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The city of San Diego has been involved in a decades-long process of trying to strike the right balance of vital maritime-supporting industries with a dynamic, ever-changing residential population in Barrio Logan, one of the city’s oldest waterfront communities. The latest proposal involves removing up to 25 acres of industrial land to make way for less intense uses, such as office, retail and residential. This would be major mistake for many reasons. 

The Barrio Logan Smart Growth Coalition, which formed more than a year ago to find a solution that balances the needs of the industrial community with long-time residents, believes this is a flawed approach.

The coalition, which is comprised of over 30 business owners representing over 500 employees in Barrio Logan, has also joined forces with other industrial organizations, including the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association, the San Diego Port Tenants Association, and the Industrial Environmental Association, to ensure that the only operating shipyard on the west coast is protected.

It makes little sense to significantly reduce industrial land when the Navy continues to invest in San Diego and Barrio Logan, as noted by the arrival of the USS Carl Vinson on April 12. In the last year alone, the Department of Defense awarded more than $1 billion in contracts to companies in Barrio Logan. The home porting of the USS Vinson will have a more than $400 million annual impact on the local economy. With the Navy repositioning its US-based fleet from being 40 percent home ported on the west coast to 60 percent home ported on the west coast, San Diego’s Barrio Logan community is uniquely positioned to be a major beneficiary of this change. Maritime and naval supporting companies are critical partners in this equation.

Any significant loss of industrial land would seem to go against the findings in a recent National University study that confirmed that maritime-supporting industries inject hundreds of millions annually into San Diego’s economy. The study also suggested that demand for office space has been over-exaggerated in previous studies used by city planners. Retention and expansion of the Barrio Logan industrial base and maritime-supporting businesses are dependent on sound land use planning. 

This is not to diminish the importance of residents and their contribution to the fabric of Barrio Logan’s community. But, Barrio Logan remains an important economic engine in a region currently suffering from high unemployment.

Perhaps as we struggle with the idea of where Barrio Logan is going as a community, we should recall where it’s been.

In the 1940s, the Navy and NASSCO brought the maritime industry to Barrio Logan. Twenty years later, the builders of Interstate 5 divided Barrio Logan into two communities. The east side developed as mostly a residential neighborhood, the west side — or waterfront side — continued its development as a maritime industrial community. Today, the delicate balance between businesses and residents is part of what makes Barrio Logan one of the most unique communities in San Diego. In fact, the number of workers in Barrio Logan now exceeds the number of residents by a factor of more than two to one.

City planners are working hard on a new blueprint for growth in Barrio Logan by updating the community plan for the first time since 1978. As they update the document, it is imperative that the plan retain the unique character that makes Barrio Logan so special, while preserving the maritime-supporting industries that have acted as a major economic engine for the city for decades.

So far, we believe the process is working. In the 14 months since the first drafts of the plan were made public, the city has seen to it that everyone in the process – residents, small business owners, the Navy, NASSCO – has a voice.  Access to information has been open and officials have been forthcoming. And, we are encouraged that there appears to be consensus for many parts of the plan already.

For example, we were encouraged to see in recent meetings that the city is open to modifying its initial proposal to remove industrial land east of Harbor Drive, and we encourage planners to study other cities, such as Baltimore and New York, that have found creative ways to develop divergent land uses in a compatible manner.

We see one solution as an overlay zone between the Coronado Bridge and 32nd Street. This zone would allow for co-location of industrial and other uses only under strict conditions. This is feasible because industry today is much cleaner, thanks to new environmental regulations. 

Co-location provides the best of both worlds. It helps protect a much-needed economic engine while preserving homes for residents and other uses that have existed for decades. The economic forces that shaped this community into what it is now are still at work, and it would be a mistake to change this approach simply to meet zoning standards that don’t reflect reality. 

If we are to preserve and maintain this unique waterfront community, one that has had to reinvent itself time and again over the past century, we need to understand what makes Barrio Logan special and embrace it as a neighborhood that thrives as one of San Diego’s historic economic engines.

For more information about the Barrio Logan Smart Growth Coalition, please visit www.BarrioLoganSmartGrowth.com. To learn more about the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association, please visit www.SanDiegoShipRepair.com.

Matt Carr is the President and founder of the Barrio Logan Smart Growth Coalition and the President/CEO of California Marine Cleaning, a Barrio Logan-based company.

Derry Pence is the Chief Executive Officer of the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association and a retired Navy Captain.

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