What the Barrio Logan Signature-Gatherers Are Saying

What the Barrio Logan Signature-Gatherers Are Saying

Photo by Sam Hodgson

A view of the NASSCO shipyards beyond a school bus passing through Barrio Logan.

There’s been a lot of talk about what the folks tasked with gathering enough signatures from city residents to put the new Barrio Logan community plan to a citywide vote are telling normal people to help coax them into signing the petition.

I figured I’d go do some grocery shopping and let the signature-gatherers give me their pitch as I returned to my car.

Opponents of Barrio Logan’s new outline for growth, led by the shipbuilding industry and some of its suppliers located in the neighborhood, need to collect almost 34,000 valid signatures by Nov. 1.

They announced almost two weeks ago they were off to a fast start, with 17,000 signatures collected and almost three weeks to go. But qualifying an issue for a citywide vote is a tall task, and plenty of well funded efforts have come up short in recent years.

I started at the Whole Foods in Hillcrest, where I was approached by a guy named Colby from Burbank who said he and all his friends were “like musician-political junkies” who travel the country collecting signatures whenever they don’t have a full schedule of gigs.

He’s paid by a company called Goldstein Ostic & Associates (“it’s a direct-democracy firm, not Republican or Democrat”) who has put him up in a hotel through the collection process.

In 2012, Goldstein Ostic was paid more than $200,000 to collect signatures for Prop. 38, the alternative proposal to Gov. Jerry Brown’s successful 2012 tax increase. The firm has also recently worked with a Los Angeles-based UNITE hotel workers union, and a campaign committee opposed to Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly.

The new plan for Barrio Logan, Colby told me, would rezone an area currently used to clean Navy ships, and put hundreds of waterfront, luxury condos in its place.

Residents think the shipbuilding industry is harmful to their health, he said, “but they knew where they were moving, so that’s sort of like moving into an airport flight path and complaining that planes are too loud,” he said.

San Diego gets most of its money from the Navy, and the new plan would encourage the Navy to leave, he told me.

“It’s basically the first step to shutting down the shipyard,” he said.

Twice, I asked if the plan would explicitly take area currently used to repair or clean ships and turn it into waterfront condos. And twice he said, “Yeah, exactly.”

But that’s not what’s happening with the new Barrio Logan plan.

Really, what’s in dispute within the plan is its attempt to separate industrial and residential areas by creating a commercial buffer in a small area northeast of the shipyard. Homes are explicitly banned from being built in that area – meaning no waterfront condos.

That area’s currently occupied by an array of industrial companies, many of which service the shipyard in one way or another. One of those companies, for instance, is Cal Marine Cleaning, which does mechanical cleaning for the three major shipbuilding companies, BAE Systems, Continental Maritime of San Diego and General Dynamics NASSCO.

To Colby’s credit, opponents of the plan have made the impossible-to-verify claim that the buffer is the first step toward ousting the shipbuilding industry, just as it previously left San Francisco and Long Beach.

Even if the buffer area bars homes, opponents say, it nonetheless creates a commercial area catering to residents, not industry. The logic goes: First, the city re-zones the land for commercial. Then a few years from now, it rezones it again to allow residents. Then, new residents start complaining about the industrial activity at the port, and it’s just a matter of time before they’re forced out. It’s a slippery slope argument they’re making.

I thanked him and said I wasn’t comfortable signing anything until I read into the issue more. He said that was fine, and told me to Google “Barrio Logan shipyard shutdown.”

Then I drove to the Vons in North Park, and encountered a middle-aged woman named Patricia. It was her first day collecting signatures, she said.

Her explanation was much closer to what’s really happening.

A lot of kids in Barrio Logan were coming down with asthma, she said, so the city tried to create a separation between industry and residents so kids would be farther away from the shipbuilding industry.

“So, are they building condos next to the shipbuilding industry then?” I asked, devoid of subtlety.

“No, not at all,” she said. “They’re just separating residential and industrial. … But that’s the next step,” she said, laughing.

Again, I said I wasn’t comfortable signing anything until I looked into the issue more.

“Remember, you’re not voting for anything,” she said. “You’re just putting it on the ballot so everyone can have their say.”

