From Trashy to Classy

Sam Lopez is the environmental director for Urban Corps, a nonprofit agency that gives young adults jobs such as weed abatement and graffiti and trash removal throughout local communities while helping them earn high school diplomas. This week, Lopez went to his newest client — the communities that make up Greater Golden Hill — for introductions. On Monday it was the Maintenance Assessment District (MAD) Oversight Committee and on Thursday, the Community Development Corporation (CDC).

At Monday’s MAD meeting, Lopez stood in front of the committee and before he could get the “ez” in his last name out, outspoken MAD committee member Bill Hilsdorf voiced his concerns for the corps: “The Urban Corps is made up of troublemakers, right? Well, I’ve seen them in the neighborhood, and they don’t seem to have much of a work ethic. How much are you charging our community anyways?”

The answer was $262,000 of the Maintenance Assessment District’s $488,000 annual budget.

Lopez was caught off guard. Before he had adequate time to respond on all of the services Urban Corps had performed in the ten days since starting work in the community, MAD committee chair David Skillman asked if Lopez could return for the next meeting. Lopez agreed.

Luckily for Lopez, Thursday’s CDC meeting was a much different shade of spray-paint. Before the introductions, Rosemary Downing, executive director for the CDC, gave a presentation on Urban Corps accomplishments during the first ten days of work. In that time, 158 bags of trash had been collected, 133 square feet of graffiti has been removed, 14 large furniture items hauled away from alleyways, and 13 blocks' worth of weeds have been eliminated.

“This deserves a round of applause,” said Downing.

CDC board member Katherine Willets said she saw a group of workers from Urban Corps sitting down around noon one day as she was driving through the community. When she returned a short while later, all of them were hard at work.

Lopez and the Urban Corps team will have another go with the Greater Golden Hill MAD at their meeting on the third Monday of September at 6:30 p.m. in the Balboa Park clubhouse.

For more on Urban Corps, go to urbancorpssd.org.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


The Urban Corps is obviously fantastic! But, what part does the CDC play? Maybe the wrong non-profit has got the contract.

On another note, the CDC has been requested to provide expenditure records to the MAD Oversight Committee, and this has been done once (and with issues) since the very beginning. Enthusiasm is great, but some members of the committee would like to see the numbers.

Hey....come on...This is SandyEggo!!!! No one cares about numbers here, unless they can be used to bash your opponet, cover yer own arse, double-talk the bewildered and befuddled citizenry or compile in mass amounts to meet some federal mandate ( We know the State doesn't really care about little SandyEggos' numbers)

The Urban Corps contract amount is actually $262,000, as reported in the North Park News. The NPN also reports that the reproduction clock, mamufactured in 1991, in front of the Big Kitchen, is a "landmark" clock. Not. It isn't historical. It's just a silly, cheap reproduction representing an era in which South Park didn't even exist. And the clock's cheap mechanism never works for long: for years it was stuck at 2 o'clock, until one of the CDC board members' husband was paid taxpayer money to repair it. Anyway, no one cares if it works. No one needs a clock in the middle of the sidewalk. It is only a landmark to the egos of a handful of self-serving people (CDC board members) who had it installed using government grants, and who promised in a Council hearing to pay for all related expenses forever. But they got a bit tired of it, so now property owners who have never even seen the clock and live far away from it get charged for "twice yearly maintenace'? That's rich.

4 comment by SouthPark concerning the contract amount is correct. We regret the error and have corrected the story text.

The trash can/doggie bag issue, as well as the clock, are simple, easy to understand examples that illustrate for all in the community the overwhelming power of the GGH-CDC. If the Oversight Board is passed over on these fairly low-level, benign neighborhood items, it's no wonder the CDC felt they could hire the Urban Corps for $262,000...taking 15%-20% for administrative overhead...to do the work already provided to our community by the City.
Think about that: My trash is picked up, is yours? If I see graffiti, I call the City, within 24 hours, it's erased. The Park & Rec employees take care of GGH park areas. Property owners (residential and commercial) have an obligation to keep their properties orderly...if they don't and it bothers you, call City code compliance. We already pay taxes to the City for the services that our CDC has hired the Urban. Corps to do. Isn't that DOUBLE TAXATION? Our economy is in bad shape, many of us don't have enough "expendable" income to pay twice for the same service.
I encourage the Oversight Board and all community members to stay informed and speak up; the CDC is supposed to be non-profit and work for our community providing, through the MAD taxes, ENHANCED services...and those are to be discussed and approved, if not generated, by the Oversight Committee.

