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Friday, June 15, 2007 | Throughout its existence, Barrio Logan has experienced all the negatives of city planning. Past city leaders divided the neighborhood with controversial construction projects and promised redevelopment plans that never came to fruition.
Now, with the development of a new blueprint for growth underway, they want the same voice in the planning process afforded to 42 other sectors of the city: the representation of a community planning group.
Power to Plan
Tommie Camarillo, chairwoman of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, said the effort is about giving the community the chance to participate in discussions about its future.
“That’s all,” she said. “It’s no big thing, we don’t have tricks up our sleeve or anything. We just want the community to have their say, just like everybody else.”
The City Council approved the transfer of $1.5 million from the Centre City Development Corp. on April 24 to update the Barrio Logan community plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1978. Redevelopment Agency spokesman Eric Symons said that the ordinance in effect has led to incompatible land uses, such as heavy-polluting factories and homes being in close proximity to each other.
A community planning group is made up of volunteers with vested interests in the community they represent because it is where they live or own a business. It advises the City Council on proposed developments in their area. Camarillo voiced concern about the city proceeding with developments without such input.
“As with many communities across this City and our nation, the members of the Barrio Logan community are historically skeptical of any plan or process that is developed by those outside of the community and without full and collaborative participation and leadership,” Camarillo wrote in a May 3 letter to Mayor Jerry Sanders and 8th District Councilman Ben Hueso.
The Mayor’s Office responded about a week later with a letter saying it would be happy to form such a group, but only after the community planning process was completed, not before. “Instead, we will be working with a Stakeholders Group during the planning process formed by the Council office to ensure representation from the various groups in the community,” it said.
Director for Economic Planning Bill Anderson said the purpose of having a stakeholders group instead of a community planning group at this time would be to ensure that voices from everyone affected are involved, with seats reserved for renters, homeowners, businesses, nonprofit organizations and non-resident property owners. There would also be non-voting seats for port, school and community college districts. “Community planning groups are elected, so they aren’t necessarily representative of all interest groups that would be affected by a community plan update,” he said.
“I think they deserve one, it’s just, as far as timing, we think it should be at end of the community plan update process and we would work with the stakeholders group,” Anderson.
City Attorney Mike Aguirre has championed Barrio Logan’s cause, saying the city has lost sight of the grassroots nature of community planning groups. “The community planning process is a disaster right now,” he said. “The attitude on the part of the Planning Department is that power and the right to participate in the planning process comes from top down, and I want to help build support for the idea that it comes from the neighborhoods and the communities.”
Aguirre met with 20 members of the Barrio Logan community Thursday at the Cesar Chavez Educational Center. He assured them he is prepared to have his lawyers do whatever is needed to ensure a planning group’s creation. In front of the audience, Aguirre placed a phone call to Deputy Attorney Alex Sachs to schedule a meeting time between Sachs and interested parties for Friday afternoon to create a set of bylaws. As soon as they organized, Aguirre said, he would have members of his office supervise their elections so they could start petitioning the council.
“If a councilmember says no, say ‘screw you!’ If the mayor says no, say ‘screw you!’” Aguirre said.
The community’s apprehension for city plans has historical roots.
Mexican Americans began settling what was then Logan Heights as early as the 1890s, with the population eventually swelling to as many as 20,000, making it the second-largest Latino community on the West Coast. Zoning laws in the 1950s changed from favoring residential to industrial, inviting an influx of pollution that has been blamed for residents’ health problems. In 1996, the Scripps Research Institute found that 28 percent of Latino children in the Logan area had probable or possible asthma, versus a national prevalence of 7 percent in children.
In 1963, construction of Interstate 5 bisected the barrio, with the area to the north of the freeway becoming Logan Heights and the area to the south becoming today’s Barrio Logan. The Coronado Bay Bridge opened in 1969, its onramps and supports erected in the heart of the barrio. These two construction projects, which dislocated a host of families and businesses, are credited with reducing the area’s population to 5,000 in 10 years.
But in what was viewed as a triumph for the community, it successfully petitioned in the late ’60s for a neighborhood park underneath the bridge pylons. Artists began painting colorful, nationally-recognized murals in the bridge’s shadow, evoking images of Latino heritage.
The city had to take notice of the area recently, when it was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Mercado Alliance. Developers had received funding to create a shopping center called Mercado del Barrio in 1989, but the land sits vacant to this day. After years of inaction, the City Council voted last year to take back the land, and in August, the Mercado Alliance unsuccessfully sued. The alliance is planning to appeal the decision.
Ron Baza, who has acted as a pro bono consultant to the steering committee, said the city’s unwillingness to agree to the formation of a planning group at this time might be out of a fear that the community is “a little too vocal.” “I think this community has a right to be frustrated, has a right to be angry and to make a lot of noise and be vocal about what’s going on in our community,” he said.
Aguirre said the city has “ignored and abused” the area. “The trucks have been routed through there. They’ve had problems with all of the pollution and hazardous discharges. You’ve had the wrecking companies in there ,” he said. “It’s really been used as the dumping ground for our city.”
Baza said he doesn’t want to alienate people at City Hall, but he wants them to understand there’s a lot at stake.
“In terms of civic leadership, I think that the mayor, and specifically the councilman for the district, have a wonderful opportunity to help the Barrio Logan community realize its dreams and aspirations, taking into account the cultural aspects of the community but not ignoring the needs of development,” Baza said.