One day last week, Jay Powell drove his turquoise Mini Cooper down a residential street in City Heights and stopped in front of a faded two-story apartment building. Its units faced away from the street, so the only things visible were windows protected by bars and sun-bleached letters identifying these as La Camilla Apartments.
“Look at it! It’s still a piece of crap!” Powell said, meaning he thought it always had been. Weeds flourished from cracks in the parking lot and old furniture was piled just beyond the security gate. “Even if there’s somebody living there, that building has been abandoned by the owners.”
Few things rile Powell up more than unplanned growth, and La Camilla Apartments exemplify it. So does much of the surrounding neighborhood, full of buildings just like it. For two decades, Powell, the 65-year-old director of the nonprofit City Heights Community Development Corp., has been trying to reverse what befell the area from the 1960s through the 1980s, when families left for newer subdivisions north of Interstate 8 and developers replaced their homes with high-density cookie-cutter complexes like these.