Barrio Logan’s growing pains still unresolved after more than a decade of trying

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

Many American cities – despite their unique geographies and circumstances – share the same serious and complex issues: things like homelessness, housing affordability, disaster preparedness, and inequality. When we talk about San Diego Specials – a unique brand of problems – we are not talking about these. Rather, the term refers to long-lasting, resolved issues that have escalated here due to a lack of leadership and vision. These are often challenges that other cities (or even other communities in San Diego) took action on long ago, with far less of a headache. In this week-long series, we take a look at five San Diego specials and the factors that kept the solutions out of reach..


San Diego’s most polluted neighborhood may soon benefit from a new community plan, which finally attempts to separate Barrio Logan’s homes and its industrial businesses.

Then again, Barrio Logan has been trying for decades to update this plan for future growth, and it has suffered delays once again this year.

Basically, Barrio Logan’s problem is simple. Unlike all other parts of the city, industrial companies are allowed to open next to houses. Between that, the shipbuilding industry on Barrio Logan’s waterfront and the two year-old highways that run through the neighborhood, it has the lowest air quality in the area.

“This is the poster child for environmental racism,” said Diane Takvorian, executive director of the Environmental Health Coalition. “This is the plan that has continually been put on the back burner; the plan that no one wanted to deal with.

The neighborhood was here first, a community of refugees from the Mexican Revolution living in what was then a unified Logan Heights. Then World War II brought in the United States Navy and a shipbuilding and repair industry, converting the communal lands that bordered San Diego Bay into an industrial port. The government built Interstate 5 and the Coronado Bridge, forcing residents off their property and dividing the neighborhood into two – Logan Heights and Barrio Logan, closer to the waterfront.

“The disturbances are deeply a part of communities of color,” said Alberto Pulido, professor of ethnic studies at the University of San Diego and vice president of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center in the greater Logan Heights area. “Our history was fragmented and disjointed, so how the hell are we going to be able to build continuity over time? “

The final blow was mixed-use zoning, which allowed free development for all, further fragmenting the neighborhood.

barrio logan
A school bus crosses the Barrio Logan. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

There has been a certain consensus for years that the status quo in Barrio Logan was not acceptable. But in true San Diego Special, that didn’t lead to a solution. This was especially true in a city-wide vote in 2014 that raised the question of whether there was in fact a consensus for change in the first place.

Then the main fight in Barrio Logan was about the zoning rules that dictate what types of things can be built where. Compromises between industry, conservationists and community leaders emerged in 2013, leading to city council passing a new community plan that fixed zoning, separating homes from industry. over time.

But the plan ultimately faced a politically charged and unprecedented city-wide referendum a year later, where it was quashed, and the issue has stalled ever since.

Barrio Logan’s community plan, which reportedly created a buffer zone between homes and some businesses, faced voters in June 2014 as props. B and C. The measures failed after aggressive lobbying by the business community. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Once at odds, community leaders, environmental activists and the shipbuilding industry began to strike a deal in May on a new plan that expands residential neighborhoods and still allows the industry to thrive, but creates a buffer that defenders have long demanded between the residential area and the shipyards along the water. He settled the dispute that ultimately led to the 2014 referendum across the city.

Now, however, the Environmental Health Coalition is calling for more changes. He is looking for ambitious affordable housing requirements and anti-gentrification initiatives as part of the new community plan. Although it delayed the final vote on the plan, the Barrio Logan Planning Group ultimately backed a requirement that 15% of new housing in two residential villages (a new feature of the compromised zoning map) be reserved for residents in low income.

“We didn’t want (the plan) to take any longer, but it’s a plan that they will live with for a long time, so it has to reflect what the community wants it to be,” Takvorian said.

City staff are now working to add this requirement and anti-gentrification measures – like relocation benefits, the right of return for displaced tenants or outright booking of affordable housing for community residents. – in a new draft of the community plan. According to city documents, it could take another three to six months before Barrio Logan’s planning group can take a final vote.

This vote is the first step.

The plan still has to clear several hurdles, including a city council vote and state coastal commission approval, due to Barrio Logan’s proximity to San Diego Bay.

Mark Steele, chairman of the planning group, said while supporting the campaign for affordable housing, he acknowledged it was delaying a more immediate solution to the neighborhood’s environmental justice issues.

“Every day that they push hard is another day that someone can come in and do whatever they want at Barrio Logan,” Steele said. “The sooner the plan is made, the sooner these incompatibilities [between housing and industry] can stop.

City councilor Vivian Moreno, who represents the region, declined a request for an interview.

Community leaders hope she won’t vote against something the local planning group approves.

In 2013, Barrio Logan’s future turned into a political flashpoint when the mayor was elected between former city councilor David Alvarez, who represented the area and attributes his asthma to growing up there. bottom, and the final winner, Kevin Faulconer, who stood with the shipbuilding industry.

Each candidate supported a different zoning compromise. But the community status quo ultimately won when city voters tossed Barrio Logan’s community plan at the polls.

The shipbuilding industry has changed its tone since then.

Derry Pence, president of the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association, reaffirmed his support for the signed written agreement on a zoning map established in 2020 between industry leaders, the Environmental Health Coalition and the Barrio Logan Planning Group. The new zoning “(will create) a healthier community and provide certainty for residents and businesses by setting a firm course for community growth and development,” Pence wrote in an email.

Steele hopes the council will vote on the plan in early 2022, around the same time he becomes the first chairman of the Barrio Logan Planning Group, which was launched after the referendum.

“There was a quiet period for a long time,” Steele said. “I spent the first few years trying to put everything together and settle down, and make a band that could be successful.”

The land that houses Steele’s own business, an architecture and planning firm on Newton Avenue, will eventually become space for new residential housing under agreed zoning rules.

(Her business will not be evicted, it will have grandfathered rights. But once the land changes hands, housing will have to be built there, under the new rules.) That’s fine with Steele. He said he sees the change as an improvement towards creating a more cohesive community.

Ultimately, generations of San Diegans who have seen the Barrio Logan neighborhood cut to pieces by industry and government projects over the generations hope the new plan will hold up.

“We were on the road to progress,” said Pulido. “But the people came back. This is what they did not expect.

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