Genoveva Aguilar knows what it's like to live in a community that's steadily being erased. Since construction of the downtown ballpark began in 2000, rapidly escalating property values have been driving up the rent and driving out the residents of her Sherman Heights neighborhood and the ones that surround it.
"You go outside and a mural that you know the youth worked hard on is all painted black," she said. "You go to your community center and it's closed because there's no funding; you walk outside and see a family that has lived somewhere for 30 years not living there anymore."
That's the reality, she said, but rather than complain about it, Aguilar and other community members are looking at solutions.
Unwilling to abandon their neighborhood, citizens in Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and Barrio Logan are trying to preserve the past and ensure the future of their communities.
In recent years, each neighborhood has been represented by a separate community organization: Developing Unity through Resident Organizing (DURO) in Sherman Heights and Grito de Jusiticia in Barrio Logan. Now, recognizing the need to work together, the two groups have coalesced into Barrios Unidos Hoy Organizados, or BUHO for short.
In a community meeting at a Sherman Heights community center on Aug. 27, more than 200 Logan and Sherman residents met with members of BUHO to address concerns.
Affordable housing was a hot topic-understandable because a high percentage of residents in these areas rent their homes. Since a large number of low-income families in Sherman and Logan can't afford increasing rents, BUHO is calling for a grassroots program that will guide more residents into home ownership.
Aguilar, a community organizer with BUHO, told CityBeat that her group is meeting with developers in hopes of creating so-called "community benefits agreements" that would guarantee a percentage of new units be made available at prices low-income families could afford.
But home ownership was only one focus of the Aug. 27 meeting-basic infrastructure needs are a priority, too. As one Sherman Heights resident said, a candle currently provides more light on the street outside her home than the sparse city streetlights. Other residents pointed out that the street sweepers that come weekly in most other parts of the city only rumble down the streets of Barrio Logan once a month, if that.
Then there are the more symbolic quality-of-life issues. Part of the meeting was dedicated to discussion about the need to maintain and replenish the vibrant murals that provide much of the cultural texture of their community. BUHO volunteers would also like to see Cesar Chavez Parkway extended all the way to Golden Hill Park, where the thoroughfare would physically connect all the communities trying to resist encroaching gentrification.
BUHO is rallying residents to join them at City Hall on Sept. 13, where they plan to present their concerns to the City Council. Complicating matters is the fact that District 8, which includes Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and Barrio Logan, has been without official leadership since the resignation of City Councilmember Ralph Inzunza in July. Nevertheless, BUHO leaders see the open seat as an opportunity. Eight of the nine candidates running for the District 8 seat were at the August meeting. None were allowed to speak about their own agendas-instead, they listened to the issues presented by residents. The candidates then stood in turn and promised, should they be elected, to work with BUHO to fight for the preservation of the neighborhoods. This, explained Aguilar, is so whoever's elected to fill that seat understands that he or she will be held accountable.
BUHO's struggle isn't anything new, Aguilar pointed out. Gentrification has been creeping into the Sherman and Logan communities for years and Aguilar, though only in her mid-20s, has talked to the media- CityBeat included-about gentrification for a few years now. She's proud of the steps resident organizers have taken since. "Before, when CityBeat did an article, it was like no one was listening to us seriously," she recalled. "We were just, like, 'Someone was kicked out, my family was kicked out, what are we going to do?' The public meeting shows how much our leadership has grown and the fact that we haven't given up on the issue. We've come back and we're still organizing."