A quarter of a million dollars...for trash pickup, painting over graffitti, weeding, and hauling some old furniture to the dump?


When you take into account the city is ALREADY responsible for this work, and we're ALREADY paying for this work, it sure looks excessive.

When the city is relieved of this obligation, and puts it on the shoulders of people who get double-taxed, where did the original money go? Is it yet another way of moving funds from the citizens into well-connected developers' pockets? Does John Moores pay to have his billionaire's ballpark village cleaned up, or do WE pay that fee?

I'm all in favor of programs like Urban Corps helping youth to turn their lives around. But this doesn't seem like the best way to spend community money, and I don't see the nexus between stuffing trash bags and graduating from school.

Keep reporting on these issues, Dorian. It's enlightening to hear how our money is being mis-spent.


Fred Williams

What do you all want to spend the money on? I don't hear to many constructive ideas. If the city takes care of those things how come the youth group was able to collect that much garbage and cover that much graffiti? I would very much like to have discarded furniture hauled away. I think the clock is cool. You seem to have some sort of axe to grind. All your attacks are personal. Were you passed over for a board position or something? I'm very mistrustful of government myself, but these are our neighbors! You don't see the nexus between learning a good work ethic and graduating from school? Really? Extra good if these kids are actually from our neighborhood! I challenge the nay sayers to come up with constructive comments geared toward helping the community to better itself. Or are you just going to rant like paranoid princesses who were not invited to the prom, so they try to tear it down and ruin it for everyone else?

Ideally, constructive ideas for the improvement of the community ought to come from the oversight or advisory board composed of representatives of the community.

Here in San Diego the opposite seems to happen. The paid staff, often at the behest of private interests who can afford to lobby them, scheme up a proposal and only then tell the community "here's what we're gonna do".

Being "nice" people, the boards are then reduced to meekly nodding their heads and going along with the "professionals".

It would be refreshing to see this reversed.

The duplication or replacement of city services through community funding is emphatically NOT the purpose of these assessment districts. They exist to provide services and amenities above and beyond the standard.

We need a full accounting and formal audit of where these dollars are spent. It may be that paying a quarter million dollars for the trash pickup, weed abatement, and graffitti paint-over is standard. But it seems expensive to me, especially when we consider that the youth involved are probably not particularly well paid.

Does picking up trash build character and self-esteem?

Is it required for academic success?

I'm not sure this is true. Rather, such work might be seen as demeaning or "working for chump change" and actually deter some of those who most need academic assistance from participating in the program.

Further, when the fee for these services was paid, did Urban Corps explicitly devote a large amount of that quarter million dollars to training, academic assistance, school supplies, and other support for the young scholars?

How much of that quarter million went to staff salaries, administration, and other overhead?

The oversight board ought to have that information available to them in advance of approving such contracts.

Better, they ought to see competing plans for what to do with the assessed money. Would that same quarter million be better spent elsewhere? Could spending $25k on recruiting and rewarding citizen clean up volunteers accomplish the same job, thereby freeing funding for other worthy projects?

These discussions are often avoided in San Diego, and I'm glad we are all now paying attention to the situation. I applaud the involvement of the community, and encourage more participation by residents in making San Diego a better place.

These sound like productive questions. Much better than insisting that your neighbors are paid "flacks" just out to grab themselves a boatload of money. I don't know who this Fred fellow is but these are good questions. Are answers not provided in a reasonable time frame? Do people on the advisory board have expertise in these matters? Do they have contacts in the fields of service we require in order to make suggestions? Do they know how to qualify such vendors? So far I've just heard "We need banners saying South Park on them." Which, to me sounds a bit trivial compared to improved sanitation and maintenance of parks. I'm anxious to hear some good ideas.


You wrote, "Does picking up trash build character and self-esteem?"

Yes! Picking up trash builds character and self esteem. Learning how to do a job and being expected to do that job well builds self esteem. Whether the job is stuffing envelopes, picking up trash or waiting tables there is much to be learned. Self esteem can be earned by a job well done.

Fred, "Is it required for academic success?"

Self esteem is required for success in almost anything we do. Young people don't drop out of high school because they think too highly of themselves. When they value their contributions to society they work to acheive more out of their lives.

