CHICANO PARK, BARRIO LOGAN, SAN DIEGO
The Takeover of Chicano Park
........Barrio Logan, in southeast San Diego, is referred to as el ombligo or navel, the center of the world. In the late 1800s the area had been known as East End; the name had been changed to Logan Heights in 1905. Mexican-Americans had settled in the area as early as the 1890s with migrations increasing from 1910 to 1920 as a result of a poor economy in Mexico and the Mexican Revolution. Within the mixed ethnic community, the number of Mexican Americans within Logan Heights reached 15 percent of the city's Mexican-American population by 1940.
........At one point in its history, Logan Heights had contained the "second largest Chicano Barrio community on the west coast, with a population of almost twenty thousand." The barrio had originally extended to the waterfront, where there had been a local beach and a community pier that had been constructed as a WPN project in the 1930s. When the U.S. Navy and defense industries moved in along the shores of San Diego Bay. Barrio Logan lost access to the waterfront, as well as housing and local businesses. The barrio recovered from these losses as U.S. citizens went to war and Mexicans obtained the jobs that had been created by the
navel shipyards and defense industries. The neighborhood began to blossom with a sense of community pride among the residents.
........After WWII, the barrio began to change physically. In the 1950s, the zoning laws had been changed by the city of San Diego, from residential to industrial, allowing the influx of Anglo-owned auto junkyards. In 1963, Interstate 5 bisected the Barrio. In '1969 the Coronado Bay Bridge opened with its on-ramps and support pylons piercing the heart of the barrio. Because of the dislocation of families and business closures during these two major construction programs, by 1979 the population of the barrio had declined to approximately five thousand residents. City, state, and federal governments had dictated the policies of change in Barrio Logan. Residents had not realized they could petition City Council and express their opinions; there had been no local discussions regarding community and neighborhood planning. Many of the residents accepted the negative changes in their community as the way things had to be. In 1967, feelings of resignation and hopelessness began to change to those of empowerment, as community leaders began to demand a neighborhood park under the bridge pylons.
........Two years later in June, their demands were met, as the state of California agreed to lease to the City of San Diego a 1.8 acre-parcel of state land in Barrio Logan for a neighborhood park, located at the east approach to the bridge between Logan and National Avenues. The lease would run for a period of twenty years. James A. Moe, the director of state public works, explained that the state would
prepare the site for public use. While the city would he responsible for maintenance and supervision of the land. Such an agreement would save the state twenty years of maintenance expenses.
........Agreement on the land lease between the city and state did not instantaneously create the desired park. In November of 1969, city officials were awaiting the passage of a new state law which would allow the site in question and "other unused parcels of land near highways to be used as community recreational areas." The law became effective November 9. The residents of Barrio Logan had obtained their tiny neighborhood park, with their eye on adjacent parcels for further expansion. As early as 1967 neighborhood representatives had informed city officials of their desire to obtain all the land under the bridge supports for a park in the heart of their barrio.
........For five months residents waited for development of the park land to begin. On April 22, 1970, bulldozers at last appeared under the pylons, grading a three acre parcel of land adjacent to the park site. The bulldozers had not come to extend the park, but to prepare a site for the construction of a California Highway Patrol station. The parcel had been acquired by the state in August 1969 after the Coronado Bay Bridge had opened. Chicano residents were furious, believing they had been deceived by city and state officials regarding the development of their park. Demonstrators appeared at the site by 7 a.m. One infuriated resident, Mario Solis, informed residents of the situation, going from door to door. Students, informed of the events while in their Chicano Studies classes,
immediately descended upon the park. Joined by local residents both young and old, they formed a human chain around the bulldozers, forcing the construction work to stop, as was ordered by Captain V. J. Herz, the Highway Patrol commander on site. Residents began to work the land, planting cactus. magueys, and flowers. The Chicano flag was raised on a telephone pole, initiating the occupation of Chicano Park.
........Councilman Leon Williams, working with Barrio Logan residents, held a meeting with some of the two hundred fifty demonstrators that evening at the Neighborhood House, a local community center. He had received a message from James Hall, representing the state's department of transportation. Further construction would not begin until a meeting could be arranged for neighborhood, city, and state representatives. Hall was specific in explaining the position of the state.
1. The property the Chicanos want for a park belongs to the highway patrol.
2. It is up to the city of San Diego to negotiate with the highway patrol for
3 There will he no further work on construction of a highway patrol station
at the site.
