Photo by John R. Lamb
NASSCO spokesman Dennis DuBard (left) discusses downtown stadium protest with Barrio Logan activist Brent Beltrán.
Silence is the most perfect expression of scorn.
—George Bernard Shaw
The San Diego Chargers brain trust took its pitch for an East Village stadium into the heart of Barrio Logan last week, and Brent Beltrán did something unusual for him—he stayed silent.
With a dozen community allies by his side, Beltrán—usually not one to keep quiet when his beloved neighborhood is under assault—stood across Newton Avenue in the midday sun Friday as the Family Health Centers of San Diego held its “Spirit of the Barrio” fundraising luncheon.
Holding signs that spoke for them, the group—calling itself Barrios Against Stadiums, or B.A.Sta (the Spanish word for “enough”)—gathered to protest the pro-downtown-stadium speakers featured at the luncheon, most notably team president A.G. Spanos and his hired stadium shepherd, former downtown redevelopment honcho Fred Maas.
“You know, normally we’re a loud, boisterous and occasionally obnoxious community when we protest,” Beltrán said. “But because we have such great respect for the Family Health Center, we’re out here silently protesting as a way of showing our displeasure not with Family Health but with the Chargers wanting to bring a stadium basically one block from the Barrio Logan limits.”
Having grown up a Chargers fan, Beltrán made clear the distinction: “You can like the football team, but you don’t have to like the owners.” At one point, a car passed by as the driver yelled out, “We want a stadium!” The protesters spoke up at that point, with one responding, “No we don’t! Not downtown. Chula Vista, Oceanside, Spring Valley, choose the neighborhood. Not this one.”
Representatives from several area state officials left the luncheon early as discussion got under way on the Chargers’ November ballot initiative that would raise the city’s hotel tax to 16.5 percent from the current 12.5 percent to help pay for a combo downtown stadium/convention facility.
One shared disdain when the Chargers offered to include an art gallery in the project for Barrio Logan artists “where they can display their wares.” “Typical lip service,” the rep said. “We want to be part of the community. We want to make it a gateway to Barrio. We want to include a gallery for their art!”
“Tokenism, right?” Beltrán chided.
“There’s no discussion of the impact specifically on the renting residents and small businesses and the galleries,” he added. “We’re mostly a renting community. Put that stadium three blocks away from where we’re standing, and the effects will be devastating. It’s great if you own property, but if you don’t, that’s the impact.”
As vice chairman of the Barrio Logan Community Planning Group, Beltrán is all too familiar with the Rodney Dangerfield plight of his neighborhood. Its community plan update was put before citywide voters in 2014 by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and soundly rejected for attempting to create a buffer between residents and the polluting shipyard-related businesses that dot the community.
Needs that other neighborhoods take for granted—even handicapped curb ramps and parking limits to curb shipyardworker abuses—go unfulfilled.
But despite the setbacks and government stalls, Barrio Logan has blossomed into a promising oasis for artists and youthful entrepreneurs forced out of more expensive enclaves. Mom-and-pop shops thrive—for now.
Not everyone in Barrio Logan understands the impact Beltrán talks about. A gentleman walking past the Family Health Center thought the Chargers plan meant that Petco Park would be expanded. “So they’ll make it bigger?” he asked. When told it was an entirely different proposal, he responded, “So they’ll demolish that one?”
He did know that some residents in East Village also oppose a downtown stadium, but added, “Could be good, could be bad. I don’t know.”
A Union-Tribune story about the luncheon noted the protest without quoting from the participants. But it extensively featured comments from Maas, who reportedly acknowledged that “there’s eight or 10 folks standing outside who are very concerned about the impact this facility is going to have on your community, and I can tell you on behalf of this organization we all share that concern.”
Rather than walling off the community from downtown, Maas argued that the proposal would create “a window to Barrio Logan.”
As the luncheon ended, some attendees took pictures of the protesters before heading for their cars. One gentleman walked across the street to greet Beltrán.
“Hi Brent, how are you?” said Dennis DuBard, head of government and media relations for General Dynamics NASSCO, a major tenant along the Barrio Logan waterfront that teamed with the mayor and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce to defeat the community plan update two years ago.
After some niceties, Beltrán half-jokingly asked if NASSCO would join the stadium opposition. While hedging, DuBard recalled the “stupid idea” to build a stadium atop the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal before adding about the current Chargers proposal, “We would probably not be in, uh, I don’t know where we’re going to come out, but I know personally on this topic of discussion we’re just concerned about encroachment.”
Beltrán said he has no illusions that NASSCO will join B.A.Sta, “but I want him to give his money to the other campaign, even though I’m not part of this.”
What he was referring to was the campaign initiated by the mayor’s supporters who believe Mission Valley is the only logical location for a new stadium. Going by the name “No Downtown Stadium – Jobs and Streets First!,” the coalition just added to its ranks Councilmember David Alvarez, whose district includes Barrio Logan, his office confirmed.
He joins colleague Chris Cate, local Republican Party treasurer April Boling, architect Rob Quigley and Chicano Park muralist Mario Torero among others in opposition to the stadium plan.
Beltrán said he could not “in good faith” associate with the Republican Party while representing “a community that’s predominantly Mexican.”
As for silent protests, he said those are now over: “If NASSCO invited the Chargers, we’d be loud as fuck in front of their building. But this entertainment district will bring condos and sports bars right here. And that’s a direct threat against the maritime industry. We’re not going to be silent.”