Winter 2005 Newsletter
Price Charities Champions Transforming City Heights
Into Healthy, Family-Centered Neighborhood
Jack McGrory has been at the heart of San Diego's urban revolution for years, serving as City Manager from 1991-1997, as Chief Operating Officer of the Padres baseball team as the new Petco Park began construction, and now leading Price Charities' major commitment to the City Heights neighborhood while working as Chairman and CEO of the Price Legacy Corp. NSBN is pleased to present an interview with Mr. McGrory about the holistic approach that Price Charities and local government have taken toward the revitalization of City Heights.
Jack, you have years of unique experience in city management,
housing development, and proactive philanthropy. Please discuss
the goals, aspirations, and successes of your most recent success
at Price Charities: City Heights. What, were you
and the others involved able to accomplish, and how was it
The revitalization of City Heights has been a real partnership between the city, the school district, and Price Charities. We made some mistakes along the way, but I think that it has been a pretty successful inner-city redevelopment project. Sol Price's vision was that we couldn't just focus on one particular area, but really needed to look at the entire quality of life in City Heights. That means developing the infrastructure, but also looking at the social services, the education system, the way police services are being provided, and doing so in a way that actively involved the community.
The major physical anchor was the creation of an urban village. We wanted to build something that would show the community we were for real. The village incorporates housing, jobs in the form of a new office building, a new shopping center, a park, a new library, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a recreation center, and a new elementary school that shares the park with the rec center. There is now a physical, 40-acre symbol of the new heart and soul of City Heights at its key intersection. When the community saw that type of investment being made by public agencies, the private sector, and our charity, I think they really began to believe that a revitalization of City Heights was possible.
Then, in collaboration with San Diego State University, we tried to find more innovative ways of dealing with inner- city education. We worked with the police department on a real system of neighborhood policing. We worked with social service agencies to place people from San Diego State in key nonprofit jobs throughout the community and to develop training and infrastructure in the nonprofit sector so that nonprofits could contribute more fully to the City Heights community.
City Heights was the most blighted inner-city neighborhood in the City of San Diego for decades. What was unique about this holistic planning effort that couldn't have been accomplished by the normal redevelopment processes employed by government?
This wasn't just an effort by the city. It was a community-based effort. We held a crime and economics summit in 1994, at which we locked a hundred community leaders and a hundred key city staff in a junior high school in City Heights for three days. They slept there in dorms, and they developed a plan for City Heights. And so, it was a community- based plan that was worked on by the city staff along with community leaders who worked and lived in City Heights. There was good input and good partnership that really made it a successful collaboration between all the various entities that were involved.
And clearly Sol Price, through his foundation, was a key ingredient. He provided grants and loans and really believed that the collaboration would work. When the results started paying off, people got behind it, and now it has a momentum of its own.
You were able to work with the school district to build new schools in City Heights, leveraging its bond resources. Talk about the opportunities and challenges of working across jurisdictional boundaries to get holistic results for the benefit of neighborhoods.
Well, when I worked for the city we believed, and the school district under Superintendent Alan Bersin's leadership believes, that we are much more effective working together than fighting each other. As a result, one of the key projects we embarked on with the school district, the Housing Commission, the Redevelopment Agency, and the city was a model school project. That has now turned into a $140 million project that includes an elementary school, 450 new housing units, a health clinic, a brand-new park, and the restoration of a really blighted inner-city canyon. It was done through a joint-powers authority that forces all the agencies to plan together, to finance together, and to build this new village in the southern part of City Heights.
When people work on City Heights now, they kind of forget their silos. They forget that they are in separate bureaucracies, and realize that they are really part of an overall redevelopment effort. People have come to believe that when they're working in City Heights, they can break down those agency lines and come together. They are seeing the results of their collaborative efforts.
As a former city manager, can you tell us why this is not the normal model for revitalizing a community? Could this model be replicated, in your opinion?
It can be replicated, but typically the Parks and Recreation people in a city will just be guarding their issues and resources, while the library people will just be looking at their library issues, and the school considers itself just an educational vehicle for kids between the hours of 8:00 and 2:30. They don't look beyond to what would create the best overall health for a neighborhood or a community. The competition for resources, I think, encourages people to just stay within their areas, to avoid risk, and to just do what they are told in terms of delivering the particular, narrow service that they are charged to provide.
Has the City Heights experience demonstrated to one and all that the payoffs of planning collaboratively are so great that it is worth the risks and aggrevation? Or, is City Heights just a unique experiment in holistic planning?
I think that the answer is probably a little of both. A lot of people look at us and ask, "That project is such an enormous effort, how could we possibly replicate it?" Then there are other people who say, "Without Price Charities, this never could have happened." My response is there are a thousand foundations like ours across the country. Maybe with a little extra effort, cities and counties can talk those foundations into getting deeply involved instead of sprinkling their "holy water" around in the form of hundreds of grants to various groups around the city. Maybe they can convince the funders to adopt an inner-city neighborhood and see what kind of changes can be made.
The challenge for me when I was city manager was that, if we can't make a difference in City Heights, we will lose a significant part of our community. City Heights was our "South-Central," and now we are seeing a significant turnaround in the quality of life of that community. So, if we can make it work in City Heights, we encourage other areas to replicate what we are doing, and we showcase City Heights as a model for what collaboration and reinvestment can mean for an inner-city neighborhood.
Jack, if you were writing a speech for a school superintendent or the new mayor of any city, would you cite City Heights and advocate its replication citywide?
I think that I would put priority on infrastructure. Infrastructure means infrastructure in all of the neighborhoods. In San Diego, we have done a great job of building new, state-of-the- art infrastructure for our newer communities that happen to be north of Highway 8 and that are very well-todo. We, in contrast, have done almost nothing to reinvest in the infrastructure of our older communities. That is because Prop. 13 forced the city to take all of its flexible, discretionary funding and put it into the General Fund to fund basic services like police and fire. It removed any ability for the city to reinvest in infrastructure without going to the voters and facing the requirement of two-thirds voter approval.
I would tell a new mayor- and the school superintendent - to look at City Heights and other inner-city neighborhoods and begin to create models for collaboration that allow for the reinvestment of resources, whether public or private, into the neighborhood. In City Heights now, we are beginning to see for-profit development come in. People are interested in coming in to make money in City Heights, which is the next step.