Park West’s Leo Wilson is a third generation Uptown resident — his family moved to Hillcrest 90 years ago. A 1946 article in the Pacific Coast Record referred to his grandfather who was associated with the US Grant Hotel for 34 years, as both GM and a general partner, as one of “the most successful hotel men in the west.”
Leo’s local roots run deep — his parents met as teens on a Hillcrest streetcar; his four older siblings were born at Mercy Hospital; and although raised in Mission Beach, Leo spent time on Hillcrest streets when it was difficult for young gays just coming out. Recently he’s been facilitating community meetings for the newly formed Hillcrest Town Council.
After becoming an attorney in the ’80s Leo was associated with the prominent law firm of Milch, Wagner and Wolfsheimer. He represented experts retained by Alaska in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case and was involved in drafting and legally defending managed growth initiatives placed on California ballots. He was also actively involved with environmental organizations including the Friends of Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, the Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club, San Diego Democratic Club and was one of the founders of the Hillcrest/North Park Citizens Patrol.
The AIDS crisis cut Leo’s professional career short, and he left San Diego in 1993 with no expectation of returning, but five years later he did so with gusto — becoming involved with the Greater San Diego Citizens Patrol’s program Safe Streets Now, which organized neighborhood groups to fight drug houses and other nuisance activities. In 2004 Leo took over the program, which has had a string of successes, including the closure of University Heights’ narcotic-plagued Park View Motel.
In the spring of 2007 Leo was elected to an unprecedented third term as chair of Uptown Planners, the advisory community planning committee for Hillcrest, University Heights, Mission Hills and Bankers Hill/Park West while also being chosen by his peers to lead the Community Planning Chair Committee, a high profile position given the controversies both in uptown and throughout San Diego regarding growth and new development.
First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & beyond, volume 5