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By Joyell Nevins

Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association protects residential feel of unique neighborhood

In the middle of what the Census Bureau calls the eighth largest city in America sits a ‘semi-rural oasis,’ otherwise known as the Grossmont-Mt. Helix region. Despite surrounding urban development, this area has stayed primarily residential and unique.

“We just feel like we’re living in Mayberry,” said resident Susan Nichols. “It’s like a little village with a very tight-knit community.”

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Mt. Helix residents hike to Mt. Helix Park during the annual neighborhood walk. (Photo courtesy of GMIA)

Nichols is the president of the Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association (GMIA), which is a significant reason why the region still has a neighborhood feel and the hilly topography. GMIA has been standing up for its residents since 1938, with the goal to “preserve and enhance” the character of the area and community.

Nichols and her husband have lived in Mt. Helix for 30 years — and they’re the newbies on their block. Some of their neighbors have lived on that same street for more than 50 years; longevity like that is not uncommon in this region.

succulent swap

The succulent swap is a favorite of Mt. Helix green thumbs. (Photo courtesy of GMIA)

“When people move in, they tend to not move out,” Nichols laughed.

Grossmont and Mt. Helix are unincorporated: that means there is no mayor and no city council. The region is served by the sheriff and comes under the authority of the county supervisor. At the time of GMIA’s inception, the region was primarily undeveloped, the county’s small staff was overworked, and there was no planning group (Valle De Oro Planning Group was formed in 1977).

“The area was ripe for being overrun with developers,” Nichols said.

Into that gap stepped a few concerned citizens, and GMIA was born. It is an all-volunteer, nonprofit, public benefit organization. Now, it represents more than 7,000 residences with a population of up to 20,000 people. GMIA’s imprints are throughout the region.

“There’s an octopus of things that we do for the community,” Nichols explained.

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Gathering at the top of Mt. Helix after the neighborhood walk (Photo courtesy of GMIA)

GMIA helped organize a fire protection district in 1957. There are now three fire stations throughout the area, ran by the San Miguel Fire Department. GMIA brought sewer service to the region in 1973. Twice, they’ve blocked annexation by Spring Valley.

In 1979, GMIA stepped in to help create zoning guidelines that require a minimum half acre lot per house — making it impossible to build developments where the houses are sandwiched in together.

Ever wonder why there is still a cross in the public space of Mt. Helix Park? That’s GMIA again. In 1999, they were part of the effort to create the Mt. Helix Park Foundation, which is a separate entity responsible for the maintenance of that space. In essence, the area is a private park with public access.

art and garden tour

Residents on the garden and art tour (Photo courtesy of GMIA)

GMIA also hosts several events throughout the year to encourage community gathering. There is a summer family festival, an Art & Garden Tour, fall Halloween harvest party, spring succulent swap, and a walk up Mt. Helix to greet the New Year.

On June 24, GIMA will host its Annual Dinner at Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden. The dinner is open to members and neighbors, and includes Phil’s BBQ and Ballast Point beer.

The highlight of the evening is a Q&A time with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. She brings an aide to take notes, and always follows up with questions raised.

“Dianne grew up in Mt. Helix herself. She rode her horse on these streets,” Nichols said. “She gets us.”

For more information, to join, or to volunteer, visit or email

—Freelance writer Joyell Nevins can be reached at You can also follow her blog Small World, Big God at

Source: La Mesa Currier

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