Barrio Logan Gets First Community Plan Update In Decades
September 18, 2013 1:23 p.m.
Georgette Gomez, Associate Director/Toxic Free Neighborhoods, Environmental Health Coalition
Erik Bruvold, President/CEO, National University System - Institute for Policy Research
Sandhya Dirks, KPBS Metro reporter
Related Story: Barrio Logan Gets First Community Plan Update In Decades
CAVANAUGH: It was a victory at the San Diego City Council last night for supporters of Barrio Logan's alternative One, a new community plan that rezones Barrio Logan with more separation between residential and industrial areas. But some segments of the maritime industry also located in Barrio Logan took the City Council vote as a defeat. More than 100 people signed up to speak about the proposal yesterday. Sandhya Dirks was at the meeting, and she is here now.
DIRKS: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us what the atmosphere was like during the City Council meeting.
DIRKS: Well, there were a lot of people there. And it was very emotional, very heightened. And also very color-coded. A lot of the dock workers, those who work for the ship building industry were wearing neon yellow shirts on one side. On the other side, you have a lot of members of the environmental health coalition who have been working with residents and are very much concerned about pollution in Barrio Logan and deficits in Barrio Logan. They were wearing blue shirts. It was very heightened. Very emotional. Is they talked about their jobs, and fear, and they might lose their work. A compromise that not everybody felt was a compromise. So on one side, you had people saying these are our jobs, and ship building jobs are really interesting. They are a way for workers to make enough money to have a good life, to actually buy a house and do that in San Diego without having to have huge higher education expenses. So the jobs that we're losing in this country are ship-building jobs, very important to people. On the, side, you have the residents of barrio Logan, many of them who said we've been fighting this battle for 30 years. For 30 years, you brought in companies that have polluted the air, the rates of asthma, cancer are higher here than they are in the rest of the city.
CAVANAUGH: So what is the plan for Barrio Logan?
DIRKS: It all comes down to a few square blocks in a so called buffer or transition zone that would separate the port from the residents of Barrio Logan. And the contention is over what exactly would happen in the buffer zone. The complaint side was that it is zoned for residents and there would be schools there. One plan that got taken out was the zoning, so no longer will there be residential buildup in the buffer zone. And the same thing with what they call sensitive receptors which are kindergartens and things where there are going to be people who are vulnerable to health. So those are gone from the buffer zone. The final point of contention is what can be built there, and what kind of process they'll have to go through in order to be approved to do new building there. And we're not talking about any of the existing industries. A lot of things are being grandfathered in. They'll be allowed to expand up to 20% of what they have now. That's not true for everything. There's a few sticking points remaining. But it comes down to the thing called a conditional use permit. They think it'll limit their work to build up businesses that support the ship building industry. On the other hand, the residents are saying, look, this is just regulation. All we are doing is asking for you to submit to a process so we can make sure that companies that are polluting the air don't come in this buffer zone, which is supposed to be a place that's safe to separate the port from the rest of the area.
CAVANAUGH: So since there's still contention from the side that ostensibly lost, may we see this on the ballot down the line?
DIRKS: That is a possibility. Chris Wall is representing some of the maritime industry, and he said they were upon considering potentially a referendum because of the damage they say this would do to the ship building industry. For now, it is in a sense a win for the residents who really feel that they have compromised and fought this fight for a long time to have a residential community that is protected in Barrio Logan. And it's been a really, really long history and a contentious one.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.
DIRKS: Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And joining me now is Georgette Gomez from the Environmental Health Coalition.
And Erik Bruvold, President/CEO of the National University System and Institute for Policy Research. And welcome back, Erik.
BRUVOLD: Good to see you again.
CAVANAUGH: The Environmental Health Coalition strongly supported the new community plan for Barrio Logan. What were the reasons for that strong report?
GOMEZ: Well, first of all, we were dealing with a very old community plan. The last time that it was discussed was in 1978. The city would always come up with the reason why they couldn't do an update on the plan. Variable in 2007 we were able to identify funding from CCDC to give to the city to update the community plan. So in 2008, we started the community plan, and the reason being is because we have a community plan that allows for commercial, residential, and industrial to be cited all together, which is one of the issues we were trying to address.
CAVANAUGH: And weren't health issues a major part of the reason you wanted a separation between industry and residential areas?
GOMEZ: Yes. By having zoning that allows all three uses mixed together, we have an incompatibility of zoning. It has created health issues, it has created a negative quality of life impact for the residents. And we're trying to achieve and address that for the future development, and not allow that type of development to occur.
CAVANAUGH: As Sandhya explained, this has boiled down to just a few blocks, the buffer zone. Tell us what's at stake there, as far as your side is concerned to keep that buffer zone free of a heavy amount of industrial use.
GOMEZ: During the community planning process, the residents and Environmental Health Coalition proposed -- we were the ones that proposed a buffer between the working waterfront and the residential community. The idea, the objective of the buffer was to not allow residential because there is pressure on the working waterfront, so from the get-go, we removed residential from the buffer. And then secondly from a residential perspective, we didn't want to see industrial there because of the quality of life impacts. Soon after, the industrial folks that were at the table wanted to -- they were in support of removing the residential, but they wanted to allow for some sort of maritime industrial site there. We continued talking about what would be that maritime industrial? The community, the residents needed assurances that those industries or businesses wouldn't impact the quality of life and create health impacts. We couldn't agree to a definition, to a criteria, so one of the things that the city proposed was create a process that allows maritime zoning businesses to be permitted there, but they have to go through a CUP process.
CAVANAUGH: And that's a conditional use permit. Now, Eric, you spoke during last night's public testimony, giving public testimony on the zoning issue. What did you tell the City Council?
