Last week, the San Diego City Council was forced to make a choice between two bad options: rescind its approval of a landmark update to the Barrio Logan Community Plan or place on an upcoming election ballot a referendum that would allow voters to trash the plan. We urged the council to stand firm against pressure to rescind its approval.
The decision was forced by a successful yet deceptive petition campaign spearheaded by San Diego's shipbuilding interests, which worry that the plan update could harm their industry in the long run. There were numerous documented incidents in which paid signature gatherers flat-out lied to voters about the plan's impacts, falsely claiming outcomes such as the Navy leaving town and new condos replacing waterfront shipyards. Even Kevin Faulconer, a candidate for mayor, said the plan would eliminate 46,000 maritime jobs but later backpedaled because the claim had no basis in fact.
The only controversial part of the plan update, which was partly aimed at protecting Barrio Logan residents from industrial pollution, is a nine-block area where some prospective new and expanded industrial businesses would be required to gain special approval from the city.
Well, the five Democrats on the council came through last week in spectacular fashion, several of them—particularly Council President and interim Mayor Todd Gloria—eloquent and pointed in their conviction to protect the interests of neighborhoods and representative Democracy in San Diego, which are under attack by well-financed political forces disguised as direct, grassroots democracy. Here's some of what they had to say:
Councilmember David Alvarez, who's running against Faulconer for mayor, took aim at the referendum proponents.
"I think that the... misinformation that was spread is quite shameful, especially when it comes from reputable sources—or those who consider themselves reputable," he said. "I think it's unfortunate that people were told... that the Navy was going to leave San Diego... that people were going to lose jobs, that homes were going to be built on shipyards."
Alvarez continued: "... [A]t the end of the day, you have to live with yourself, understanding that those were the lies that were being spread to collect those signatures."
Councilmember Sherri Lightner made one of the most crucial points.
"If we don't approve putting this on the ballot—unfortunately, that's where we are," she said, "we are sending a very strong, chilling message to communities throughout San Diego that we're not willing to stand up for our communities and the work they do on their community plans."
Gloria spoke the longest. He pointed out that the 35-year-old community plan took five years and has cost $4 million so far, and the result of that was 90-percent agreement between the community and the maritime industry. "In my line of work," he said, "90-percent agreement is a win, and it's one you should take."
The City Council, Gloria said, has stood with the shipping industry. He noted that he rehired the city's lobbyists in Washington, D.C., so that the city could help fight against defense-budget cuts, and the council passed resolutions against military-base closure and sequestration and funded a military-economic-impact study to help make the case for a strong local military presence.
"This council's credibility on this issue cannot be challenged," he said. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Nine blocks in Barrio Logan will not break the maritime industry."
Then he turned to democratic equality. "I want people to ponder the question, what would have happened if the shoe was on the other foot? If the people of Barrio Logan—if we had not adopted the community plan, would the people of Barrio Logan have had the opportunity before this council today with a referendum petition. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is that they [w]ould not," he said. "It concerns me very much that individuals with financial resources can seek different outcomes after the elected representatives who were democratically chosen by the voters have weighed in..."
Gloria then admonished City Attorney Jan Goldsmith: "I would like to direct the city attorney to join the Environmental Health Coalition in opposing in court the efforts to roll back the council's action. A majority of this council has stood up for this plan, and I think that this city should be on record as supporting the plan. I recognize that hasn't necessarily been the case to date, but it ought to be going forward."
So, kudos to you, City Council Democrats. Next order of business: Stand firm on the affordable-housing fee!
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