Still, I said I’d rather not sign, and asked if she had any information I could take with me. She said she couldn’t give me anything, but showed me this flyer:

BarrioSigGatherers 

Aside from making thorough use of the Thesaurus entry for “flawed” (“this defective plan,” “this faulty plan,” “this unsound plan,” “this misguided plan”), the flyer makes a case with a mix of misleading facts and accurate descriptions of the issue.

For one, it starts with the claim that qualifying for the ballot would let voters protect 46,000 jobs and $14 billion in annual revenue.

Those numbers, from an industry-supported study in 2012, do not refer specifically to Barrio Logan’s shipbuilders. They describe the size of the entire maritime industry — fishing, shipping, shipbuilding, maritime-focused construction, etc.

According to that same study, Barrio Logan’s shipyard employs roughly 14,000 people. That’s nothing to sniff at, but it’s not 46,000.

Also, the plan does make way for roughly 500 new homes, but none of them are allowed in the disputed buffer area. And those opposed to the plan have said they’re fine with everything in the plan —including the 500 new homes — so long as they get one last concession.

The flyer does, in its second bullet point, accurately describe the last remaining difference of opinion.

As envisioned by the adopted plan, maritime suppliers would need to secure a conditional-use permit if they want to open up in the commercial buffer area. Obtaining that type of permit would allow community input, meaning the community could conceivably say no each time.

The flyer’s third bullet also says the new plan would rezone the suppliers currently operating there, limiting their ability to expand and “potentially forcing them to relocate.”

That’s accurate too, although the “potentially” is doing a lot of work. Existing businesses would be able to remain as long as they don’t vacate their property for two consecutive years. They could expand up to 20 percent – and even more than 20 percent, if they get a conditional-use permit.

Nonetheless, it’s fair to say the goal of the rezoning is to eventually relocate those businesses.

The bullet point says there are 20 businesses whose properties are being re-zoned. There’s been some discrepancy about which businesses count as maritime-oriented, but the city’s report to the Planning Commission had a list of 25 industrial and maritime businesses in areas that would be re-zoned.

Four of those are located in an area zoned for the creation of a high-density residential area, a proposal that isn’t opposed by the shipbuilding industry. Even in their preferred plan, those businesses would still be re-zoned.

There are 18 businesses listed that are in or near the proposed buffer area. However, city staff has said some of those businesses would likely be considered in line with what’s allowed to operate there, without securing a conditional-use permit. That includes Cal Marine Cleaning, whose owner has been one of the most vocal opponents of the plan.

The City Council, and Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who chairs the land use and housing committee, has discussed holding another hearing to clarify what type of businesses would fall under the commercial designation, and which ones would need to get a conditional-use permit.

And the final bullet, which says the plan cuts in half the industrial land outside the actual shipyard, is accurate.

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Andrew Keatts

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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13 comments
Power To The People
Power To The People subscriber

Just like the supporters of prop B did? Paid signature gathers will say anything to make a buck.

mel luce
mel luce

You forgot to ask them if they get paid by the hour or by the signature. That question really ticks them off! One of my favorite signature gatherers was at the Sprouts in Clairemont. He wanted to keep boys out of the girls bathrooms and vice versa. I asked how that would be implemented and funded. Would it come out of the education fund? Will we now have to pay for potty police? Most elementary school bathrooms don't even have soap or toilet paper, much less latches if they have stall doors now there's a possibility that we will have to pay someone to watch the potties? No, that isn't weird at all....

mel luce
mel luce subscriber

You forgot to ask them if they get paid by the hour or by the signature. That question really ticks them off! One of my favorite signature gatherers was at the Sprouts in Clairemont. He wanted to keep boys out of the girls bathrooms and vice versa. I asked how that would be implemented and funded. Would it come out of the education fund? Will we now have to pay for potty police? Most elementary school bathrooms don't even have soap or toilet paper, much less latches if they have stall doors now there's a possibility that we will have to pay someone to watch the potties? No, that isn't weird at all....

Desde la Logan
Desde la Logan

The signature gatherers are lying just like their maritime industry bosses.

