Not All Community Members and Stakeholders Are Pleased With Compromise
By Brent E. Beltrán
I have never been to a San Diego City Council meeting before. Never had a need nor did I ever care about the goings on inside the council’s chamber on the 12th floor of City Hall. But that changed on Tuesday, September 17. That was the day that the council was to vote upon the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update.
For five years the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update Stakeholders Committee held meetings to create a new community plan for Barrio Logan. A plan that would change the mixed use zoning that has been detrimental to the health and welfare of the residents of this predominantly working class, Mexican neighborhood. The Stakeholders were to create a plan that would delineate industrial areas from residential ones and create a barrier of sorts between the two.
For five years the various Barrio Logan Stakeholders met time and time again to create this plan. It was a democratic process. Votes were cast overwhelmingly in favor of Alternative 1 yet the maritime industry that has been polluting this community for decades kept holding out hope that their plan, Alternative 2, would ultimately be voted on and implemented by the San Diego City Council.
Maritime industry has usually gotten their way in Barrio Logan. They are a huge provider of middle class jobs and they use that to their political and economic advantage. But this time they were worried. So worried that they connived to pack the council chambers with their people.
Voice of San Diego’s Andy Keats broke a story, the day before the council meeting, about Continental Maritime’s interest in paying employees, and feeding them lunch, to attend the meeting. And boy did they!
I arrived at City Hall one hour before the meeting was supposed to start. I wanted to be there early so I could get a seat inside council chambers. As I was walking towards the entrance I noticed dozens of mostly male workers of Mexican descent wearing neon yellow t-shirts with the words Yes on 2 on the front and back. Industry went through with their scheme to pack the meeting.
At that point I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to get in let alone have a seat in the council chambers. Eventually I did get in but had to sit in a side room and watch the proceedings on a monitor since the maritime industry workers took up the majority of the seats inside. I was not alone. There were many more industry workers inside the room I was in and another room set aside for the overflow crowd.
There were also plenty of other people like myself in favor of Alternative 1 including members of the Environmental Health Coalition, mayoral candidate Bruce Coons, Barrio Station head Rachel Ortiz, Chicano Park Steering Committee members Tommie Camarillo, David Rico, Josie Talamantez and others, Save Our Barrios’ Cathy Espitia and Monica Bernal, professors Gail Perez and Roberto Hernandez, and many many more residents, activists and other people who are in solidarity with the community of Barrio Logan.
It was a beautiful showing of groups and individuals who have contributed their entire lives to community empowerment and social justice causes.
Being a resident of Barrio Logan I felt compelled to give my two cents. I don’t consider myself a good public speaker. I speak in public only when necessary. It’s not really something I enjoy. When I do speak in public I prefer to write out my presentation beforehand. That allows me to touch on everything I want to say and not forget anything that may be important.
A month or so before the council meeting I attended a San Diego Planning Commission meeting where I spoke out in favor of Alternative 1. I didn’t plan on speaking that day but did anyway. Being my own worst critic I felt I didn’t do the topic justice since I didn’t have a prepared statement. Luckily, the vote didn’t hinge on my mumbled presentation. The plan passed the commission unanimously clearing the way for the city council to vote on it.
On September 17 over 100 people signed up to make a statement to the council. Most of them were maritime industry workers who were bussed to the meeting. A lot of who live in Barrio Logan or Logan Heights. Many spoke about how scared they were that their jobs were in jeopardy even though they weren’t.
It was apparent that their bosses put the scare into them really good. And it was unfortunate that their bosses chose to pit one segment of the Logan community against another. The old divide and conquer tactic.
Not wanting to forget anything I prepared a statement earlier that day that I was going to read at the meeting. Unfortunately, when my name was called I went long and got cut off by council president Todd Gloria. Though cut off I felt I got my point across after being congratulated by many of my Chicano peers after leaving the council chambers.
I had already been at the meeting for over 3 hours yet there were still hours to go. Since I had other plans I decided it was time to leave. Later on that evening I learned that Alternative 1 was passed via a straight party line vote. Five Democrats in favor and four Republicans opposed. Proving that Republicans don’t care about minority communities such as Barrio Logan.
This was a small victory for the residents of Logan in the larger, protracted war waged by industry and their bottomless pockets.
But there was a hitch. Days before the meeting District 8 councilmember David Alvarez, seeing that the plan might not pass without some changes, made a compromise with the maritime industry. He offered to zone out some residences from the plan that was approved by the Stakeholders and the Planning Commission. This has lead to some residents and Stakeholders calling foul on Alvarez.
On September 23, the Barrio Station’s Rachel Ortiz held a press conference with Stakeholders and community members Alberto Dueñas, Rudy Pimentel, Carlos Castañeda and Evelyn Mitchell. They vehemently called out Alvarez for compromising with the maritime industry and subverting the democratic process, a process that took over five years to get to.
This group plans to take their issue to the California Coastal Commission which may vote on the update sometime next year. They want to fight for the full implementation of the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update Alternative 1. Not 1A, which they say the A stands for Alvarez.
Though the vote for the update was a victory for the community of Barrio Logan — even though some are upset about the compromise— there are still some battles that will have to take place.
The maritime industry has not given up hope for a complete takeover of certain sections of Barrio Logan. Residents be damned. Their lies and greed have no end and they will use their vast resources to do what they want. They have already threatened to take their plan to a referendum and have the entire city vote.
Regardless of what industry plans on doing the residents of Barrio Logan, the greater Logan Heights community and those in solidarity with us will continue to fight for our right to live in a community that is free of industry pollution. This is our neighborhood. These are our streets. And we will decide our future. Aquí estamos y no nos vamos.