City Heights
  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

On July15th, 1991, we moved into this house. After the last of the boxes had been delivered, we went to sleep with the windows open to let some air in on what had been one of the hottest summers. At about midnight, we were woken up by the sound of a chainsaw coming from a few doors down. It turned out a crazed man sawed off the hand of a man he had caught his wife having an affair with (at least that’s the story the cops gave us).

That was the first memory I had as an 11-year-old child and a new resident of City Heights or what I call “Shitty Heights.”

Back in the early ’90s there still was a significant amount of “white” people living here. Around the mid-’90s, they left. What remained were the old ladies who had lived in the area for decades and us, who naively believed this neighborhood would improve in the next few years. But who were we kidding?


As the old ladies died one after the other, their houses were inherited by banks who rented the properties to the most despicable swine imaginable: drug dealers, molesters, abusers, prostitutes, cockfighting rooster- and pit-bull breeders, and overexcessive beer-drinking college students, just to give you an idea. For several years, the few home owners on my block had to hold meetings along with police officers to try to keep peace and order around here. It was beyond tedious and the retaliation was horrendous. Our property and cars were constantly vandalized by graffiti, pissed on, and littered on. We couldn’t even own or leave pets outside for a day, for fear of poisoning or theft; two of our neighbors had had their Pomeranians stolen within the same month, while another neighbor found that her Labrador had ingested poisoned food that must have been thrown into her yard by a passerby.

The day someone broke into our house and stole our belongings, including our laundry detergent, we bought a security system for the house, and ultimately, ended up putting bars on all windows for extra security. To me, window bars are the trademark of the “ghetto.” I refused to accept it then, but had to acknowledge that our neighborhood had begun to turn more and more unpleasant by the year. I may have only been a young kid, but felt as though I was living in a prison; a perilous prison where even stepping out into the sidewalk was a risk.

When I was in middle school, as I was walking to the bus stop, I was assaulted by three Asian wannabe gang members around my age. They wanted money. All I had was bus fare. They kicked, scratched, and punched me over the fucking bus fare! That is the day I remember as the time I got beat up for a measly dollar and some cents. I was too ashamed to tell anyone; I never told my parents or the police, because in this environment, if you hadn’t been stabbed or shot, then any other crime was thought to be meaningless. After that day, I refused to ride a bus, refused to go drop a letter in the mailbox or return library books to the branch that was a few blocks away, and more devastatingly, refused to leave my house other than to go to school. I only left home when I knew someone would give me a ride to and from school. Having no ride meant I was going to be absent. I was absent a lot.

My parents worked so much in their lousy jobs and were hardly ever around to notice the daytime plague of the community. Being the eldest, I had to take care of my younger brother in the afternoons before they got home. My brother and I had bikes that we rarely rode. Only when there were lots of other kids playing in the streets did we feel it was safe to go outside. However, the phrase “there is safety in numbers” does not apply when you live in hell. My brother’s bike was stolen right out of his hands and mine was later stolen out of our gated back yard. As the crimes escalated, so did my hatred of this community. I pleaded for us to move again, anywhere! But my father had bought the house and we couldn’t afford to move. Besides, it would be hard to sell because nobody wanted to reside in hell!

* * *

I managed to survive high school while still living here, then went off to college, got my degrees and became a teacher. A couple years ago, just as I was moving forward, yearning to get a home of my own on a street that ends in Place, Lane, or Court, I had to move back. My father was diagnosed with cancer and needed someone to support him, so I returned to help.

* * *

I left once, I’m back again, and things haven’t changed. The occasional gunshot, car chase, siren, and helicopter racket still remind me of where I am. I look at my house and at those houses around it. It’s quite a disappointing sight; downright depressing. It leads me to believe that all the effort my father invested and ruined his health for was all a waste. Why are there so few people who care about this community? When did it become acceptable to have ten people sharing a two-bedroom house, or worse, a one-bedroom apartment? But my favorite question (as honestly portrayed in the film Crash): Who told all those people it was all right to park their cars on the lawn? Many say it’s the difference between owners and renters, or the educated vs. the uneducated.

