Little Italy San Diego: A Message from Marco Li Mandri

Apr 16, 2020 248

BY: Marco Li Mandri

I have been working in Little Italy for over 25 years now and have seen it grow from an area formerly branded as “Harborview” to the Little Italy it is today.

Since the inception of the Business Improvement District in 1996, the Association (a charitable, non-profit corporation) has grown from a group of 17 business and community Board members, with no budget, to a corporation with over 3 million dollars in annual revenue, over 45 employees who manage all aspects of Little Italy, and a community acknowledged as the most dynamic, expansive Little Italy in the country today.

Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic as an “enemy” is misplaced, for it is not a conscious act of sabotage that has closed tens of millions of businesses nationwide and mandated no large gatherings, encouraging social distancing and mask-wearing in public – the root cause is simply a virus.

People who assumed that their jobs were crucial for the livelihood of themselves and their families have had their main source of income deemed “non-essential”, mandated to shelter in place and wear masks until the worst is over. The real failure we're seeing is the availability of mass testing, a shortcoming that falls directly on our political leaders in Washington. Figures indicate less than 1% of the population has been tested, a necessary step in determining our ability to get back to the normal standard of living that we had just 8 weeks ago.

Meanwhile, our neighborhood is essentially shut down, with over 150 cafes, retailers, restaurants, bars, hotels and offices (many family-owned and operated) having been directed to remain closed or partially opened to prevent the congregation of people. Over 3,000 employees in Little Italy alone have been furloughed or laid off, creating hardship for people’s personal finances. Washington Elementary School is temporarily closed, Our Lady of the Rosary is also closed, nor did it hold Easter Services for the first time since 1926. Millions of dollars in sales and commerce have been lost, severely damaging the wide array of entrepreneurs operating in our community. India Street, which up until February was a vibrant thoroughfare all day long, is now a proverbial ghost town.

The Little Italy Association has reacted accordingly since the Governor’s Executive Order and declaration of the state of emergency on March 4th;

1. Sought the necessary state approval to ensure that our maintenance employees were classified as “essential workers” and shifted all of our field operations staff to sanitizing all touchable surfaces in the community, including street light buttons, utility boxes, tables and chairs, etc.

2. Increased sidewalk pressure-washing to ensure that the public rights of way are kept clean from the virus.

3. Attempted to deal with the growth of new homeless encampments under the bridges and throughout the neighborhood and encouraged those people to go to the Convention Center where they can be in a safe environment, (much of this population came here due to the shutting down of Balboa Park).

4. Closed the very popular Amici Dog Park to prevent the congregation of large groups of people.

5. Populated our website with a list of businesses that remain open for takeout or online orders/takeout during the pandemic, encouraging local residents and others to support those restaurants, made evident with street-side signage that promotes short-term parking for pick-up.

6. Worked closely with the Mayor’s office to re-open the weekly Little Italy Mercato: Farmers Market on Saturdays with a weekly review by County Health and the City of San Diego to ensure that residents have access to fresh produce while ensuring that social-distancing and crowd congregation steps are followed.

7. Informed all residents, businesses and restaurants, via our website, of the latest mandates, directives, and health protocols (from the State, County, and City) to prevent the spread of the virus.

8. Shut down all of our beautiful public spaces and piazzas to discourage social gatherings.

None of us know when this lock down of our neighborhood, City, and Country will be lifted, but we do know that it will end, even if it’s done gradually. We cannot continue to live with curtailment of social interaction, particularly in this thriving community where hugging, kissing, and social gatherings are the fabric of our neighborhood culture. Once restrictions are lifted by the Governor, County officials, and the Mayor, we will work to revitalize our community back to normalcy as soon as possible.

The challenge to repair the social, economic, and overall experience of what it is to live in and enjoy Little Italy will be a historic one. The Association is here to lead this effort on behalf of everyone. Be safe, be patient, stay healthy, and help us rebuild our community together.

SOURCE: San Diego's Little Italy Association

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