Guest Speaker: Ben Nichols from Hillcrest Business Association

Today we heard from one of our Flag Program supporters, Ben Nichols, President of the Hillcrest Business Association (HBA).   He is a kiwi because he comes from New Zealand and you can hear a little of New Zealand in his accent.  Ben has been running the Association for seven years.  It has 1200 members, consisting of all the businesses in Hillcrest.  It is 95 years old and its membership exceeds that of the Gaslamp and North Park associations combined.  It has an annual budget of $1M.  Only $100K comes from dues, the rest comes from special events.  Ben filled us in on three major projects involving the Association.

  1. In conjunction with Councilman Todd Gloria, it is sponsoring a homeless outreach program. Hillcrest is a natural magnet for the homeless.  The Scripps Mercy emergency room is nearby where most of the homeless go for medical treatment and the community is sympathetic and friendly toward them.  With $20K from the city and $30K from the HBA, members of the Alpha Project have been contracted to provide an outreach team to interface with the homeless and be an influence for them to change their lifestyle.  The Alpha Project has the resources the city and the HBA lack to make these contacts and it has leverage by requiring certain actions in return for receiving certain benefits.
  1. The city, starting with Hillcrest, has received a $40M grant from SANDAG to create bicycle pathways. Unfortunately, the original SANDAG plan involved converting much of the on street parking into bike lanes.  Obviously this was not welcomed by the merchants and the HBA is working on other options.  One involves diverting much of the traffic now on University to Washington by reducing University to two lanes, thus making room for bike lanes.
  1. Creating neighborhood parks. Hillcrest has none at the moment.  One idea is to reconfigure Normal Street which is a very wide four lane street because it once was intended as a through street.  Washington now serves as the through street.  Normal would be converted into two lanes with the space thus created converted into multiple use park land.

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