“I vowed long ago never to move east of route 805!” my friend C.C. admonished me when I told him I was looking for an apartment in an affordable area. My first choice was North Park, where I had lived for some time; but with the advent of the endless Great Recession (read “Depression,” though no politician will go near that one), North Park has become less than affordable to those making under $50,000 a year. Somewhat more affordable is what certain oleaginous realtors are calling East North Park, which is, in fact, City Heights. C.H. is a historically high-crime area in San Diego. I once joined a police officer on a ride-along some years ago, when they still did that, and my experience seemed to bear that out — with the exception of 7-Eleven parking lots, where squad cars would congregate over coffee and donuts. In such places I found very little evidence of crime.
Still, not one to be swayed by opinion or possibly prejudice, I looked into the area between, say, 32nd Street and the City Heights Transit Center. Rents seemed indeed cheaper, and the old Huffman apartments seemed a tad more funky than they might have a few blocks west. The area, and I’m not sure exactly why, seemed to remind me of the neighborhood I lived in in Brooklyn for two years, when my then-wife and I were struggling new parents. Likely it had to do with the ubiquity of families; that is to say, kids. I imagined it could get a bit noisy at inconvenient times. And it had an impressive number of collarless cats. A few pit bulls promised a kind of cacophonous symphony between 2 and 4 a.m. This, by the way, proved correct, but then I experienced the same thing during a yearlong residential stint in La Jolla years ago.
Adults who are quick to say, “I just love children!” are, I think, being disingenuous. I used to be guilty of that similar misspeaking until I was forced (after an encounter with a sadistic brat named Brian, who terrorized my son and his friends) to amend my generosity to, “I tend to like most kids, just not all of them. I like more kids than adults, though.”
At any rate, I did cruise 36th, 37th, and 38th streets between University and El Cajon with an eye toward little SpongeBob T-shirts or Barbie sun suits or clothing bulges hiding small-caliber handguns. I turned up nothing, leading me to the conclusion that it was the parents who might be armed.
Another observation was the frequency and demeanor of the cops cruising by in their “shops,” or squad cars. In the three days of my perusing the neighborhood, I saw the police stop no one at all, and no reason why they should have. I saw no crimes in progress, suspicious activity (whatever that may be), and no cause to drive by at anything other than a sensible speed, as if their eyes were open, their minds relaxed but attentive. One might say, maybe a little fancifully, that the officers seemed to generate something of a philosophical aura. Poised, one might say, but hardly provocative — again, in my opinion.
Clicking on “Inside San Diego/City Heights,” I found an interesting bit on that page. Chamber of commerce promotional, maybe, but fairly accurate. There is also quite a bit about the diversity of restaurants in the area, and while the majority seem Mexican, by no means is that the only fare one will find.
The web page reads, in part, “The area now known as City Heights goes all the way back to the 1880s, when land speculators purchased land east of the city proper as railroad expansion brought anticipation for population expansion. It used to be referred to as East San Diego, and in fact, East San Diego was its own city until it was annexed by San Diego in 1923. City Heights is one of the more densely populated areas with residents of a lower income. For years it was plagued by high crime, but recent years has seen a resurgence, with lower crime and new businesses.
“Probably more than any other area of San Diego County, City Heights is a true melting pot of different ethnic groups. From Hispanic to African-American to Ethiopian to Vietnamese to Cambodian, City Heights is a community of immigrants trying to carve out a life in this city. Housing in this neighborhood is more affordable relative to the rest of the city, although it is dense with a mixture of small cottages and aging apartments.”
The fact is, I’ve put down a deposit on a place
in — and I’m getting used to saying this — East North Park. If my son approves, and no reason I can see why not, it is his as well. Been a long time coming.