Did you ever wonder what ever happened to OB Rag blogger Anna Daniels? Anna had been writing for us since early 2009, and as a feminist and San Diego civic activist for years, she has graced our publication with her thoughts and razor sharp insights on the workings (or non-workings) of local government, especially libraries and infrastructure.
Well, Anna moved over to the San Diego Free Press this past June when the OB Rag “re-birthed” San Diego’s original underground newspaper – but this time as an online publication. And since taking residence there, she has attempted to bring a shining light to her neighborhood of City Heights, much the way the OB Rag has brought light and life to Ocean Beach. Anna has been a community activist in that community since the early 1990s, along with her hubby and life-long partner, Rich Kacmar.
Now, at the Free Press, Anna writes a weekly column, entitled, “City Heights: Up Close & Personal”, and describes herself this way:
“It is the distillation of my experiences and observations of the confounding, sometimes dazzling and always changing urban landscape that I call home.”
And one of her favorite expressions is:
“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.” From Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
In her column, Anna delves into all kinds of weird things and assortments and observations. In her first column, she described her immediate neighborhood within City Heights:
Our street is in constant motion with pedestrians and cars moving between the wide thoroughfares of University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard. Two of the most common sounds are the trash trucks in the alley and moms calling out apúrate (hurry up!) to their kids lingering on the sidewalk. There is very little that is unified or uniform about the physical landscape or the people who live here. That is what I love about City Heights. That is what I also hate about City Heights.
Her other observations of her community are invaluable:
To say that City Heights is an undesirable, crime ridden community filled with scary (non-white) poor people tells you everything except why. And because that statement does not address the why of it, it is untrue and only has value in diverting attention from the truth for dubious and contemptible reasons.
Daniels has long known that City Heights, along with the other mid-city communities of North Park, University Heights and Normal Heights, have been ignored by a City that focused more attention on neighborhoods north of I-8 for decades, and starved of capital improvement funds and public infrastructure investments.
Her complaints sound familiar to OBceans:
Zoning laws increased density without attendant increases in park spaces, libraries, recreation centers or transit opportunities. The Huffman hovels [apartment boxes] were not only dropped on properties that had been the site of single family homes, they wiped out mature trees and landscaping and covered everything in concrete. No onsite management was required for less than sixteen units. The uglification was complete.
And then there are those things that make City Heights very different from OB and the beach:
…waves of Vietnamese refugees were being relocated to San Diego and many ended up living in City Heights. In the space of a few decades, City Heights residents became poorer, more culturally diverse as new waves of immigrants arrived from war torn corners of the globe, and transient. This is not the kind of electorate that keeps a close eye on the machinations of government, let alone influences it.
And for her “community activism paid off” as:
… the I-15 construction through the heart of the community was mitigated with a block of cover and the redevelopment effort at the Urban Village along University and Fairmount Avenue was also done at our behest and with our input. Two new schools were built, a police substation, a library with a performance annex, and a public park. These were critical steps to redress the neglect and inequity, but they still are not enough.
In other posts, Anna described how the very walls of her City Heights house held secrets, about critters that moved in the night around and under her house, and how her community has plenty of fresh coffee to offer:
If you love the smell of coffee, the taste of coffee and the experience of drinking coffee in unpretentious cafes and restaurants, City Heights delivers on all counts.
She writes about local artists, about how City Heights is trying to get a skateboard park, she shares her history of the City Heights Community Garden that she chaired, about her Post Office, redevelopment, gentrification, capital improvements or the lack thereof, infrastructure needs, and urban renewal.
Anna’s robust activism in City Heights have earned her accolades and positions of responsibility. For a few years during the 1990s, Anna was Chair of the City Heights Community Development Corporation.
For my article, I had asked Anna to write something up about her past, and here I share it:
By Anna Daniels
I grew up in the shadow of steel mills, up the valley from the largest coke manufacturing plant in the world at the time. Dads worked in blue collar jobs that enabled families to have their own homes and cars and moms to stay at home and raise the children. By the time I was in high school, the steel mills had started to shut down and everything changed.
I was the first and only child in my family to go to college. I commuted to the University of Pittsburgh for a few years and paid for everything except the tuition which started off at $60 a semester. My head was turned inside out by a different reaction to the Viet Nam War, and the introduction to feminism and black pride and the grape strike. I graduated with no college debt and no clue how to parlay a degree in English literature into a job.
My then partner, now husband, Rich, – and I took off with our back packs and lived one summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, then moved the following year to Key West, Florida via Greyhound Bus. I was a social worker for a year, then at the age of 24, I became director of a congregate meal program for senior citizens. Key West was an odd wonderful place in the mid- 70’s. People told stories, were stories and I gathered them up like the riches they were. I learned a great deal about history, poverty, race and community in that small place.
The world is a big place , so we set off west this time, into a new landscape of big and new. We found a different ocean- cold, rough and opaque, but no less beautiful. I had a hard time finding work that I wanted to do- I didn’t have a master’s degree. I ended up working as a temporary bookkeeper for a few years. I worked in the private sector, at agar plants on the bay, for hotels, defense contractors, architectural designers, real estate companies and developers. It was an eye opening experience- I saw what women were paid in comparison to men. And I found myself among employees who did not look like the larger population of San Diego. And I hated bookkeeping. I was not sold on the private sector.
My partner, My Beloved, Rich and I got married because I had no health insurance, and UCSD at the time did not provide domestic partner health benefits. Yes, I married the man for his insurance. I have lived with him for 40 years because I love him.
My big break came when I was hired as an assistant librarian at the central library downtown. Up to that point, the longest I had ever stayed on a job was two years. I worked 25 years at the central library Information Desk. It was a job I loved helping people find the information they needed. That job made me so much smarter and so more deeply human and caring. It has weighed heavily upon me that the public was turned against the people they liked and were grateful to by the troubling, destructive city politics of the past few years. (Yes, I’m talking to you Carl DeMaio.)
In 1987 we moved from the little house we rented in North Park to our own little house in City Heights. The distance was a mere 3 miles from one old inner city community to the adjacent one a little further east. Our lives changed yet again. Over the past twenty five years I have learned a great deal of history and much about poverty, race and community. I felt deeply isolated and pretty confused, so I joined a group of people to operate the City Heights community garden on a long brown scar of land which ultimately became SR-15. And then I became a board member of the City Heights Community Development Corporation, which was only 5 years old at the time. We provided an alternative narrative to the prevailing sentiment, by our own neighbors and businesses, that City Heights should be recognized as the crime capital of San Diego, and receive more money for police protection.
We didn’t see a cop on every corner as the solution. We talked about the lack of public infrastructure, and the need for quality affordable housing. We organized and provided alternatives, bought housing stock and supported public arts projects- the Euclid Tower, the Alley Art Project and the community garden art project.
I burnt out completely after the freeway consumed the garden and internecine warfare with neighbors and an indifferent bureaucracy continued. I was done with meetings and I followed the counsel of Candide to work on my own garden.
So now I am old, retired and a citizen journalist for SDFP. In my weekly column, I have the freedom to pull out the stories that have lived within me these past 25 years and to find new ones. I am gratified that when I send my voice out into the universe I often receive an unanticipated response from an unknown friend, a neighbor.
The San Diego Free Press is fortunate to have Anna Daniels as a columnist and editor. As long as she is around, you know the publication will be holding local government’s feet to the fire. She is the quintessential community activist and City Heights is fortunate to have her around as well.