A new analysis aimed at comprehensively documenting inequality in San Diego found sharp disparities in income, asthma and voting rates when 10 neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego are compared to the rest of the city.
The new analysis, which researchers are calling the most robust and textured neighborhood-level data ever collected in San Diego, could help policymakers become more targeted in their efforts to address inequality.
The data will also be used as a baseline to measure the effectiveness of city equity efforts, which are expected to include spending more money in low-income areas on roads, parks and other infrastructure to make up for years of underfunding.
Mayor Todd Gloria and the city’s Democrat-dominated City Council have prioritized equity efforts, including a climate equity index that aims to help low-income areas more vulnerable to climate change.
The mayor also wants to begin taking developer money collected in wealthy neighborhoods and spending it instead in low-income areas on parks, libraries, fire stations and other infrastructure projects.
Called the “Sunrise Dashboard,” the new data analysis compares the 10 neighborhoods included in San Diego’s federally designated Promise Zone to the rest of the city on several quality-of-life criteria.
The neighborhoods, all south of state Route 94, include Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Stockton, Lincoln Park, Mountain View, Southcrest, Chollas View and Emerald Hills.
Perhaps the starkest disparity is household median income, where the gap is well over $30,000 annually and has increased since 2015.
The 2015 median income in the Promise Zone was $30,831, which was $33,478 lower than the city’s overall median income of $64,309. In 2017, the gap shrunk a bit to $32,840 — $37,478 versus $70,588.
But in 2019 the gap widened to $37,460, a median income of $41,520 in the Promise Zone areas versus $78,980 in the city overall.
Regarding asthma rates, which often rise near the industrial areas and freeways found in the Promise Zone, the rate in the zone of 75.32 cases per 10,000 people was more than double the city’s overall rate of 35.84 cases per 10,000 people.
In the 2020 general election, voter turnout in the Promise Zone was 57 percent, well below the national rate of 67 percent and San Diego County’s rate of 71 percent.
Researchers collecting the data said such neighborhood-level data helps illuminate inequities and allows officials to go beyond generalizations, such as saying vaguely that San Diego communities south of SR-94 suffer from inequities.
“When you look at these specific neighborhoods, you get a completely different picture,” said Zachary Gabriel Green, a director at the University of San Diego’s Nonprofit Institute who helped oversee the new research. “The whole idea is to get to what is actually going on and then to measure if we are having any kind of impact.”
The institute partnered on the research with local nonprofit RISE San Diego.
Researchers said they expect local elected officials to embrace the new analysis.
“Elected officials want to have data to inform their decision-making and to continue to track progress,” said Tessa Tinkler, research director for the institute.
The institute has been publishing a “quality of life” dashboard for several years, but leaders chose this year to add the new neighborhood-level analysis because regional studies often miss inequities created by unequal investment and “redlining.”
In San Diego, like most other U.S. cities, banks would routinely refuse to make home loans to people of color in neighborhoods designated as white, creating inequities that still persist in many areas of the city. It was called redlining because actual red lines were used on maps to differentiate areas.
The institute prioritizes analyzing the intersection of equity, economy and environment, said executive director Emily Young.
The institute chose the Promise Zone because it is one of 22 areas nationwide recognized by the federal government as low-income and in need of economic investment.
Promise Zones are chosen based on low educational attainment, insufficient access to healthy foods, concentrated poverty, rising crime and a lack of affordable housing.
San Diego’s Promise Zone includes 19 of the county’s 627 U.S. Census tracts.
Green said researchers plan to add new criteria to the Sunrise Dashboard when they produce a second annual version next winter. The new criteria will be based on public feedback, he said.
Possibilities include differing perceptions of public safety in communities and rising educational inequities.
Researchers believe low-income students have suffered during the pandemic from less access to computers and their parents more often needing to work, which made them less available to tutor during lockdowns.
The date sources used for the new analysis include the city’s new climate equity index, the U.S. Census, state and county databases.