Five Barrio Logan residents and supporters stand their ground
By Brent E. Beltrán
I wasn’t planning on writing a column today but since maritime industry called the cops on my two year old son, his grandma, two others and myself, I changed my mind.
On Thursday morning I got up early. The day before, I found out that maritime industry was going to hold a press conference at 10:30am at R.E. Staite Engineering near the shipyards. This was only about 6 blocks or so away from my Barrio Logan apartment.
I’ve been itching to do a protest against maritime industry and their opposition to the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update. With them holding their presser within walking distance I knew I had to do something.
With the press conference taking place on a weekday morning, and less than a day’s notice to quietly get the word out (catching them off guard would be key), I knew there would not be a large turnout. Nonetheless, I had to do something, even if it was just my son Dino and myself.
The night before I bought dust masks from Home Depot to use as a visual to represent pollution in Barrio Logan. After I purchased them I decided to reconnoiter the area where the presser was going to take place. I had never been to that part of Barrio Logan so I wanted to scope things out and get a lay of the land. I don’t like walking into the unknown. Especially when the unknown is potentially enemy territory.
On Thursday morning I got up early, did my San Diego Free Press editorial duties (I’m the daily editor on Thursdays and Sundays), got my kid ready to go and we headed out in time to get to the press conference by 10am.
When we arrived Dino and I stood on the outskirts of the parking lot where the presser was taking place. I took some photos of the handful of people that were already there. Shortly after I arrived, a line of about twenty shipyard workers started filing into the area. These were blue collar workers, mostly Mexican, not management. Though there were plenty of other management types that eventually showed up.
After the workers arrived they were given hand painted signs in English and Spanish (they were designed to look like the workers themselves painted them) from representatives of Southwest Strategies, the public relations firm that told lies to registered voters in order to get them to sign their petition to revoke the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update. Southwest Strategies is also the organization that gathered signatures in favor of Wal-Mart when the City Council tried to limit big box stores within city limits, forcing the council to revoke the ordinance instead of having it go to a referendum.
When I saw John Alvarado, a Barrio Logan resident/business owner, start talking to the workers and coaching them on why they were there I decided that that was the time for me to make mine and Dino’s presence known. I started shouting repeatedly from about twenty yards away: LIARS! ¡MENTIROSOS! ¡MENTIRAS! Dino followed my lead and shouted at them as well.
Alvarado then walked to where we were standing and we got into a verbal scuffle as a UT-SD photographer snapped a photo and Chris Wahl, President of Southwest Strategies, looked on. After the verbal battle tapered off Dino and I walked along the edge of the parking lot to get closer to where the presser was taking place.
Before the press conference began someone from Southwest Strategies again schooled the workers on where to stand, how to hold the fake signs, and what to chant after the presser ends.
Soon thereafter ex-Mayor and current Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Sanders slithered over to the press conference. From about 10 yards or so away I shouted at him: “Hey Jerry! Why do you want to poison the children of Barrio Logan?!”
The press conference began and so did our protest. I continuously shouted during the presser. Over and over again calling them liars in English and Spanish. Especially when Sanders stepped up to the podium. He’s been one of the most vocal opponents of the community plan and he deserves as much derision as possible from barrio residents and supporters.
At that point, my mother-in-law Gloria Andrade showed up to give support. She’s not a resident of Barrio Logan but her daughter and grandchildren live here and she’s concerned for our health.
UT-SD reporter Roger Showley heard all the noise I was making and came by and asked me a few questions. Surprisingly, he included Dino and I in his story:
Standing at the edge of Thursday’s event was Brent Beltran, 43, a four-year resident accompanied by his 2-year-old son Dino and his mother-in-law, Gloria Andrade.
“I’m here to show that residents in Barrio Logan will not allow them to poison us,” Beltran said of the shipyards.
He heckled Sanders and Hering during their remarks and disputed the idea that jobs would be lost if the plan passes.
At some point Wahl from Southwest Strategies came over to get in my face and call me a liar. He seemed pissed off that I was ruining his little poison party. But screw that guy! I kept on yelling.
An R.E. Staite Engineering bigwig in a hardhat with a NRA sticker affixed to it came over and told us we were on private property and that we had to leave. We were standing on a curb just outside the parking lot. I told him that we weren’t leaving. He then threatened to call the cops. I told him to go for it and then handed him my SDFP business card.
Frustrated that we didn’t bow to his authority he walked away. He later came back and asked a second time for us to leave. Threatening again to call the cops. And once again I told him to go for it.
I don’t know if we were standing on his property or not. I didn’t care. We were there to stay and we weren’t going to let some greedy polluter wearing an NRA sticker on his head tell us where we could stand. If the cops came and told us it was private property we would have reevaluated our position. But until then we were staying put.
Seeing that we weren’t going to listen to his demand he then proceeded to call the cops. Since I knew that his call would be a low priority for the police I didn’t worry about them showing up anytime soon asking for us to leave, let alone arrest us. I was actually hoping that the cops would show during the conference. It would have made a great visual for the cameras! But alas they took their time.
As Mr. NRA Guy was calling the law some barrio support arrived to give a grandma, a toddler, and his semi-crippled dad much needed back up. SDSU Chicano studies professor and Barrio Logan resident Roberto Hernandez showed up and so did UFCW union activist Sandy Naranjo. It was a great feeling having more than just Dino and myself there. It may not have been the masses but it was good enough to get our point across.
With the five of us there, Mr. NRA Guy, Chris Wahl and a youngish worker tried to block us out as they loomed over us menacingly (they were slightly above us on an incline). They tried to engage us to stop us from shouting down the press conference.
A little while later the press conference ended with a whimper as the workers unenthusiastically chanted some slogans they were told to chant by Southwest Strategies. The workers went back to work and the five of us lingered around as the media interviewed maritime industry people. A KNSD cameraman came over and interviewed me though none of the interview was aired.
We stayed a bit chatting amongst ourselves until two Harbor Police vehicles turned the corner and came our way. With the presser over and the sun beating down on us we decided to slowly walk back home. As the Harbor Police parked Mr. NRA Guy was pointing at us. I imagined in my head that he told the cops, “those are the dastardly community members who dare try to stop us from polluting them. The nerve of these peons!”
As we walked by their vehicles I waved and the lead copper waved back. He didn’t even bother to talk to us. He was probably wondering why he was even called out. As the five of us walked on we debriefed amongst ourselves and couldn’t believe they called the cops on us. I guess the polluters got scared of a little old lady, a two year old and three others.
As a resident of Barrio Logan I have no choice but to struggle for a healthy community. My family is being polluted on a daily basis by corporations that put profits before the health of neighboring residents. They are using lies and deceit to continue poisoning us. The Barrio Logan Community Plan Update is not a fix all to the health problems that plague members of my community but it is a good step in the right direction.
Help the residents of Barrio Logan!
Help our children attain a healthy neighborhood!
Vote YES on Propositions B and C!