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Analysis: Barrio Logan, a small bay front neighborhood southeast of downtown San Diego, has two identities. It is home to many industrial businesses, but also to roughly 4,000 people, many who are low income.
In 2008, the city began updating the neighborhood’s community plan, a blueprint that dictates where homes and businesses can be built. Current rules allow homes and industry to mix, but the new blueprint aims to separate them by rezoning certain areas as exclusively for one or the other.
The city’s proposal has been heavily contested. Industrial business owners have resisted it because it would reduce the amount of land that could accommodate industrial facilities in the future. Many of the existing ones serve ships docked along the nearby waterfront. Residential and environmental advocates in the neighborhood support the decrease.
As the city comes closer to selecting a final plan, both sides have made their case in the press. Diane Takvorian, director of the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition, wrote an editorial in the Union-Tribune saying the city should prioritize community health in its rezoning plan. Jerry Gray, an industrial business owner and member of a business coalition that formed to influence the city’s proposal, responded in an Oct. 19 letter.
He said Barrio Logan was primarily an industrial neighborhood and that “the proposed plan endangers the economic engine of this community and will greatly impact where clean, compliant, maritime businesses are allowed to operate.”
Under the city’s proposal, new industrial businesses would be allowed on the outskirts of the neighborhood but no longer be allowed to move into the core. The amount of land that could accommodate future industry would be reduced. Gray argued that would hurt industry’s ability to grow.
As evidence that industry’s challenges are already bad enough and that there is more need, he offered this statistic: “Barrio Logan already has the lowest vacancy rate for industrial land in San Diego County – under 3 percent.”
In other words, of all the land that could house industry in the neighborhood, only 3 percent is not being used. The rest is occupied.
That claim is false. The statistic Gray used is outdated, and it is not even a measurement of vacant land. It is a statistic provided by commercial real estate analysts that measures how much space in Barrio Logan’s roughly 150 industrial buildings is empty — how much is available to rent.
Those numbers indicate there is indeed little available space in the buildings. Barrio Logan’s industrial vacancy rate is among the county’s lowest, with only 3.86 percent of its industrial space vacant, according to Colliers International, a firm that tracks vacancy rates. The average industrial vacancy rate countywide is 11.5 percent, according to the firm.
But there’s a key difference between an unused warehouse and suggesting, as Gray did, that there isn’t enough vacant land left for industry.
How much industrial land Barrio Logan will actually need to accommodate future business growth has been a point of contention.
Business owners like Gray have said there’s a lot of need. Residents and environmental advocates have said there isn’t, pointing to vacant lots in the neighborhood as proof.
It’s difficult to pinpoint who’s right because of the unique way much of the neighborhood is zoned.
In other neighborhoods, it’s rare to find a piece of land whose zoning gives an owner the freedom to build either a house or a repair shop. But in Barrio Logan, it’s everywhere, and it’s why many homes sit next to repair shops.
The neighborhood’s peculiar zoning makes it hard to calculate the precise amount of industrial, residential, and commercial land there because while business owners may claim a parcel of vacant land is industrial, neighbors might call it residential. They’d both be right.
The city’s blueprint proposal aims to set much stricter rules.
Gray acknowledged that he had incorrectly presented a measure of vacant buildings as a measure of vacant land, and that the zoning makes calculating vacant industrial land more complicated. But he defended his broader point. Though the city’s rezoning proposal would not affect existing industrial facilities, it would eliminate land that could be used for them in the future, making expansion more difficult.
“When you’re talking about businesses, and not just industrial businesses, but any business, you’re looking at the future, not right now,” he said. “Whatever dreams you have, if there’s not room for your dreams, you’re not doing it.”
Linda Greenberg, senior vice president of Colliers, said the low building vacancy rates show there is demand for industrial space in Barrio Logan. She said the amount available has continued to decrease as former industrial properties have been redeveloped.
And that trend is precisely what industrial business owners fear: That Barrio Logan’s continued redevelopment, combined with the city’s rezoning plan, will make it harder to expand their businesses. A major retail and housing development now under construction and a new architecture school nearby are on properties that once housed industry.
City planners are negotiating a compromise plan that would allow more industrial businesses as long as they only serve the waterfront. They hope that will allay business owners’ fears.
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Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?
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