Every few months, the Alumni Association at San Diego State University mails me a letter asking for money. Whenever that envelope arrives, I feel an undeniable swell of indignant rage, which I choke down as I grab the envelope in both hands, fiercely rip it in half with my teeth and in half once again with white-knuckled fists. I then toss the quartered pieces in the recycling bin, cursing my alma mater and its general indifference toward the community in which it exists.
Five years ago, I purchased a home in the College Area. It wasn't my first choice of communities, but the Caribbean Blue Saltillo tiles in the kitchen beckoned me. Together, Sam and I had great hopes for the neighborhood. With the zoning protections, the Campus Master Plan and the improvements slated for El Cajon Boulevard, we could see the future as an urban utopia to be peacefully shared by longtime residents, young families and transient students. Having both been raised in college towns, we knew how rewarding it can be to live with the diversity a university provides.
But the thing about utopia is-well-it's utopian. And the thing about SDSU is that-well-it's no intellectual mecca. A party mecca: Mos def. A center around which gathers the most studious thinkers of Southern California? Not so much. Did I mention I'm an alumna? Oh, the irony.
Now, a certain amount of partying is a given in a college-centric neighborhood. It's not as if I expected not to live alongside the occasional bash. I was one of the ragers back in my day, for chrissake. I understand the need to be ridiculous and stupid and drunk during the formative college years. I understand the beer-induced need to woo-hoo.
But what I didn't expect was to have my property destroyed and my presence as a neighbor disrespected. I didn't expect, when asking kids to please take their 3 a.m. party off my front lawn, to be told by the entitled little brats, “Fuuuuuuck you, lady! You shoulda thought about that when you bought your house!” It's that increasingly common interaction which makes me ever more suspect each time a “For Sale” sign crops up in the 'hood.
Since moving here, I've watched as homes have been bought up, converted from three- to as many as eight-bedroom dwellings and then rented out by greedy opportunists. People precisely like SDSU golf coaches Dale Walker and Tim Mickelson. I've watched as the city has dispensed permits for garage and living-room conversions like Smarties® on Halloween. I've watched as front lawns, side and backyards have been paved over to make spaces for parking while any remaining green space is left uncared for and overgrown.
Walker and Mickelson disingenuously claim they're not in it for the money. Conveniently, these alleged slumlords-I've seen their properties and to say 'alleged' is beyond generous-make their homes in other areas of the city. They don't concern themselves with the destruction of neighboring properties by their self-centered tenants or of their own dilapidated homes because, presumably, it's inconsequential so long as it's not on their own back nine. “God help the neighbors,” was the dismissive remark Walker had to offer the Union-Tribune when referring to rightfully disgruntled longtime community members. In my own Six Feet Under-style fantasy, I envision my neighbors and me lining up to drive golf balls through every window of Walker's home.
The reality, of course, is that the city of San Diego hasn't cared too much about what's been taking place over in college land; Jim Madaffer, our district representative on the City Council, must have been struck by lightening or experienced divine intervention because he's finally floated a bit of bull doggish lip service in our direction. And Walker and Mickelson, as despicable and offensive as they may be to those of us who have become their neighbors, have every right to capitalize on business opportunities. That they feel no obligation to offer the community they profit from any accountability is simply a failing of their moral disposition. They're rapacious ass-wipes, true. But there is no law or ordinance against that.
The real culprit here is the university itself. SDSU has done little to contribute positively to the outlying area or to infuse its student body with a sense of acceptable comportment. It's acted as if the larger community is the red-headed stepchild and has enabled the growing problem by doing nothing-not counting the blind eye turned toward its own faculty profiting off the demise of my community-amid the increasingly vocalized discontent of homeowners.
In defense of university officials-and it pains me to defend them just yet-they have taken steps to assuage the simmering ire of a boisterous community whose collective voice has finally persuaded them to look in our direction. SDSU has hired Tyler Sherer as director of community relations and special projects-well played, SDSU!-who very politely informed me that the university is committed to addressing the housing problem.
Efforts enumerated by Sherer in an e-mail include the hiring of a code-enforcement officer, instituting the Good Neighbor Program whereby students work to educate their peers on being considerate members of the community, sending SDSU police as first responders when the city police department is unavailable and “prosecuting student code of conduct violations that occur off-campus.” Sherer also noted that SDSU supports a new program in which the city fines problem landlords and tenants up to $1,000.
I want to believe these changes will help my community grow in a direction accommodating all its inhabitants, but I can't halt the creeping skepticism-the barn door was knocked clean off its hinges quite some time ago. SDSU has a track record not unlike Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown as he runs to kick off. And we all know how that story goes. For now, I'm not taking one step toward that ball, and the Alumni Association could save itself money on stamps since I won't be writing checks anytime soon. Thanks to Mr. Sherer, however, I am waiting with patient apprehension to see whether the university is sincere and whether implementation of its multi-tiered efforts has any effect on my neighborhood.