Sara_K
Sara_K

The maritime industry got what they told the City they wanted back in July regarding no new housing in the disputed area. They thought the plan that was ultimately approved was appropriate back then. Now, they want... what, exactly? They apparently want no limitations on the type or scope of pollution thier businesses may generate which make nearby residents ill, many chronically. They negotiated in bad faith, and now they're willing to stick the nearly million dollar price tag for the referendum on San Diego taxpayers. And this polluting, child-sickening, taxpayer-waste effort is part of Kevin Faulconer's mayoral platform.

Sara_K
Sara_K subscribermember

The maritime industry got what they told the City they wanted back in July regarding no new housing in the disputed area. They thought the plan that was ultimately approved was appropriate back then. Now, they want... what, exactly? They apparently want no limitations on the type or scope of pollution thier businesses may generate which make nearby residents ill, many chronically. They negotiated in bad faith, and now they're willing to stick the nearly million dollar price tag for the referendum on San Diego taxpayers. And this polluting, child-sickening, taxpayer-waste effort is part of Kevin Faulconer's mayoral platform.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin

The shipyards and port are regional assets and this encroachment on those assets should be voted on. Alvarez and the council majority were short sighted in their decision and my guess is the voters will pass the initiative backing the Maritime industries.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

The shipyards and port are regional assets and this encroachment on those assets should be voted on. Alvarez and the council majority were short sighted in their decision and my guess is the voters will pass the initiative backing the Maritime industries.

JamieOrtiz
JamieOrtiz

Thanks for doing this work, Andrew. It's crazy to watch the industry make excuse after excuse about how they are playing fair, when we know they are not. Just in case anyone wants to watch on video what you captured in print, you can see this youtube video, featuring some outlandish statements from two signature gatherers: http://www.environmentalhealth.org/index.php/en/media-center/blog-for-environmental-justice/127-toxic-free-neighborhoods/373-barrio-logan-referendum-signatures-captured-with-lies.

Ruben Andrews
Ruben Andrews

The fatally flawed part of the plan is that it gives every preference to residential concerns without adaquarely considering - much less studying- the consequences to business and industry. The land immediately adjacent to the shipyards should be industrially zoned for the support companies. Then any buffer zone should have been beyond. But the area is only four blocks wide at some points - not room for land zoned for industry, then buffer, then housing - so the did away with industry to protect a few residential uses. The fatal flaw is that it's over bearing and out of balance. There is plenty of area for residential use on the north and west end of the plan area.

Ruben Andrews
Ruben Andrews subscriber

The fatally flawed part of the plan is that it gives every preference to residential concerns without adaquarely considering - much less studying- the consequences to business and industry. The land immediately adjacent to the shipyards should be industrially zoned for the support companies. Then any buffer zone should have been beyond. But the area is only four blocks wide at some points - not room for land zoned for industry, then buffer, then housing - so the did away with industry to protect a few residential uses. The fatal flaw is that it's over bearing and out of balance. There is plenty of area for residential use on the north and west end of the plan area.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Good report, but if you think every initiative campaign doesn’t employ hyperbole, half truths and often falsehoods, you haven’t been listening to the pitches in front of stores. We have one of the very few shipyards left in the country and it’s potential for growth is pretty good if it can be competitive. The industry is understandably nervous with any ordinance that leaves these occupancy decisions up to committees, resident groups or city bureaucrats. I think it’s worth bending over backward to accommodate the industry, but of course I don’t live nearby. Who really makes the decision on conditional use permits, how long does it take and what’s the cost are vital questions. We’re talking primarily about a group of smaller, specialized companies that service this industry, not NAASCO or BAE Systems, but they’ll be affected as well.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Good report, but if you think every initiative campaign doesn’t employ hyperbole, half truths and often falsehoods, you haven’t been listening to the pitches in front of stores. We have one of the very few shipyards left in the country and it’s potential for growth is pretty good if it can be competitive. The industry is understandably nervous with any ordinance that leaves these occupancy decisions up to committees, resident groups or city bureaucrats. I think it’s worth bending over backward to accommodate the industry, but of course I don’t live nearby. Who really makes the decision on conditional use permits, how long does it take and what’s the cost are vital questions. We’re talking primarily about a group of smaller, specialized companies that service this industry, not NAASCO or BAE Systems, but they’ll be affected as well.