuckin', for lack of better words, the legislature, you know, city council, whatever, they're trying to do better, with nice buildings and everything, but it's still not taking away from homeboy over here, wasted and fucking asking every Tom, Dick, or Harry that comes by for a cigarette." He jabs his own cigarette in the direction of a darkened doorway behind him where a duo of black men has camped out for the night. The "upgrading" of North Park doesn't impress Cornalo, as he rattles off a litany of problems: disrepair, homelessness, a populous existing largely without motivation. Most of these things, though, he attributes to a simple lack of caring, as he points out a bent traffic cone to his left. "There's plenty of money in the community of North Park," he says, "[and] if they give a shit they'd come out and repair that, but no, they're going to spend all their money on the goddamn richer parts of the city."
Cornalo's friend, Brian Bondie, gives his two cents. "I think in the last two years it's probably gotten a little seedier," he says. "[There are] more transients. More, I don't know, just like random troublemakers, trash talkin', stuff like that. I feel it's a result of this [indicates new condos on 30th Street], honestly. I do. [It's] gonna happen, you know, when you start cramming more people in here, no matter what, no matter where it's at, and when you're piling more people on top of each other. I think the problems are gonna increase exponentially." Bondie, 31, grew up in Georgia and has been in North Park for six years, after doing a Navy stint at Point Loma. He lives not far from Scolari's on 30th Street. Though he likes North Park--"My house got broken into two weeks ago and I fuckin' still love it!" he claims--he'd rather be back near the base. "I'd rather live in Point Loma if I could afford it," he admits. "Maybe it's just nostalgia, I don't know, but after the break-in, things are starting to set in."