"Mike Arnador, director of the Community Action Council in that area,"
expressed the community consciousness that demonstrations would continue, and
that the city had been deceived by the state as to the use of the land in question.
Spokesman for the students, Mario Solis, explained that the demonstrators would
return the following morning at 7:30 a.m. Students would not return to class, but
would remain on site.
........City officials, meeting with protesters at the community Neighborhood House on April 23, Đheard many angry vows that the issue was settled, that the site will be a park because that is what the people of the community want." Jose Gomez, vice-president of City College, stated. "The only way to take that park away is to wade through our blood." Mike Amador reminded officials, "In 1967 I asked for all the land under the bridge approaches for parks." In response to the impassioned statements, Councilman Williams responded that "he had been unable to get results from public officials at any level." Other officials attending the meeting included
........Jacob Dekema, district manager for the Division of Highways, D. T. Donaldson. supervising inspector of the highway patrol. Captain Vincent J. Her/. and Lt. Larry Watching of the highway patrol, Pauline Des Granges, city director of parks and recreation' and Clinton McKinnon of the San Diego Urban Coalition. An artist by the name of Salvador Torres was in attendance that evening. In his speech. he expressed his vision of local] Chicano painters and sculptors turning the bridge pylons '`into things of beauty, reflecting the Mexican-American culture. We are ready to die "~9 In response, young people at the meeting began to stamp their feet in rhythm, shouting "Viva la raza!" one young man, identifying himself only as a student at San Diego State. directed his statement to city officials:
........The word culture is used. To you culture means Taco Bell and the funny Mexican with-, the funny songs. We gave you our culture of a thousand years. What have you given us? A social system that makes us beggars and police who make us afraid. We've got the land and we are going to work it. We are going to get that park. We no longer talk about asking. We have the park.
........During the occupation of Chicano Park, the three-acre parcel was transformed into a desert garden of plants and grass. Chicano youth and student organizations from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles traveled to Barrio Logan to offer their support. Women prepared meals for the demonstrators, while others donated trees, seeds, and fertilizer. The occupation represented the first time in which residents had come together in unity for themselves and their community.
........As the park was being transformed, city officials were searching for available land adjacent to freeways, which would be suitable for a highway patrol station If such a site could be found.. the city would then trade it to the state for the occupied site in Barrio Logan.
........San Diego's assistant city manager Meno Wilhelms announced, May 1, 1970.. that an agreement with the state had been reached. and that negotiations concerning a land exchange could begin. The state specifically required the property to be cleared of demonstrators before negotiations could begin. Reluctantly, after twelve days of occupation, the Chicanos vacated the site, subject to conditions Stipulated by the Chicano Park Steering Committee. Demonstrators would not occupy the land. Rather, they would place five to ten people on the sidewalks surrounding the area, to inform residents of the progression of events. Jose Gomez spokesman for the Steering Committee, unrealistically stated that an agreement between the city and the state should he negotiated within fifteen to thirty days. If such an agreement had not been formulated by that time, the land would be re-occupied ). Mr. Wilhelms related the first stop in negotiations,
locating an acceptable, alternate site for patrol headquarters. Not until such an agreement could be reached would any consideration of leasing the state property question begin.
........Council Williams again met with over two hundred people in the auditorium of Lowell Elementary School on May 5, promising the park land they desired. He tried to reassure them that if the city said it would acquire the land for a park, the city would certainly follow through. One resident attending the meeting, Hector Chavez, responded to Williams' stating that land had been vacated in order for the city to begin negotiations. A vow to re-occupy the land was again stated, if a transfer of land could not be completed within fifteen to twenty days.
........Formal negotiations did not begin until May 14. Williams announced in a prepared statement the city's interest in working with Barrio Logan to develop a community park, and that the city was searching for an alternate site for the patrol station. Mr. Hall, the state director of transportation, appointed Richard C. East to work with the city. Mr. Hall also stated that negotiations would be immediately terminated if the land were re-occupied by the community.
