Chula Vista: The Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Wrong!
Is Chula Vista a livable community with plenty of parks and green space? Or is it a city divided by a freeway and scarred by graffiti and trash?
The answer, at least according to the 100 or so residents who recently showed up at the Civic Center library to talk about the city’s image, is yes. Both descriptions, they think, are accurate. And they had plenty more to say about Chula Vista and what it needs to do to attract visitors and jobs.
The May 30 event, titled “Chula Vista: The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Wrong” and sponsored by the library and the Friends with a grant from the Chula Vista Community Foundation, was designed to get residents “engaged” in their community, and most attendees came with opinions they were eager to share.
The Civic Center library was turned into an event space in May for an often lively roundtable discussion on Chula Vista's image moderated by Carl Luna (below). Click here for more photos, courtesy of Steve Wood.
More than half of those attending agreed that Chula Vista is a “livable community” with adequate green space. Other pluses, in rank order, included:
Chula Vista creates a “negative first impression” and lacks a united center. Those two complaints topped the list, combining to claim two-thirds of the participants’ votes. “The bayfront is great,” one attendee commented, “but if you go the other way toward Broadway, it’s all trash and vacant buildings.” And though development on the eastside has raised the city’s profile, it has also left Chula Vista divided, with residents rarely crossing to the “other side” of town. Other negatives:
Participants were evenly divided on how to fix the city’s image, with about a third endorsing efforts to “rebrand and market” its assets. That was followed closely by calls to “clean up Chula Vista” and to restore community events. And finally, participants agreed that the city needs to attract businesses and jobs and to create a sense of “Chula Vista-ness,” with a “united front from hills to shore.”
Trained facilitators from the League of Women Voters and the Kettering Institute joined city employees in keeping the discussion on track, and political science professor Carl Luna, who also directs the newly organized San Diego Institute for Civil Civic Engagement, served as moderator. They encouraged participants to talk about what they love about Chula Vista and to list the reasons people outside the city fail to “share the love.” (A recent survey commissioned by the city found that a majority of San Diegans see the city in a negative light – and a significant number have no opinion about Chula Vista at all.)
The event opened with a photo montage showcasing the “good” – a scenic bayfront – and the “bad” – rampant graffiti – as well as news clippings variously proclaiming Chula Vista “Ground Zero in the housing crisis,” one of the safest cities in San Diego and “the most boring city in America.”
One problem, an EastLake resident noted, is that the city “doesn’t know what it wants to be.” Is it a bedroom community? A tourist destination? A center of higher education? Another pointed out that the city desperately needs jobs and industry, but stringent requirements and permitting fees send small businesses fleeing to neighboring cities. On the other hand, its climate and location near the border are a plus.By the end of the morning, participants had identified the top five positive and negative attributes of their city. And, more significantly, they had agreed on five ways to turn those minuses into a plus.
“There is no pre-determined outcome” to this event, Luna told the group. “Our hope is to get community leaders, business leaders, city government fired up to work together and build a better image for Chula Vista.”
The library and Friends hope to bridge the divide between east and west by hosting a second event in October at “The Hub,” the new community space for the Otay Ranch branch library.
“We need to continue the conversation,” said library director Betty Waznis, who was the driving force behind the Civic Center event. “We will do our best to let you be engaged,” she told the group. “This is not a city project, it is not a library project. We need to attach ourselves to existing resources to get the job done. We are at the beginning of a great new era for Chula Vista.”
She acknowledged that Chula Vista’s negatives frequently overshadow its strongest asset: “We are a community of good citizens doing good things together.”