You have no idea how it feels to live this long in a place where the streets have no name, but rather numbers: negative numbers. When you mention any street between 40th and 54th, you’ll get a reaction. Just ask anyone in San Diego and they’ll agree. City Heights doesn’t live up to its name. It’s a pity. It’s dangerous. It’s my neighborhood, but it’s NOT me.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


mara May 28, 2008 @ 6:53 p.m.

wow... idk what kind of people you lived around back in the day, or even now. It must have been hard to live in a place like that, or maybe your memories are a little off. I live here in City Heights, and have never had anything stolen or have ever been bullied into giving something up, and have never seen a car parked on the lawn! People care little about this community because of people like you who make it sound like a dump. I dont know of anyone who shares a two bedroom place between more than 5 people and that's only because they are a family. Not everyone here has gotten the opportunity to go away to a University. Only because you did doesn't mean everyone else who didn't is below you. Maybe your expectations of a place are too much for a person who grew up here, and that's what makes you bitter about this place; that you had it in your head that you were past all this, and had to come back. City Heights may not live to it's name completely, but neither does any other place in San Diego. Every community has a "bad apple." That doesn't mean it's a pity, it's never been a danger to me or to my family. It's my my neighborhood and it's a part of me, but it doesn't make me who I am. A person is who they are, and that has nothing to do with where a person lives. I know plenty of great people here, and some not so nice people who live in La Jolla. Don't let yourself be fooled by appearances, as a teacher you should know that.


nightmarexwvt Nov. 4, 2014 @ 9:04 p.m.

this neighborhood is garbage i moved in here 4 months ago and ive had nothing but people trying to mess with already moving out with my family can have this shitty neighborhood


magicsfive May 28, 2008 @ 7:26 p.m.

Oh sweet Mara- you are kidding yourself...I'm glad that you are happy in your neighborhood...really I am but the author is right...City Heights is dirty, dangerous and ugly. Anything east of 805 is, really, but that's just me.


miriwonders Nov. 5, 2008 @ 2:23 p.m.

Mara, I would like to know excactly where you live in City heights! I lived in Normal heights for 6 months and then moved to City Heights with my boyfriend about 2 months ago and his Honda has been stolen TWICE! in the 2 months we have been here. we live by an alley and there are Ghetto ass mexican men always looking at all the stuff we have, pissing on the street (i have seen 2 guys done that! one man even bummped my car while trying to park and didnt even care, they are all uneducated son's of bitches! I am Mexican and very proud of being Mexican I was born and raised in Mexico for 10 years i lived there and these idiots make me feel ashamed of out race! they bump their music as loud as they can, they drink beer and yell and block the alley with their cars, they have no respect! I hate it here but we are in a one year lease and the rent is cheap so Im taking matters into my own hands and making some adjustments to our street. They need to understand that they can not bring their bad habits and ignorance to America! like i said, i came here but even living in Mexico, i knew right from wrong these are just a bunch of "NACOS" that think they can do whatever they want! So I totally agree with the reader crime and theft is the worst I have ever seen and i lived in Mexico!


aphangdy May 30, 2009 @ 5:26 a.m.

Yeah City Heights/Eastside is ghetto but dam do something about it. Thats what you do in life, be someone who takes a stand and influence other people for the better. Get the mayor's attention or someone in charge of the distric (districs 3 I think for City Heights.) Really tho, its life and we are not all born with wealth and health.

All I'm trying to say is don't be so afraid. So you get beat up and knocked down. Do something about it and learn to fight back, carry some pepper spray. Shoot, do what you have to do. And yeah it sucks where you live but dam quit complaining so much and look at it this way, if you have a family you're dam lucky and spend the time you have with your family instead of ccomplaining adding stress to everyones lives you live with. Life isn't so easy so try to do things that will make it easier.

Life gives you lemons try and turn it into lemonaid.


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!