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Downtown Is Becoming Better Place to Live, Work

March 17, 1985|UVALDO MARTINEZ | Councilman Uvaldo Martinez represents San Diego's 8th Council District

San Diego does not have many people living downtown. Most cities grew up around their original settlements. The jobs were downtown, and the people lived near the jobs.

But not San Diego. The center of our city has been wrenched from the Presidio to the Mission to Old Town to the waterfront back to Old Town and finally to what we now call Centre City.

Maybe people wanted to live downtown but couldn't find it.

Early San Diego was a boom and bust place. What Alonzo Horton bought for hundreds was soon worth millions. But in turn, many of those millions became worthless.

There were always plenty of reasons not to live downtown. There was no heavy industry, so there was no concentration of workers. There were trolleys that spread people out. "A History of San Diego," published by San Diego Trust and Savings, quotes one early real estate adviser as saying the new location of downtown could never be successful because "without wood or water, this place can never rise to importance."

Now we have plenty of wood and water and everything is coming together. My legislation to permit loft housing, also known as artist live/work space, has just passed the City Council. The transformation of old industrial areas into arts neighborhoods will be striking.

The battle to rid the Centre City of the sleazy practices that planners like to call "nonconforming uses" will continue at every level. Video arcades and card rooms are being eliminated in the Gaslamp Quarter. We've dealt a severe blow to the porno industry by outlawing peep shows.

An office building boom is bringing professionals downtown. All the obstacles that prevented people from living in the Centre City are being removed.

The incredible views, the convenience, the ambiance, and the investment opportunities, are bringing residential construction back to the Centre City.

People have always lived in the downtowns of the New Yorks and the San Franciscos. Many of those cities grew up around mistakes. The streets in Pacific Beach are wider than the streets of downtown Manhattan. Don't even think about driving through many of our major cities.

It is too late for those cities to change their mistakes. Even the government of New York City wouldn't condemn a whole block of 50-story skyscrapers for 10 more feet of road.

We don't have that problem. With few people living downtown, we are not locked into centuries of urban misuse.

We are bringing people back to Centre City not only to work, shop and visit but also to live.

We can avoid the mistakes that make New Yorkers paranoid (with good reason, even paranoids have problems), Philadelphians tense, and Washingtonians nervous.

Over a hundred years ago, a furniture maker named Alonzo Horton literally moved downtown from Old Town to its current location. We're finally catching up with moving the neighborhoods.

Marina Park and Park Row are good examples of this. A partnership between the public and private sectors led to the construction of these homes downtown. We turned blocks of vacant warehouses littered with transients and street people into a secure, elegant residential development.

I'm not just saying that as a councilman trying to hype his district. Drive by Pantoja Park at State and G streets. What five years ago was San Diego's version of Needle Park is now the site of picnics and volleyball games.

Milton Friedman is fond of saying that government programs always accomplish the opposite of what they are supposed to accomplish. He even offered $10,000 to anyone who could show otherwise. Most of the time he is right. But bringing people to live in our downtown has been a success, even by his standards.

The first of the new homes in the Centre City opened two years ago. It is too early to tell what the resale value of these new units will be, but it looks very good.

The same kind of commitment has led to Seaport Village, the Trolley, the new Convention Center, historic renovation in the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza Center, The Meridian, and much more.

Our Centre City is filled with a new generation of pioneers. The Bud Fishers, Chris Mortensons, Walter Smyks and others are just as bold and just as important to our future as the Hortons and Crosthwaites were to the future of early San Diego.

Councilman Bill Cleator is having tremendous success bringing cruise ships to dock at our ports near downtown. Visitors to our Centre City from cruise ships will make our downtown more pleasant.

In the coming years, thousands of new apartments, condominiums, lofts and houses will be filled with San Diegans who choose to live in and near the Centre City. As the councilman who represents downtown, I am very proud that our Centre City has become the kind of place where risk and reward have overcome a lack of wood and water.

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