By Brent E. Beltrán
I gave this panel presentation to the Binational Conference on Border Issues at San Diego City College on December 5, 2013. Fellow panelists included historic preservationist Maria Curry and Chicano Park co-founder Josephine Talamantez.
I’d like to begin my presentation by thanking the organizers of this conference for giving the community of Barrio Logan, and myself, the opportunity to present. I want to thank Maria Curry for inviting me to speak here today. I also want to thank my co-panelist, Josie Talamantez for being the chingona that she is. Her history and the dedication she has to Barrio Logan, even though she no longer lives in San Diego, is something to admire.
At first I was somewhat apprehensive about presenting. I don’t consider myself an expert on Barrio Logan even though I’ve been involved in this community in various ways over the past twenty years. I’ve actually only lived here for little over a year.
Prior to that I lived in Logan Heights for two years, National City for about nine years and Golden Hill for around seven years. Prior to that I grew up in the community of Bay Park. For many years my abuelo had a home about a mile or so away on 29th St. near K St. As a youth I would visit him and he’d drive me all over the neighborhoods in the area, especially to the junkyards that used to litter Commercial Ave.
It wasn’t until I had my transformative Chicano experience as a student at Mesa College that I began to appreciate Barrio Logan and the various historic barrios of San Diego. I didn’t grow up self-identifying as a Chicano. Though I recognized my mexicanidad (How could I not? My abuelita lived two houses down and always had fresh tortillas for me to eat) it wasn’t a significant part of my youth.
While at Mesa I found Chicano Studies classes, absorbed the lessons, and eventually joined el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) where I became a student leader (even though I was half white and barely understood or spoke Spanish).
In time I joined various other community organizations including the Raza Rights Coalition, Unión del Barrio and the Chicano Park Steering Committee, which put me in contact with the community that I now call home. It was also during this time that I decided that I would dedicate my life, in some manner, to defending the rights, interests and culture of la raza.
Since then I went on to co-found the performance space/art gallery Voz Alta, I co-founded the small Chicano publishing company Calaca Press, I co-founded the artivist group Red CalacArts Collective and joined the board of trustees of the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park.
Shortly before my family and I moved from Logan Heights to Barrio Logan I was asked by San Diego Free Press if I was interested in writing about this community. They had seen a comment I made on one of their articles and apparently they liked it.
I hemmed and hawed not really interested in writing. Though I had worked on various community newspapers and newsletters during the 90’s and published bilingual writers in the 2000’s I never considered myself a writer (even though I took Jim Miller’s creative writing class here at City) nor cared to put in the time necessary to hone the craft.
Eventually I gave in and decided I’d make an attempt at being a community journalist. I didn’t see anybody else writing about the issues, causes and things that were near and dear to my heart. So I said to myself “screw it” I’m going to go ahead (with the blessing of my wife of course) and give it a shot.
At the end of one of the emails that was sent back and forth with Free Press editorial board member Anna Daniels I signed off Desde la Logan, which became the name of my column. Shortly after moving to the brand new low-income housing development Estrella del Mercado in Barrio Logan the column Desde la Logan was born.
I didn’t start out thinking I would be considered the go-to person on all things Barrio Logan. Somehow that just happened. Even though there are many people who live and/or contribute in some way to this community and know the history more than I do.
But, since I have a public platform, I’ve been thrust into that role. Even though I feel a little uncomfortable about it since I’m not originally from this neighborhood. I may feel a little awkward about that but I appreciate people’s confidence in my ability to positively portray this beautiful, vibrant community.
So, lets get down to why I am here.
Almost every community in San Diego has some kind of community plan that allows what can take place on the various properties within those communities. Community plans are created for the benefit of the communities those plans serve. They detail what types of businesses and residences that can be operated within the neighborhood. They detail zoning and regulations. How far certain businesses can be from schools and residences, etc.
Barrio Logan’s community plan had not been updated since 1978. And, if you’ve ever been to Barrio Logan, you’d recognize that. There are industries located next to homes, churches next to auto shops. A real mish mash of mixed-use properties that have been detrimental to the health and welfare of residents.
Barrio Logan has one of the highest rates of asthma not only in San Diego but all of California. Pollution from maritime industry and their suppliers, from the Port of San Diego, and cars that traverse the San Diego-Coronado Bridge that bisects Barrio Logan and the I-5 freeway that cuts Barrio Logan off from Logan Heights are all to blame.
Barrio Logan needed a new community plan that would help mitigate the health issues that residents have and create a buffer between polluting businesses and residences.
For five years the various stakeholders in Barrio Logan met through an official city process to create a new plan that would help separate residents from the toxic industries that proliferate the neighborhood. The various stakeholders included maritime industry (which are the shipyards and the businesses that serve them), residents, property owners, businesses, nonprofits and others who have a stake in the community.
When the process was concluded after dozens of meetings over those five years two plans were created. Alternative 1 was put forth by residents under the leadership of the Environmental Health Coalition and Alternative 2 was created by maritime industry to further their agenda.
In a unanimous vote San Diego’s Planning Commission recommended to the city council that Alternative 1 be adopted with a slight compromise brokered by councilman David Alvarez. The compromise was to, over time, remove residences from a nine block area and use this space as a buffer zone between the toxic maritime industry businesses and those that live in the community. It would allow office space and other commercial non-industrial/manufacturing businesses within this zone.
The plan also allowed the businesses that were already there to be grandfathered in and stay as long as the property was not vacant for two years. If the property became vacant then that property would no longer be allowed for industrial use. The plan also allows these businesses to expand by up to 20%. So, not only would the plan allow existing businesses to stay it also allows them to grow.
