April 9 2014 10:31 AM

Judge allows community-plan referendum to go to the voters, but also says ship-repair lobby fibbed

Judge Randa Trapp

Last Friday, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Randa Trapp cemented her preliminary ruling against the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), an environmental-justice organization that wanted to kill a voter referendum on the Barrio Logan Community Plan. While disappointing, the ruling wasn't a total loss for the good guys.

When EHC and its supporters campaign against the referendum, which will be on the June 3 ballot in two parts as Propositions B and C, they can truthfully say that a judge affirmed that the forces attempting to overturn a properly executed community plan for Barrio Logan misrepresented facts when they were collecting signatures to get the referendum on the ballot.

Here are the details: 

The San Diego City Council last September approved an update to the Barrio Logan Community Plan that reflected a compromise, at the end of a five-year process, between waterfront industry and the residents of the lower-income neighborhood. The goal was to create a buffer between the two that would improve air quality in residential areas. The Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association didn't like the compromise, so it sponsored a successful petition drive to put a referendum on the ballot that would repeal the community-plan update.

Coast Law Group, representing EHC, sued, arguing that the Ship Repair Association (SRA) misled prospective petition signers in three ways: by claiming that the community plan would result in the loss of 46,000 jobs and $14 billion in annual revenue, compel in the Navy to leave San Diego and lead to residential development in the shipyards.

According to Judge Trapp's ruling, SRA hired a company, National Petition Management (NPM), to run the petition drive, and Chris Wahl, of the PR firm Southwest Strategies, who served as SRA's point person on the drive, provided NPM with talking points for the paid signature gatherers. Numerous signature gatherers were caught on tape making the three claims that EHC considered to be false.

Of the three alleged falsehoods, Trapp ruled that the first one—that 46,000 jobs and $14 billion would be lost—was indeed misleading. Those figures represent the entire maritime industry in San Diego, and, as Trapp noted, the SRA knew it. Trapp ruled that on that point, "EHC's evidence supports its claim that the Association violated Election Code section 18600," which essentially bars signature gatherers from intentionally lying in order to get people to sign a petition.

As for the other two, Trapp concluded that claims that the community plan would prompt the Navy to leave and lead to residential takeover of the shipyards were merely opinions and not grounds for thwarting the referendum.

Well, it's our opinion, based on the videos we saw, that those opinions were intentionally aimed at leading people to believe that waterfront-condo development was part of the community plan and that the departure of the Navy was a direct result. The talking points that Wahl provided to signature gatherers said that the referendum would give "the voters the power to protect: The ability of the U.S. NAVY to continue to have its ships built and repaired in San Diego." The talking points brought all three of the contested claims together in this sentence: "This defective plan sends the wrong message to the NAVY that adding 500 new homes in Barrio Logan is more important than the 46,000 jobs provided by the maritime industry."

At least in some cases, that was boiled down by signature gatherers as: Condos are in; the Navy is out.

Even Jim Sutton, the lawyer for the SRA, was quoted by KPBS as acknowledging that what the petition drive communicated to the public was "common… hyperbole that goes on in political campaigns."

You know what lies and hyperbole have in common? Deception.

Now that the referendum is clear for the ballot, we'll remind our readers again and again before June 3 that the ship-repair lobby used both lies (according to Judge Trapp) and hyperbole (self-admitted) to fool the public.

The Barrio Logan Community Plan is good for the residents of Barrio Logan because it gives them what most other San Diegans take for granted: protection from polluting industry. It creates the kind of buffer zone that you would insist upon in your neighborhood. It will be confusing to voters whether to vote yes or no. Just remember, a yes vote preserves the community plan. Commit this to memory: Vote yes on Props. B and C.

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


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