More than 30 languages and 80 dialects are spoken in City Heights. Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1974 City Heights became home to many Southeast Asian refugees.
This was followed by waves of other refugees fleeing violence in their homelands: Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Central Americans, East Africans, and Kurds. African-Americans and Latinos also moved to City Heights as rents in other parts of the City escalated, often due to gentrification.
City Heights was a thriving middle-class neighborhood until the 1950s and 1960s when the development of new strip malls began an economic downturn. In hopes of revitalizing its economy, the area was rezoned for multi-family dwelling units. Single-family houses were torn down and cheaply constructed apartments were erected. Due to the age and poor condition of its housing and a large number of children under the age of six, City Heights is a “hot spot” for childhood lead poisoning.
With interstate 15 running through it, parts of City Heights experience more traffic than 100% of the rest of California, according to CalEnvrioScreen 4.0. Children who live near busy roads have been found to have higher rates of asthma than those who don’t. Parts of City Heights have a higher asthma rate than is 80% higher than the rest of the state.
Community Leader Fighting Back
Iris Contreras has lived in City Heights for over 20 years with her family. It is where she watched her children grow up. Iris has volunteered in the community for over 18 years. She joined the City Heights Community Action Team at the beginning of 2021, during our City Heights-focused SALTA on transportation justice.
Iris joined the group because she likes to learn and be a resource to others in her community. Iris gave her first public testimony at a SANDAG Board meeting in October of 2021. She spoke about the need for increased frequency and extended bus hours in her community. She wants to continue learning and helping her community.
Victories & Impacts
EHC Sponsors Blood Lead Testing at Cherokee Point Elementary
Lead paint in old houses can poison children causing learning disabilities and other complications. EHC organizers reached out to parents and conduct events where children were given a free blood lead test. Blood lead testing can prevent long-term health risks and even death.
Stopped Expansion of the 94 Freeway
Community members and EHC successfully fought against the expansion of the I94 freeway, which would have created more pollution and contributed to climate change by increasing greenhouse-gas emissions.
Created the San Diego Transportation Equity Working Group (SDTEWG)
EHC and transportation advocates created the SDTEWG group to push for a transportation system that works for transit-dependent, environmental justice communities, south of I-8. SDTEWG is comprised of community-based and social justice organizations.
Funding for Language Interpretation at Community Planning Groups
After three years of advocacy, EHC’s City Height Community Action Team members and the Community Budget Alliance secured funding from the City of San Diego for language interpretation services at local community planning groups.
SANDAG Creates a Social Equity Group
After many years of advocacy by EHC and partner organizations, SANDAG created a Social Equity Group to advance equity in the planning process that is comprised of community groups.
SANDAG Adopts Funding for Pilot Programs
Due to organizing by EHC and allied organizations, SANDAG adopted funding to provide youths under 18 years with free transit passes and to increase the frequency and extend the hours for select bus services on high-use routes.
10 Transit Lifelines in the 2021 San Diego Regional Plan
Led by EHC and partners, residents at the frontline of the climate crisis in our communities identified 10 transit priorities – the 10 Transit Lifelines. In December of 2021, the San Diego Association of Governments passed a Regional Transportation Plan that paves the way to make the 10 Transit Lifelines a reality. The 10 Transit Lifelines will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease lung-damaging air pollution, and meet the needs of the low-income communities of color.