Fred, "I'm not sure this is true. Rather, such work might be seen as demeaning or "working for chump change" and actually deter some of those who most need academic assistance from participating in the program."

These young people receive training in how to hold a job and the education they need to complete High School through the program. Most, if not all of the graduates of the program are proud of their accomplishments as a result of their participation and would likely take issue with you calling what they learned "demeaning." Without the things they learn in the program most of them are likely to be working at minimum wage job for the rest of their lives.

Urban Corp is providing many services in addition to the contract with the MAD at no additional charge to the community. The city requires that the lowest conforming bid be accepted and theires was the lowese for the services outlined by the engineers report.

Golden, I'm glad you have given more details on the contract.

If, as you say, the contract includes additional services to the trash pick-up and weeding, then it may well be worth a quarter million dollars.

If, as you say, this was the lowest conforming bid, and if the oversight committee actually had the opportunity to examine this bid before it was accepted, then the price tag might be reasonable.

Still, I must ask if other bids were received (or sought). Was the request for bids written in such a way that only ONE provider could possibly meet the conditions? This is a common trick in San Diego, and frequently results in higher costs.

Regardless, I'll repeat the observation that the city is already obligated to provide these services. Is Golden Hill paying twice? If so, why?

As to whether self-esteem increases school performance, there's evidence to suggest otherwise. As a teacher, I know that students who are full of confidence often fail to study sufficiently, and under perform compared to students who aren't so sure of themselves. It's genuine achievement that creates positive self image, not the other way around.

Here's one of the studies: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118855650/abstract

"The modest correlations between self-esteem and school performance do not indicate that high self-esteem leads to good performance. Instead, high self-esteem is partly the result of good school performance. Efforts to boost the self-esteem of pupils have not been shown to improve academic performance and may sometimes be counterproductive. Job performance in adults is sometimes related to self-esteem, although the correlations vary widely, and the direction of causality has not been established. Occupational success may boost self-esteem rather than the reverse. Alternatively, self-esteem may be helpful only in some job contexts. Laboratory studies have generally failed to find that self-esteem causes good task performance, with the important exception that high self-esteem facilitates persistence after failure."

One more point, and I'll stop.

Working while going to school (something I did myself) is NOT always a good idea. Here's a study that shows why:


"....taking on a job for more than 20 hr per week further disengages youngsters from school, increases delinquency and drug use, furthers autonomy from parents, and diminishes self-reliance."

The intertwined justifications for paying extra for the clean-up crew, summed up as "self-esteem through work leading to academic success", ought to be questioned.

The self-esteem movement is a shibboleth of the left, while the "arbeit macht frei" mantra is chanted by the right. Both are ideological rather than evidence-based approaches to addressing social problems.

When expending so much public money, we ought to be more thoughtful as to what we accept as justification for paying extra.

Again, thank you Golden for your questions and observations. I'm pleased to see interest and concern about how we use our resources in the community. Discussions like this, and your involvement in these issues, can only lead to improved outcomes in the future.




I enjoyed the article. I agree that "artificialy induced" self esteem such as the practice of schools to make sure every student receives a award sometime in the school year is counterproductive. An award for "most energetic" or "friendlist student" may even encourage negative behaviour.

The self esteem gained from a job well done is certainly a much more positive goal.

You said, "Working while going to school (something I did myself) is NOT always a good idea. Here's a study that shows why:" I agree, not always a good idea. In the case of the young people with Urban Corp they are students that had already dropped out or were going to drop out anyway. For many, if not most of them working is a necesity. The benefit of being able to work with a organization that wants to promote their High School education is great for them.

You also said, "The intertwined justifications for paying extra for the clean-up crew, summed up as "self-esteem through work leading to academic success", ought to be questioned." Golden Hill is not "paying extra" by contracting with Urban Corp. I was merely stating that I felt that picking up trash does build self esteem.

Three bids were received and Urban Corp had the lowest bid. In addition to what is contracted for Urban Corp is providing two extra employees through their program at no charge to Golden Hill. They will also provide tree planting in parkways and have given us a source of free trees. This is over and above the contract. They have sent teams on our community clean up days at no charge to us and will continue to do so above what the contract requires.

Urban Corp has also offered to let members of the community go on ride alongs while they are working in the community. If you are looking for more information I suggest you contact Alia at 696-9992 (the CDC office) and arrange to go on a ride along. I havn't gone on one yet but I hear it is a informative and positive experience.

Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader