Casa de Oro Alliance in the Media

Casa de Oro group pushes on to build a better community

The Casa de Oro Community Alliance is moving along in its effort to beautify the Spring Valley community called the “Gateway to Mount Helix.”

The coalition of more than 100 advocates has been actively taking charge in cleaning up the area since 2015, trying to make Casa de Oro a safer, more attractive place to live, shop and do business.

The group held another two-hour community clean up, this one on Saturday on along Campo Road in the heart of the community.

But it can only do so much, its members say, and now the group is looking for some outside help from the county.

The alliance sent some of its members to meet with county Supervisor Dianne Jacob last week. She give her blessing to some of the plans the group has, including hiring an urban planner/designer to help bring some of the alliance’s ideas to fruition.

Jacob indicated she will ask for the county’s OK to make the hire.

“Casa de Oro is East County’s best kept secret,” Jacob said. ”That commercial area definitely has gone downhill over the years, but there is a tremendous opportunity for some deep thinking, for some creative thinking.

“Casa de Oro could be an incredible gem.”

On June 6, the alliance shared a Power Point presentation to the Valle de Oro Planning Group similar to the presentation they gave to Jacob. The Valle de Oro planners unanimously voted to endorse the plan, joining in solidarity to push along the alliance’s agenda.

“We are passionate about doing something about the deterioration of Casa de Oro,” alliance member Bob Yarris said. “We’re trying to bring our issues to the community, business owners, landlords, property owners… to join us in trying to change what’s been going on in Casa de Oro.

“It’s almost been demolition by neglect and I don’t know why this has happen,” he said. “I don’t want to start pointing fingers at any organizations. We want to make some progress, we want to make some improvement.”

Casa de Oro has about 7,000 residents with three elementary schools and a middle school. It includes Monte Vista High School as its own, although the campus sits just outside the boundaries.

Casa de Oro’s community limits are roughly Grandview Street to the north, Campo Road to the south, Bancroft Street to the west and Avocado Boulevard to the east.

The area lacks a recreation center or a community gathering spot, and has no pocket parks that are prevalent in other areas of the county — all of which the group would like to see for Casa de Oro.

Alliance member Roy Davies cites the “high risk businesses,” such as hookah lounges, medical marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores; a large number of homeless individuals; many storefront vacancies; excessive amounts of billboards; businesses with signs that violate county codes; open Dumpsters and more.

Davies told the group that a road map for revitalizing Casa de Oro might already exist in the form of design guidelines from another community such as Little Italy or University Heights that can be customized for Casa de Oro, or a fresh, unfiltered look at the area.

One of the Casa de Oro group’s longer-range plans is to make Campo Road a business destination, for both business owners and consumers.

Holding businesses accountable for the way they present themselves to the community would be a good start, the alliance said. A fresh, clean look would go a long way in bringing back some of the residents who go outside of the area to do their shopping.

The group is also looking for pedestrian-friendly streetscape, landscaped medians, enhanced crosswalks and bike lanes for safety.

“We did something very similar to this in Ramona,” Jacob said. “I’m very excited. This will take some time. An effort like this will take 18 months to two years. I want to do it right. The vision and concept are already done, but it’s time to get to the nitty gritty details.”

Jacob said some of the details involve zoning changes and design guidelines.

She said she thought that once those were in place, developers would have a renewed interest in investing in Casa de Oro.

“This area is ripe for an infusion of money and investment,” Jacob said. “We’ll need to do our work in order to attract those developers, and will take working with the property owners and the community.”

La Mesa Courier (January 27th, 2017)- by Jay Steiger

Casa de Oro group works to clean up Campo Road

A source of civic pride for the residents of La Mesa is the small town feel of that community.

While it is true that La Mesa is modest in size and enjoys a positive reputation within San Diego County, La Mesa is not alone and has many bordering neighborhoods with similar appeal. Fletcher Hills to the north, Rolando and the College area are to the west, Lemon Grove to the south, and Mt. Helix to the east.

These are all notable, but there is another community to the east, one along a major transportation corridor and with a rich history — the gateway community of Casa de Oro.

Casa de Oro, which translates to “house of gold,” is centered on Campo Road, which runs from the border of Lemon Grove all the way to the mountain hamlet of Campo. The Casa de Oro section lies between Mt. Helix to the north and Dictionary Hill to the south.

When Casa de Oro was first settled, cattle were driven along a dirt road and the hillsides were dotted with citrus, avocado, and olive orchards. Today, the Casa de Oro corridor is mostly suburban residential with businesses along Campo Road. In the 1960s through the 1980s, the neighborhood was vibrant with shops and restaurants.

Recently, those businesses have struggled because residents surrounding Casa de Oro have been increasingly pulled to shop and dine in nearby La Mesa or Rancho San Diego. This, combined with the costs of real estate and leasing, and the economic disruption of the Great Recession led to a gradual decline in the number of retail and restaurant businesses.

The slowdown in local commerce was paired with a seeming disinterest by property owners in maintaining the upkeep of their storefronts and lots. The region began to look worn, littered, and faded. People were still very interested in living in the surrounding neighborhoods, but were increasingly disinterested in shopping or dining in Casa de Oro.

To compound these issues, illegal marijuana dispensaries were beginning to cluster in this region which already had a higher than average density of alcohol-based businesses.

Many residents were deeply concerned by these changes, and wanted to see a focus on improvement and renewal of the business district. In 2015, a group of community members began to meet to discuss ways of drawing needed attention to the area.

Volunteers from the Casa de Oro Alliance at a community cleanup effort held in June of last year (Courtesy of CDO Alliance)

This group included long-time and newly arrived residents, parents, retirees, and people with diverse backgrounds in government, arts, business management, and faith-based organizations. All were volunteers and all had the same goal — take action to better Casa de Oro.

Supported and advised by the nonprofit advocacy organization, The Institute for Public Strategies, the group ultimately decided to call themselves the Casa de Oro Community Alliance (CDOCA), and former Grossmont Healthcare District boardmember Bob Yarris was named chairperson. Outreach was made to the County of San Diego and the Sheriff’s Department.

It was confirmed that, as with La Mesa, all marijuana dispensaries were operating illegally. The violations are civic code rather than criminal, so the shutdown process can take time, but the residents now had a way of taking a step forward. Numerous dispensaries have been forced to move and word is spreading that Casa de Oro is no longer an easy area for this kind of operation.

In addition, greater attention is being given to preventing alcohol sales to underage youth. With both a high school and middle school nearby, residents and school officials want to make sure that there is no sense of complacency regarding these teens and the number of businesses which sell alcohol. The Sherriff’s Department has an advisory role in liquor sales applications and has indicated that they are aware of the number of existing licenses and the need to use great care in granting any new licenses.

The CDOCA also sends a group of representatives to meet regularly with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

“I appreciate the good work being done by the Casa de Oro Community Alliance and share its concerns about illegal business activities and the need to further revitalize the area,” Jacob said. “My expectation is that the Sheriff’s Department and county staff will continue to crack down on any shady operations when they pop up. We need to also keep a close watch on the number of liquor establishments and make sure our voice is heard on any new state liquor licenses.”

Jacob has also encouraged the alliance to continue to refine their goals and objectives to better assist them in applying for additional county program and grant assistance. A major next step for the CDOCA will be to develop a proposal for a special zoning area in Casa de Oro to help ensure regulatory compliance for businesses selling alcohol, tobacco, or other adult-oriented products.

Beyond partnering with law enforcement and the county, the CDOCA also wanted to organize positive grassroots events to boost civic pride and demonstrate the value of the group. A highly successful community cleanup was held in June, with nearly 100 volunteers picking up trash and pulling weeds along Campo Road in the center of Casa de Oro.

A fall festival took place in November which included food vendors, entertainment, crafts, and booths for additional civic booster organizations. Hundreds of people attended the festival and gave positive and enthusiastic approval to the event.

The Casa de Oro Fall Festival held in November of last year was a huge success. (Courtesy of CDO Alliance)

“A lot has been accomplished in the past year by our committed community volunteers, all of whom are highly motivated to restore Casa de Oro to a shining house of gold,” Yarris said.

While many challenges remain, the region is improving. There are now several well-regarded anchor businesses, such as Albertsons, Starbucks, Ranas Restaurant, Big 5 Sporting Goods and the Young Actors Theater (YAT). The Casa de Oro Library is a vibrant institution, and holds regular story-time and other neighborhood events.

Recently, Butlers Coffee and a CVS Pharmacy opened and there are plans for an Italian bakery as well. Additional community groups and organizations, such as the Valle de Oro Planning Commission, Grossmont/Mt Helix Improvement Association (GMIA), and the Casa de Oro Business Association have become involved, as have many area churches.

Like Casa de Oro, La Mesa also wrestles with some of the same issues of challenged neighborhoods — most noticeable along University Avenue. La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, who used to teach at Murdock Elementary, which is close to Casa de Oro, has voiced enthusiasm for the revitalization efforts.

“I know this area well and it is a great community with many families and children,” he said. “It borders La Mesa and deserves our support.”

The Casa de Oro Community Alliance celebrates the completion of La Mesa’s downtown improvement project and invites their neighbors in La Mesa to visit some of the businesses in Casa de Oro (Butlers makes a great cup of coffee) and see the progress being made and the great potential for continued renewal in this neighborhood.

—Jay Steiger is a school district and community volunteer, parent, and co-chairs the Media and Community Outreach Committee for the Casa de Oro Community Alliance. Reach him

May 29, 2015- OP-ED by Youth Group members: Times of San Diego – “Why Must East County Teens Endure So Many Alcohol Ads?”

Why Must East County Teens Endure So Many Alcohol Ads?

Casa de Oro group working to revitalize local community

Casa de Oro business owners and residents are trying to work together to clean up the area. (Karen Pearlman/San Diego Union-Tribune)

By Karen Pearlman 


Businesses and residents in Casa de Oro are using a grassroots group effort to turn their pocket community in Spring Valley into a safer, more livable area.

The Casa de Oro Community Alliance formed in September 2015, hoping to build a pedestrian-friendly community with thriving businesses.

For the past year, the group has been cleaning up trash and graffiti, preventing loitering, holding liquor stores, smoke shops and hookah lounges accountable, and working to get rid of illegal pot dispensaries.

The alliance sponsored a day-long festival at Casa de Oro Plaza last month with more than two dozen vendors, artists and entertainment.

Bob Yarris, chairman of the alliance, lives in nearby Mount Helix and owns rental property in Casa de Oro. He said he has watched the deterioration of the area for the last 20 years.

“We used to have a parade, we used to celebrate Casa de Oro (Spanish for) ‘House of Gold,’ ” Yarris said. “People from outside the area used to come down and embrace the community. There were a lot of different shops, user-friendly shops, so you could take care of all of your business on Campo Road.”

Yarris said a proliferation of liquor stores, smoke/vape shops and businesses selling marijuana have dominated the main drag now. There are also several tattoo parlors that trouble the members of the alliance.

People do their shopping in Rancho San Diego or at Grossmont Center in La Mesa, Yarris said, and they avoid Casa de Oro.

“All of this user-friendly shopping has been converted into those elements,” he said. “And with that, is the perception is that it’s very unsafe.”

The alliance is trying to change that perception, starting with five committees to address different issues, from business improvement to beautification.

Members of the alliance include:

  • The Spring Valley and Valle de Oro planning groups
  • Dictionary Hill Open Space Advocates
  • Casa de Oro Business Association
  • Kiwanis Club
  • Grossmont Union High School District
  • Young Actors Theater

The alliance is also helped by the East County Community Change Project, a project of the Institute for Public Strategies. The institute helps communities address public health and safety problems related to drugs and alcohol.

The alliance also gets guidance from county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, the Sheriff’s Department, code enforcement and public works.

“The group has come quite a long way in the past year,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Fred Magaña. “We are all working together to identify those areas of high concern such as homelessness, trespassing and property related thefts in the Casa de Oro community.”

SANDAG reports that violent crimes in Spring Valley increased 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, whereas most of the other unincorporated areas in the county dropped during the same period.

For the past year, Yarris and the alliance have been actively looking to Jacob for logistical and financial help. They hope ultimately that she can get funding for an urban planner to help reshape the area.

Yarris said he has seen some changes come recently, with a CVS pharmacy moving into a closed Fresh & Easy store, and remodeled Starbucks and Subway businesses. He said a large Italian bakery might move in.

“We realize this is not an overnight project,” he said. “We want to move this thing forward with professional guidance.”

Jacob has said she needs more preliminary information before asking the supervisors to agree to provide funds for a planner.

Casa de Oro’s geographic boundaries are roughly Grandview Street to the north, Campo Road to the south, Bancroft Street to the west and Avocado Boulevard to the east.

“I’ve met with Casa de Oro leaders several times and share their concerns about illegal business activities and the need to further revitalize the area,” Jacob said.

The focus for 2017 will be on bringing policy change and continuing beautification efforts to Campo Road.

Alliance members went door-to-door along Campo Road last summer, gathering input from business owners and store employees about safety in the neighborhood. Their surveys will also help highlight trouble spots in the area.

Susan Nichols, who heads the Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association, said Jacob has organized quarterly meeting of Casa de Oro “stakeholders” to help bring a voice to the community. Those stakeholders include the alliance, planning groups, public safety workers and trolley officials.

“It’s a larger initiative,” Nichols said. “This group has come to feel what is important is to go forward with a vision as to how to change that business community, to improve it in a tremendously big way.”