LIVING IN THE CITY: This Former Civil Servant's Now a Downtown Shutterbug

Retired from city politics, Sal Giametta spends his days pointing a camera at faces and places in San Diego's urban core

“Living In the City” is the San Diego Sun’s feature Q&A with downtown San Diego residents. It’s a way to get to know the city by meeting the people who live here. This is an ongoing series.

Name: Salvatore Giametta

Location: Currently live in TREO (owner) in the Columbia District. Previously lived in Columbia Place (still own) in the Marina District.

Personal deets: I’m a 62-year-old native son of San Diego and have lived downtown for 33 years.

Professional deets: Officially retired.

I’ve held three formal positions since graduating college (San Diego State University, 1984), and all were downtown and walking distance from home.

  • Office of Mayor Maureen O’Connor, City of San Diego, 1986 to 1992. (Starting as Assistant to the Mayor and ending as Deputy Chief of Staff.)
  • San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau (now the San Diego Tourism Authority), 1992 to 2009. (Starting as Director of Community Relations and ending as Vice President of Communications & Public Affairs.)
  • Office of Supervisor Ron Roberts, County of San Diego, 2009 to 2019. (Chief of Staff).


Hobby: Street photography. First picked up a camera in 2014, wanting to take images of everyday downtown life. I gravitate to street portraiture, where people and faces are central. Faces and expressions convey emotion and tell stories. Downtown is an animated environment and provides the perfect backdrop. Parades. Marathons. Concerts. Art exhibits. Street fairs. Political marches/rallies. My weekly go-to event is the Saturday Little Italy Farmers Market. (To see more photos, go to: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.)

The Great Good Place: After college, I traveled extensively around the country and the world. I fell in love with what I found in cities: Density. It’s a four-letter word in California, though, where the common aspiration is a detached, single-family home in the suburbs. I’m attracted by the constant activity and hum of city life, the ease of movement and the sense of community and belonging in the inner city. It’s what sociologist Ray Oldenburg dubbed “The Great Good Place.”

During the mid to late 1980s, the City of San Diego and its redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corporation (now Civic San Diego), was hyping/promoting the ongoing revitalization of downtown as an exciting urban center where you could live, work and play. I bought into the dream after taking my first job in the mayor’s office and never looked back.

What’s missing downtown? Density. We need a lot more people–residents and workers–to create that critical mass required of a truly vibrant, bustling city. We’re getting there, slowly. It will happen someday.

Best part of your building: The great sense of community among longtime owners/residents, as well as the dedicated, attentive and highly responsible TREO building management team.

Worst part of your location: The loud, early morning noise from trash haulers.

Best reason to live downtown: Convenient, efficient and engaging lifestyle, particularly for those who can live and work downtown.

Worst part of living downtown: Despite efforts of downtown improvement districts, neighborhood associations and building management companies, the task of maintaining clean streets and sidewalks is overwhelming. Two reasons: 1. Downtown’s large dog population (and I’m a dog person). 2. The ongoing challenges of a growing homeless population.

Getting around: Walking 70%; driving 25%; trolley 5%.

Scooters: I’m fine with scooters. Though I’ve never ridden one, I see their value to frequent users.

Parking advice: Good luck! (Just kidding.) On the west end of downtown (Columbia, Little Italy and the waterfront), there’s the County of San Diego parking garage. It’s available for public parking weekday evenings and all day on weekends and holidays, for a reasonable flat rate.

Coffee shop: Caffe Italia (1704 India Street) is a longtime favorite. Great coffee, friendly service and a loyal neighborhood clientele. Single cappuccino for me.

Lunch place: Puerto La Boca (2060 India Street) is an Argentinian restaurant in NOLI (North Little Italy). Welcoming staff, quiet ambiance (great for a lunch meeting) and wonderful food. Some of my favorites: Rabas Mixtas, Langostinos al Ajillo, Pulpo la Ribera, Pechugo de Pollo, Entrana.

Dinner fave: Athens Market (109 West F Street) is a classic Greek spot in the Marina District. Always a warm reception from longtime proprietor Mary Pappas and the dedicated staff. My go-to menu items: Lentil soup, Spanakopita, Grilled Baby Octopus, Horiatiki Salad, Chicken Souvlaki.

Bar(s): Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant (956 Broadway Circle) in the historic (1912) Spreckels Theatre in the Civic Core District. Beautiful majestic bar with Tiger oak and mahogany, and original tile floors. The restaurant’s quaint mezzanine dining room overlooks the bar below.

Princess Pub & Grille (1665 India Street) in the heart of Little Italy. Overflowing with British charm. A favorite hangout for international soccer and rugby fans. My favorite menu item (and one of San Diego’s best kept culinary secrets): the best fish tacos in town! Seriously. Try them.

Late-night stop-in: R&G Salumeria & Wine Bar ( 1445 India Street) in SOLI (South Little Italy). Family-run, featuring light Sicilian fare and wines. Cozy/intimate place with a welcoming, laid-back atmosphere and topnotch service. My favorite offerings: Burrata Caprese, Calabria flatbread, Mediterranean Salad, various pasta specials.

Comic-Con: The fun and excitement of Comic-Con is outside the convention center, outdoors and all around downtown.

Favorite downtown memories: The annual Holiday Bowl Battle of the Bands and Holiday Bowl Parade on the waterfront. The Carrera de los Muertos 5K run/walk at Embarcadero Marina Park South. The starting gun/kick off under the Little Italy sign for the annual Campagnolo Gran Fondo bike ride.

Parts of downtown to avoid: I don’t avoid any of the seven downtown neighborhoods. Each has unique character and special offerings. Yes, homelessness can be found in every neighborhood. The largest concentration is in the Gaslamp Quarter and East Village. It has become increasingly awkward to take visitors/guests there. Especially visitors not accustomed to encountering babbling/incoherent souls experiencing emotional/mental distress or strung out on sidewalks. The sometimes overwhelming stench of urine is also not helpful.

Homelessness, continued: Sadly, it’s become part of the urban landscape that downtown dwellers/enthusiasts have learned to live with, not just here but across the country. Despite the efforts of local government leaders, dedicated nonprofits and caring homeless advocates, homelessness is here to stay. As a community, we must continue our efforts and support solutions designed to improve the plight and reduce the numbers of those suffering from homelessness, as well as lessen the negative impacts on surrounding businesses and communities left to grapple with the fallout.

City infrastructure: The infrastructure is in relatively good shape, save for the aging pipes below the city streets, resulting in occasional breaks. The City of San Diego has been doing a good job replacing them in recent years. The one major shortfall in infrastructure continues to be the lack of public restrooms.

Projects worth being excited about:

  • Metropolitan Transit System’s UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley extension. It runs from downtown to the UTC Transit Center and serves nine new trolley stations. Opened in November 2021.
  • UC San Diego Park & Market (East Village). Opened May 2022, it provides UCSD with its long-planned presence downtown and an important and prominent academic addition to the urban core.
  • The Campus at Horton. The massive, mixed-use project currently going up at the old Horton Plaza mall. Seven city blocks. Ten acres. One million square feet. Slated to open later this year.
  • IQHQ. Another massive, mixed-use development currently going up along Harbor Drive in what was formerly known as the Manchester Navy Broadway Complex. Billed as an R&D district (for life sciences). Opening date TBA. SDSun

Photos of Sal Giametta taken by Arlene Ibarra.



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