Oct. 9 2013 08:09 AM

Community-plan brouhaha says a lot about the candidates

Kevin Faulconer
Photo by David Rolland

If you're looking for an indicator of how the candidates for mayor of San Diego would govern, and whose interests they'd serve, you might keep your eyes on Barrio Logan, the largely Latino community just south of Downtown, between Interstate 5 and San Diego Bay.

Last week, the San Diego Ship Repair Association announced a campaign to get a referendum on the ballot that would repeal a landmark update of the Barrio Logan Community Plan that was endorsed on Sept. 17 by the San Diego City Council on a 5-4 vote. The council is set to give its final approval on Oct. 15. The update was mostly controversy-free, except for a small area of Barrio Logan that would be reserved as a buffer between the shipyards along the coast and the community to the east. But because conflict between industry and residents has plagued the neighborhood for decades, that small area of controversy is really quite huge.

Councilmember David Alvarez, a Democrat who represents Barrio Logan and is running for mayor, came up with a late compromise for that buffer zone that irritated a few community activists and seemingly the whole maritime industry while satisfying many of the activists who'd been working on the issue for the past decade, such as the Environmental Health Coalition. It was Alvarez's compromise that the City Council endorsed.

With Alvarez leading the community contingent, Republican Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, another candidate for mayor, got out in front of the industry's forces and is supporting the referendum. Meanwhile, the likely frontrunner in the race, Democrat Nathan Fletcher, is dancing on the head of a pin, trying to occupy the safest place in the debate. He's reportedly called for a return to the negotiating table but declines to say anything substantive. We asked Fletcher's campaign this week for his position on the community-plan update but got no response.

This, we believe, is a microcosm of the race for mayor: Alvarez backs the plucky low-income community in a battle against big-money business. Faulconer takes the side of industry. Fletcher—well, we don't really know where Fletcher is.

One thing we do know is that Faulconer is throwing around wild claims to try to scare San Diegans into buying into the industry's argument. He and the interests he serves want you to believe that if the Barrio Logan Community Plan update is implemented, 46,000 people will lose their jobs. As explained by Andrew Keatts of Voice of San Diego, that figure represents employment in San Diego's entire maritime industry, according to one industry study. Meanwhile, the nine-block buffer zone impacts only a few businesses that supply the ship-repair industry.

At issue is how easy or difficult to make it for new such businesses to open in the buffer zone and for those already there to undertake large expansions. The community wants that buffer zone to be mostly reserved for resident-serving commercial businesses and a chance to weigh in publicly on new or greatly expanded industry. The ship industry wants its suppliers to be able to open or expand without a step in the permit process for the community to object.

The community, which suffers from abnormally high childhood-asthma rates, has long been fighting for protection from polluting industry—for advocates, it's all about physical distance between homes and industrial businesses. Alvarez grew up in Barrio Logan and has asthma.

The ship-repair industry is simply worried about the long-term effects of community creep, although homes are zoned out of the buffer and although it's not at all clear that the industry's fears will ever be realized. Faulconer likes to speak Spanish at his campaign events but doesn't stand with communities with predominantly Spanish speakers when they're looking for help. Instead, he stands with well-financed industry leaders as they seek to overturn a genuine, years-in-the-making public process that didn't give them everything they wanted. He will use the threat of a referendum to convince the City Council to tip the scales in favor of industry.

As for Fletcher, your guess is as good as ours. We don't know what he wants.

In any case, all the community is asking for is heightened regulation of potentially polluting businesses in a small area closer to homes and a chance to weigh in publicly before permits are issued. We urge Councilmembers Alvarez, Todd Gloria, Sherri Lightner, Myrtle Cole and Marti Emerald to stand their ground and stand with Barrio Logan.

What do you think? Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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