Within the so-called buffer zone no new residences would be allowed to be built. Nor would any new manufacturing businesses be allowed to open up without a conditional use permit. Maritime industry says obtaining a conditional use permit would be costly and near impossible to get since residents would be able to oppose it.
After the new Barrio Logan community plan was approved by the Planning Commission it went to the city council for approval. On a 5-4 party line vote (all Democrat councilmembers voted in the affirmative) the plan was approved.
A month or so later there was a second vote. Once again the council approved it by a 5-4 vote, even though there was a tremendous amount of pressure put on the council Democrats to change their vote, thus making the new community plan law.
This in turn pissed off maritime industry, which is lead by NASSCO, BAE Systems (which by the way recently paid a $400 million fine for bribing foreign officials), and Continental Maritime under an organization called the Port Tenants Association.
Since maritime did not get their way they have decided to make an end run around the council and place a city-wide referendum on the ballot to negate the council’s vote in favor of the new Barrio Logan Community Plan.
The Port Tenants Association filed the referendum and they needed almost 40,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. Through deceit and lies they got enough registered San Diego voters to sign on.
Some of the concerted lies told by signature gatherers, documented by the Environmental Health Coalition and various news media, include saying the Navy will leave if the plan is implemented (even though they have taken a neutral stance on the issue), that 46,000 shipyard jobs will be lost (even though less than 15,000 people work in the shipyard industries and that it is estimated almost 15,000 new jobs may be created through the new plan), and that condos are going to be built to replace the shipyards (even though no such plans have ever been introduced).
Pure lies meant to get people who fear job losses and hate developers to sign on. It’s shameful that maritime industry has to resort to lies to get their way.
And get this: signature gatherers were paid between $3 and $5 per signature! Maritime industry has spent around $200,000 just to get their referendum on the ballot!
This doesn’t include paying off…excuse me…I mean giving campaign contributions to Republican councilman and mayoral hopeful Kevin Faulconer and other Republican politicians. Faulconer by the way has received more than $36,000 from maritime industry interests.
But it is not just Republicans that are opposed to the Barrio Logan Community Plan update.
All three Democratic congresspeople (Juan Vargas who represents Barrio Logan, Susan Davis and Scott Peters) have come out publicly in opposition to the plan. All have chosen to sell out the residents of Barrio Logan to the military industrial complex.
So much for Democrats being the party of the people! I wonder how many campaign contributions they have received from maritime industry?
At least there are five principled Democrats, lead by David Alvarez, on the city council willing to support the residents of Barrio Logan, unlike their spineless congressional counterparts.
Due to their lies maritime industry has gathered enough signatures to qualify their referendum for the ballot.
This is not only bad for Barrio Logan but for San Diego as a whole. When massive billion dollar multi-national corporations, one of which agreed to pay one of the largest fines in US history for bribery, can use their money and influence to stop a community plan in Barrio Logan what does it mean for other communities that want to make changes to their community plans?
I’m pretty sure that the rich, mostly white residents of La Jolla don’t want us poor brown folk in Barrio Logan voting on their community plan.
What is to be done?
The residents of Barrio Logan and our supporters have a long history of fighting for our rights and dignity. From the founding of Chicano Park to gaining access to San Diego Bay to kicking out junkyards to opposing the retrofit of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge that would have destroyed the historic Chicano Park murals Barrio Logan has fought and won. This issue is no different.
We will fight this referendum. We will fight maritime industry and anybody else who dares to harm the residents of Barrio Logan. It won’t be an easy fight taking on the military industrial complex. It’ll be hard.
We’ll probably lose at the ballot box since maritime industry controls the narrative of jobs jobs jobs. But we will fight nonetheless. Struggle is part of the collective consciousness of this community. We fight on the daily just to survive. This struggle is no different.
This war, and it is a war declared on us by maritime industry interests, will be fought at various levels from within the community to outside. From the streets and in the courtrooms. From Chicano Park to City Hall and beyond. Battles will be won and battles will be lost but we are not afraid because we have struggled all of our lives for the little things that this community has.
The Environmental Health Coalition, champions of our community, has taken up the struggle in the courtroom. Others like Josie are taking the battle to Sacramento and Washington, DC. Artists like Mario Torero, Victor Ochoa, Mario Chacon, Cesar Castañeda, my wife Olympia Andrade Beltrán and others will use their craft to propagandize against maritime industry. Activists will take to the streets with marches, rallies, pickets and other actions. We may even picket the homes of maritime leaders and politicians who are in favor of the referendum.
We will use whatever legal means we have to defend the health and safety of Barrio Logan residents. Perhaps even use extra-legal means. We don’t have money. We don’t have power. All we have are our bodies and a righteous cause with a little soul thrown in.
Barrio Logan residents are tired of being polluted by maritime industry, tired of being disrespected by San Diego power brokers and are tired of being ignored by City Hall. Maritime industry is well funded and has many powerful backers. Barrio Logan is but a poor, working class, predominantly Mexican community. In this struggle, the Davids of Barrio Logan, with slings in hands, will take on the Goliath that is San Diego’s maritime industry to determine the future of San Diego’s most historic Mexican barrio. Which side are you on?
If you want to join this cause and fight for the health and dignity of the residents of Barrio Logan you can join a Facebook group I created called Barrio Logan Against Maritime Industry’s Referendum. Actions will begin sometime in January and go through the June election. I hope to see many of you standing alongside us in the struggle for Barrio Logan.