If you live or work in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, there’s a good chance you know Maria Cortez. A 47-year resident of City Heights, Maria tirelessly advocates for her community, actively leading and participating in a number of community organizations and coalitions including the City Heights Community Development Corporation, the Teralta West Neighborhood Alliance, City Heights Town Council, City Heights Area Planning Committee, and Mid-City CAN, to name a few. She can also be found on the campus of Franklin Elementary, where she’s worked for 28 years. When asked how she finds the time to contribute to so many groups and organizations, she simply replies “because I care about my community.”
Maria first crossed paths with SAY San Diego about 20 years ago when she was helping her neighbors with a tenant rights issue. Maria was determined to take action when an apartment building in her neighborhood was in a terrible state. Residents were subjected to a long list of unacceptable conditions including broken appliances, leaking pipes, rat droppings, and more. SAY San Diego staff were well versed in tenant rights and were able to provide advice to Maria and apartment residents. Armed with knowledge of their rights, residents were empowered to work with the San Diego Police Department and Code Enforcement, ultimately leading to the landlord bringing the building up to code.
In the years since, Maria has worked with SAY on a variety of projects and issues including neighborhood clean-ups, liquor store and market compliance checks, and ensuring that local businesses are up to code and not engaging in illicit activity. Maria says that SAY’s knowledge is invaluable. “Working with SAY is wonderful. They educate residents about what to look for at the local markets. We know to check for signage indicating that they require valid ID for tobacco and alcohol, and to make sure that alcohol is not at eye level for children. They taught us how to work with an establishment for the benefit of the community and helped us feel empowered to speak up and report a violation. Because of SAY, we feel like we have a voice.”
Maria is thankful to have SAY San Diego as a partner in the community she loves so much. “SAY’s doors are always open. They do such a great job of bringing everyone together to clean up our neighborhoods and improve our community. SAY staff have become family.” SAY and the City Heights community are lucky to have a passionate advocate in Maria, whose dedication to her neighborhood is unmatched.