........On July 1. 1970. a $21~814.96 contract was authorized by councilmen for the development of the 1.~-acre parcel of land for a park in Barrio Logan, whose lease had been approved by the state in July of the previous year. The site would be graded. and sidewalks, a sprinkler system, and drinking fountain would be installed. The soil would be prepared for landscaping. The area to be developed faced the area now in dispute. City Manager Walter Hahn stated that the city
intended to acquire this land to expand the park under the Coronado Bridge. The Chicano Park Steering Committee had prepared a model to illustrate the concept of a community park, and had informed the Department of Parks and Recreation of the desired name for the park, Chicano People's Park. Agreement between the city and state regarding the city's acquisition of state land in Barrio Logan was acknowledged on July 2. Meno Wilhelms, Assistant City Manager, presented a letter from the state to the City Council for approval of the terms. City Manager Walter Hahn was selected to sign the agreement and to participate in the negotiations of the final contract. The terms of agreement, including the purchase of part of the land, were as follows:
1. The City pay not less than the state's investment in the land. The
amount is not to be less than $203,500.
2. If the transfer of title should be accomplished by an exchange of
property, the site to be transferred to the state must he acceptable to the
California Highway Patrol. The CHP presently occupies the land on a
lease from the state.
3. The CHP shall have the right to remove special equipment from its
buildings on the leased land.
The city also agreed to lease various parcels under the bridge pylons, the
terms of which were:
1. The city shall assume full responsibility for the development and maintenance of the park facilities on the leased premises. If development has not been commenced within eighteen months, the lease may be terminated.
2. If the park is not used, the state shall automatically terminate the lease and may require improvements to be removed. By March 1971, there had been no physical construction or development by the city on the three-acre parcel of land. which had been acquired by the city eight months previously. The young Chicanos in Barrio Logan were extremely
inpatient with the delays, and Walter Hahn was asked to investigate. Mr. Hahn explained that an acceptable site for the CHP had been found, and that the exchange of land was close to completion. He relayed that an application had been made for a federal grant of $207,000 to purchase a building on the site, to be used for a community center. The city had also proposed capital improvements of $321,500 for The park and community center, for 1972.29 An announcement in April stated that work crews would be allowed to enter the park on May 1, but that the usual red tape would probably cause further delays. In an effort to expedite matters the city created an escrow, "permitting detail] work to proceed on local, state, and federal levels while the necessary legal and legislative steps are taken.Š Before the city could take possession of the land and building. major developments had to be completed:
1. Passage of an emergency bill now before the state legislature that will permit the city to trade an alternate site for the CHP headquarters.
2. Arrival of a letter from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HTJD) giving preliminary approval for a grant of two-thirds the cost of renovating the building into a community center. The city would forfeit such a grant if it took possession of the building and made major renovations before preliminary approval from HUD.
3. Receipt of a deed from the highway patrol for the building and the one-third acre of land it covers and transfer of a deed to the highway patrol for a 1.85 acre site between Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway just north of the San Diego flood control channel. ! City officials were unable to provide a time frame for the arrival of the HUD letter and the transfer of deeds. explaining that these conditions had to be meet before escrow would be closed. At that point. the Toll Bridge Authority would grant a thirty-year lease for 4.5 acres of land to the city of San Diego for
park development. including facilities for child care adult education. health services, employment counseling, social services, and a teen postŠ in addition to converting the existing building into a community center. The original 1.8-acre parcel had been developed into a children's play area. Communications between city and state officials finally arrived before the State Assembly in the form of a bill on April 26. 1971, allowing the exchange of land between the city and the state. The bill had been authored by Peter Chacon from San Diego' and co-authored by Wadie Deddeh from Chula Vista. The bill, unanimously approved by the Assembly 60-0, was then introduced to the Senate, where it passed without opposition On Mayy 23, the bill was signed into law by Governor Reagan. Jesse Ramirez, representing the Chicano Federation. expressed the sentiments, of the community upon the closure of negotiations The residents were pleased. and vowed to work with city departments of Planning, Community Development and Parks and Recreation to develop their dream.
........Celebrations of Chicano Park Day began in 1971 to commemorate the park takeover on April 22, 1970. One thousand people attended the first celebration which included cultural events and political speeches. Chicano Park Day is a symbol of community organization fighting to save a culture and a neighborhood, and should provide a positive example to other neighborhoods within San Diego that are fighting to stay alive.
........The painting of murals in Chicano Park had been discussed as part of the total park development since 1967. Local Chicano art groups, Los Artistas de los Barnos, Los Toltecas en Aztlarz and El Congresso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlan, had established themselves in San Diego between 1968 and 1972. Salvador Torres, an artist and resident of Barrio Logan, had been a member of the two previous groups, and had organized the third. He is generally referred to as the architect of the dream of Chicano Park.