Two documentaries shown Sunday at the San Diego public library looked at the socio-economic implications of plopping down ballparks too near-or, in one case, pretty much on top of-thriving Mexican-American communities.
Chavez Ravine, narrated by Cheech Marin, with music by Ry Cooder, looks at how a community-one described by photo-essayist Dan Normark as "a poor man's Shangri-La"-was, within a decade, bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium.
Chavez Ravine initially wasn't supposed to house the East Coast-transplant team. Rather, the L.A. housing authority hoped to build 3,300 units of affordable housing on the site, and the city's housing director at the time, Fred Wilkinson, thought he was doing the right thing-displaced residents would get first dibs on the brand new homes. But the Committee Against Socialist Housing, a local organization that dubbed the project "creeping socialism," got the attention of the Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. Wilkinson was accused of being a communist and the project fell apart. From there, the land was turned over to the Dodgers-who had failed to persuade the city of New York to build them a better ballpark-for little of its true value. Residents, too, got little for their homes and found that outside of Chavez Ravine, housing prices were out of reach.
There are parallels between what happened to the 300 families forced out of Chavez Ravine in the 1950s and what's currently happening to the residents of Sherman Heights who, though they live just outside the downtown ballpark district, are being pushed out by increasingly high rent and home prices. As San Diego State University Professor Antone Minard, a folklorist who's been collecting stories from those involved with and affected by the ballpark project, put it, in Sherman Heights, "These great big old houses that used to hold five or six families, nice young couples will move in-but it's a nice young couple and that's just two people."
Minard said he talked to one young Sherman Heights woman who drew a comparison between indigenous people forced off their land and the current displacement of residents living on the ballpark's periphery. "It's not until people get interested in the space where we are that they come in," she told Minard. "There's not a genocidal campaign to drive us out, it's just economic. The people with more money come in, they want our space and we've got to go. We've got to go further out, we've got to cross borders, but it's the same pattern that's been happening over and over again."
Donde Yo Vivi (Where I Lived), a documentary put together by the San Diego Media Arts Center's Teen Producers project tells the story of 25-year-old Genoviva Aguilar, whose family was forced out of their Sherman Heights home when the rent shot up beyond what her parents-a restaurant busser and a Laundromat worker-could afford. The well-spoken Aguilar, who helped found the community group DURO (Developing Unity through Resident Organizing), describes in the documentary how the ballpark has created ripple-effect gentrification in the community where she grew up. Markets and other retailers that used to have "Sherman Heights" in their name are, literally, stretching the ballpark district beyond its intended boundaries by changing their names to anything that ties them to Petco Park. "The emotional and psychological connection" people have to their community is being severed, said Aguilar.
San Diego City College professors Kelly Mayhew and Jim Miller, co-authors along with Mike Davis of Under the Perfect Sun, a book that's become a bible for progressives critical of this city's veiled history of economic and racial inequality, spoke after the screening about a failed attempt in 1999 to get the Padres to sign a sort of social-justice pact, promising that in exchange for the $250 million in taxpayer money the organization received to finance the ballpark, Padres owner John Moores & Co. would make a good effort to create affordable housing and living-wage jobs in the ballpark district.
"Asking for a public pledge that the Padres are committed to insuring that the majority of the jobs created in the district will provide [decent] wages and benefits is not too much to ask," Miller said. At that point, a so-called living wage was about $8.06 an hour for two working adults with two kids.
"Needless to say, we never got a response," he said.
Paul Karr, spokesperson for the Center on Policy Initiatives, the social-justice think tank that's heading the drive to get a living-wage ordinance passed by the City Council, said ballpark workers would be covered by the ordinance, which promises $10 an hour plus benefits or $12 an hour without benefits. The ordinance is expected to go before the City Council on April 12 amid opposition from business groups that argue a mandated wage increase will negatively impact city finances.
Miller wonders why that same argument didn't come up when the City Council approved ballpark financing even though they had, by that time, been informed that the city owed hundreds of millions of dollars to its pension fund.
"What about the millions of dollars in subsidies that John Moores got?" Miller asked. "There's never been any discussion of that kind of incredible hypocrisy of saying we couldn't possibly afford a living wage but we're just going to close our eyes to the fact, as recent news reports have shown, [the City Council] misrepresented themselves when they signed off on that ballpark.
"I think it's an important thing to keep who's getting the subsidies in mind," he added. "With the pension scandal, is it your average janitor, bus driver or cop that's walking away with big money or is it somebody else?"