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Maritime Industry Fights Back Against Barrio Logan Community Plan

Evening Edition

Above: A turf war over zoning reveals a deep divide between neighborhood residents and industry in an ever-changing city.

Aired 9/25/13 on KPBS News.

After the San Diego City Council passed a new community plan for Barrio Logan, the maritime industry says it will try to force a city wide referendum to block it.

The San Diego City Council passed a new community plan for Barrio Logan last week, and the maritime industry wasn’t happy. It’s the first plan in 30 years for the small and largely Latino neighborhood perched on the lip of the port. The plan would create a buffer zone between residents and shipyards where no new homes or industrial businesses could be built.

Many residents felt maritime businesses have for too long dictated local policy at the expense of the people of Barrio Logan. They saw the 5-4 council vote as a win for neighborhoods. They said that health problems like asthma and even cancer have resulted from unsafe and unregulated industry practices for years.

Councilman David Alvarez brokered the final plan, presenting it as a compromise. He said businesses would still be allowed to operate in the buffer zone, but they would have to first secure a CUP, or conditional use permit. Alvarez said the CUP would regulate businesses operating in the safe zone, making sure they couldn’t store or emit toxic pollutants, but the maritime industry said the permitting process would serve as a de facto ban.

Matt Carr, president of Cal Marine Cleaning, a company that supplies the shipyards, said in a statement that, "the city’s new requirements will make it very difficult and costly, if not impossible, for new shipyard suppliers to acquire the necessary permits to do business within two blocks of the shipyards.”

There is some disagreement about how prohibitive the CUPs would be. The city said they wouldn’t cost more than $30,000 and could be provided in months, but industry spokesmen said the permits could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years, dealing a death-blow to the San Diego shipping industry.

Industry representatives have formed a campaign called "Protect Our Jobs Coalition" and they will be gathering signatures to force a public vote to overturn the council’s decision. Signature gathering is set to begin in early October, around 34,000 voter signatures will be needed to force City Council to change it’s vote, or to put the referendum on a citywide ballot.

The Environmental Health Coalition, which fought on behalf of residents to get a plan passed, said it will keep on fighting to give the neighborhood its first effective community plan in 30 years.

The battle over Barrio Logan is not finished, and with the neighborhood's councilman and native son, David Alvarez, in the race for mayor, it’s sure to become part of the city’s compressed special-election campaign.

Alvarez, a Democrat, shepherded the plan through council and worked closely with the community to craft what he saw as compromises. His Republican opponent, Councilman Kevin Faulconer opposed the plan, siding with the port and maritime businesses.

Both Faulconer and Alvarez have picked up one thing from former Mayor Bob Filner: his narrative of restoring power and vitality to San Diego neighborhoods. The struggle over what to do in Barrio Logan brings into sharp relief the long standing strife between community and business interests.

What is playing out in Barrio Logan takes the primacy of neighborhoods from an abstract mantra of a single repeated word to a very real issue that will affect very real people: both the residents who live there and the employees who depend on the shipyard for steady middle-class jobs.