BRUVOLD: Really kind of two things. First of all, let's take the big picture. And I think it was really covered well by the reporter, which is that the ship building industry in San Diego is one of the few remaining manufacturing businesses that we have in San Diego. And it actually pays -- its wages are 22% higher than the county's private sector median wage. They don't require necessarily a college degree. And so this is really one. Those instances of the kinds of jobs that we've talked a lot about in terms of this region in terms of promoting, which are good middle class jobs that everybody in San Diego can pursue. So that's the first sort of big picture item with it. But the second thing is that we were engaged to take a look at at the accounts payable. There were about 80 subcontractors in the industry located in Barrio Logan. And it's important to understand that already even with the compromise that the maritime industry had produced, 22 of them are outside zones where they would be deemed compatible. So there were already 22 businesses that were are going to have some sort of requirement or extra burden placed upon them as opposed to being able to develop by right. So really what we're talking about is the subcontractors in the buffer zone. And the real challenge with the CUP process is not that it's a process that's there, it's what the city requires. Probably the minimum price tag for a business to go through the CUP process is $100,000. You have to retain outreach consultants because the city expects you to hold meetings to outreach to the community, you need lawyers to help prepare and guide you through that process. This isn't just like filing a piece of paperwork and moving forward. So businesses are faced with that kind of burden, some are going to say given what I can achieve and go through, I'm going to be willing to incur that extense. Others will say I can't make that make sense. I'll look at Otay, places outside of San Diego, and that produces a snowballing effect in terms of making our ship building industry less competitive here in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Are you saying that the bottom line is that the ship builder and the extended maritime industry in Barrio Logan is concerned that these requirements now are going to shrink their business, and they're going to have to relocate?
BRUVOLD: Sure. If we're looking at $100,000 for a CUP process minimum, some of the contractors simply won't be able to do that. They'll look at other locations, which I think actually is the goal of some people in this process, to try and encourage those businesses to relocate outwards. The problem is that the extra transportation costs, the extra logistical costs that are incurred are going to be passed on in the bids for doing the ship building work, and some of the time that means that San Diego shipyards won't be competitive, that business will go elsewhere, and thus the ship yard's workforce will shrink. Do I think they'll go away and close down? No. But some of the contracts we've seen, nas co, and DAE win won't be won in the future will go to other shipyards in the country.
CAVANAUGH: I want to get your take on this. I imagine the people who live in Barrio Logan are very concerned about jobs there, and the maintenance of these strong middle class paying jobs in the maritime industry. So how have you taken some of this information about the idea that it's going to be too onerous for a lot of ship builders to maintain their support industries with the conditional use permit that they now have to get?
GOMEZ: Well, it's been pretty hard to take. We started with this discussion saying that it was a win for the residents and a loss for industry. Online that that occurred last night. I strongly believe that it was a win for everybody. We don't believe that the shipyards are going to go away and they're going to get contacted negatively by this new community plan. We are a strong supporter of the working waterfront. Our organization has put money to defeat Proposition B when it came to the ballot, there was a threat that 10th avenue, there was going to be a stadium. We saw that negative impact to those jobs and the impact that it would be for the community. We've been a huge champion in trying to work with the port to make -- to acknowledge that there's a community next to them, and try to create better ways of operating their businesses. We've been working really hard to ensure that there are better placements of the rerouting of the trucks, that there's a location where they're not impacting the community, but they can continue doing business the roads that they're supposed to be using. So we've been doing a lot to protect the working waterfront, but at the same time protecting the residents and the quality of life in Barrio Logan. We strongly do not believe that this new plan will do what it's being said that it's going to do in terms of negative impacts. The community plan does create more jobs, it's more commercial. We designated a heavy industrial zone that is no less than 5 minutes away from the shipyards. That's pretty significant, yet all that stuff that the community gave during this planning process for the working waterfront is not being acknowledged.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Eric, and broaden this out a little bit. What we saw last night happening about a new community plan for Barrio Logan for that neighborhood for district 8, are we going to see more of that as the City Council now looks to revise community plans in other neighborhoods of San Diego?
BRUVOLD: Sure. And I think it'll play out differently in terms of the specific issues and areas of conflict. But the reality is that we aren't making new land in San Diego. And yet we're going to continue to grow. We're going to add over the course of the next 20 years one million new residents or so. We're going to continue to see in the county the economy continue to expand, we hope. And that's a good thing. And I think you're going to see tensions along those issues in a variety of places. Barrio Logan is really hard. It reflects the land use pattern that is much more prevalent in the older parts of this country and really east of Mississippi where you've got residential and heavy industry commingleded and colocated together. And the residents of Barrio Logan have a legitimate and really important issues there in terms of what their community has been asked to accept. But the flip side of that, and I can't stress that enough, is that for the last decade, the dialogue in this region has been about about a shrinking middle class, an economy who's only working for people who have advanced scientific degrees and an acknowledgement that not everybody is going to have an MA in biochemistry or is capable of getting that. The working waterfront and shows ship building jobs are exactly the kind of jobs we've talked about. And I know I'm not going to make friends with our guest here, but I got to say is that faced with that kind of decision, I think you put your hand on the scale in favor of those good middle wage jobs. And you've got to make the call on that. Or else what we are going to turn into, this is really a barbell economy with some very high-tech job and a lot of low-wage low-skill jobs.
CAVANAUGH: I'm out of time, but Georgette, if you're correct, and this creates more jobs, we'll revisit this and see where the new community plan takes Barrio Logan. Thank you both very much.
GOMEZ: Thank you.
BRUVOLD: Thank you.