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Future Of Barrio Logan Community Plan Still Uncertain

Above: San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer supports the referendum of the Barrio Logan community plan, Oct. 3, 2013.

Aired 10/14/13 on KPBS News.

A plan to rezone the neighborhood of Barrio Logan is set to officially clear city council, but a referendum from the maritime industry leaves the plan's future in doubt.

When the plan to rezone the neighborhood of Barrio Logan passed the San Diego City Council by a narrow 5-to-4 vote, Councilman David Alvarez claimed this compromised version would protect all stakeholders — residents concerned about pollution and the maritime industry concerned with maintaining a thriving and functioning port.

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But as the plan nears its second reading at council, the shipbuilding industry is far from happy. They said the plan doesn’t protect the port and the jobs it provides. They are so dissatisfied they have launched a referendum campaign, pounding the pavement to collect signatures to take the plan to a city-wide ballot.

The sticking point is a nine-block area that separates the shipyards from residential homes and businesses. The space is currently a hodgepodge of mixed zoning, peppered with businesses that supply the shipbuilding industry.

The maritime industry said the effects would be devastating because the plan would require all new businesses to go through a permitting process.

Businesses would need to get a conditional use permit before they set up shop. The maritime industry claims requiring those would signal a death knell for shipbuilding in San Diego, drying up navy contracts and eventually draining 46,000 jobs.

Those numbers are in question, but the maritime industry isn’t backing down. They said the permits could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire, placing a moratorium on businesses supplying the shipyards from locating themselves near the port.

Representatives from the city refuted those claims, saying permits would cost closer to $30,000 and take months, rather than years.

But residents and community activists are arguing for the permits. They believe it will stop businesses from setting up businesses carte blanche that might store — or even worse, emit — noxious chemicals that could pollute the community.

That happened in the past when metal plating factories released fumes that caused unusually high rates of asthma, and some cases of cancer, for residents of Barrio Logan. Those factories have moved elsewhere, and maritime industry said they have been instrumental in instituting cleaner and more environmentally friendly ways of doing business.

Still, councilman David Alvarez said the residents just want the protection that oversight of businesses would provide.

Alvarez and community activists point out the plan had already gone through an extensive five-year vetting process in which all sides were able to share their points of view, and in which all sides ceded contested ground. This last ditch effort by the maritime industry sets a bad precedent, according to Alvarez.

“What every San Diegan should be concerned with is that one industry with a lot of money can threaten what a community process brought forward, and control what happens in every community, ” Alvarez said.

To give in just because businesses didn’t get there way, is not good, Alvarez said. But he also said he isn’t crafting the community plan to harm the shipyards, pointing out that he has two brothers who work on the docks. “If there is an opportunity to move the plan forward that protects the residents, which is my concern, and the jobs, which is also my concern,” then he would be willing to talk, he said.

The maritime industry has expressed concern that getting permits might be difficult because the same council that is requiring businesses to get them is in charge of granting them.

Alvarez said that is a specious argument. “Just because we are advocating for oversight” he said, “doesn’t mean we are against growth.” Still he is open to the idea of a less political body than the city council doing the work of regulatory oversight.

Fellow councilman, and mayoral candidate, Kevin Faulconer is also looking to find a compromise plan to appease all sides in the process before a referendum comes to pass.

He stood recently with maritime industry and shipyard workers on the docks at a press conference rolling out the referendum campaign.

“I believe most San Diegans agree that our city cannot afford to loose these jobs, which is why I will continue to work with my colleagues to reach a solution that provides certainty for San Diego’s shipbuilding industry,” he said.

While Faulconer thinks the current plan is flawed and poses a danger to working class maritime jobs, he still has hopes to adopt changes to the plan before a second reading.

Whether or not Faulconer and Alvarez will be able to find a compromise that stops the referendum process from going forward will be tested on Tuesday. The shipbuilding interests say that if the plan gets final approval from city council, they will take it to the ballot and the city.

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