Land use concepts like community plans, collocation and smart growth are often complex and elusive. Real estate professionals, planners and politicians use these buzz words, but the significance of these concepts is often lost on those whose daily lives are most impacted by them: business owners and residents. Nowhere is this more evident these days than in the Barrio Logan community.

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Currently, Barrio Logan is in the final phase of updating its woefully outdated community plan. If adopted, the updated community plan and associated rezoning will guide land use decisions which will shape the physical and economic future of the area. It will be a blueprint for development in the community, regulating what can be built and where.

From a land use perspective, Barrio Logan is one of the most unique (and challenging) communities in the city of San Diego, because it represents the cross-section of a blossoming cultural center and residential community with the economically indispensable maritime industry. Striking the appropriate balance between the needs and desires of residents — walkable, safe, attractive neighborhoods — with the needs of the industrial community — maintenance and expansion of crucial maritime operations — is of utmost importance.  

From an economic perspective, Barrio Logan is home to one of the most important sectors of San Diego’s regional economy. San Diego’s “blue economy” — the cluster of maritime-related businesses composed of various sectors ranging from shipbuilding to fish farming — is a unique element of the economy with a tremendous economic impact on our region. Regionally, the blue economy generates more than $14 billion of direct sales and employs a diverse workforce of nearly 46,000, according to a 2012 study.

In Barrio Logan, maritime industrial uses are the city’s primary contribution to this burgeoning regional economy. Barrio Logan is the only hub for the shipbuilding industry in the city of San Diego. The Barrio Logan maritime industrial community is composed of more than 80 businesses and spends $145 million per year in the community. These businesses are essential as they design, build, repair and maintain the Navy’s fleet while creating high-quality, good paying jobs. However, the shipyards and the businesses that serve them are constrained by available maritime industrial land both in the Barrio Logan community as well as the city of San Diego.  In short, the Barrio Logan industrial waterfront is the only area left in the city of San Diego where these businesses can successfully operate.

So how does the nebulous Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, which is scheduled for City Council consideration in September, impact these important maritime industrial uses? The proposed community plan includes two different land use scenarios (Scenario 1 and Scenario 2) for decision-makers to choose from. Under both scenarios, the amount of land zoned for industrial uses will decrease to accommodate projected increases in the residential population.  While accommodating a growing population in safe, walkable and attractive neighborhoods is an essential component of the community plan update, it is equally important to include safeguards to protect what limited industrial land is left to support such a critical component of the city and regional economy.

The second scenario proposed in the community plan strikes the greatest balance between protecting existing maritime industrial lands uses and the health, safety and well-being of the residents. It protects residents from exposure to potentially dangerous industrial impacts, creates more jobs for the community and offers the greatest protection for maritime industrial operations.

For example, Scenario 2 proposes a larger “transition area” to serve as a buffer between residential and industrial uses. Under Scenario 1, more than 500 new residential units will be permitted within 1,000 feet of the heavy industrial maritime uses located west of Harbor Drive. These residents will be exposed to more noise and traffic than under Scenario 2. Locating residential uses within 1,000 feet of maritime industrial uses, as proposed under Scenario 1, will be the first step to losing the maritime industrial shipyard operations.

Further, according to the environmental impact report, Scenario 2 will create 1,000 more jobs than Scenario 1 and offers greater protection to critical industrial business because it preserves more industrially zoned land than Scenario 1. Under Scenario 1, while many existing industrial lands will be allowed to continue to operate as “grandfathered” or “previously conforming” uses, the consequences of this status are often overlooked. Grandfathered and previously conforming status significantly impacts the ability to conduct business by restricting the ability to expand and by limiting the available locations to operate within the city of San Diego. This designation also generates uncertainty for business which discourages business owners from making critical investments in their businesses.

As we will see when the Barrio Logan community plan update comes forward, the blueprint for development of a community will have real implications on residents and businesses. When the plan for future development impacts the city’s most significant contribution to the region’s “blue economy,” extra protections for these maritime industrial businesses must be included in the community plan. Scenario 2 includes these protections, and should be adopted by the City Council.

Justine Nielsen is a land use attorney with San Diego Land Lawyers Inc., which represents the Barrio Logan Jobs Coalition and the San Diego Ship Repair Association. The Ship Repair Association supports Scenario 2 for Barrio Logan’s community plan update.

Nielsen’s commentary has been edited for clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here. Want to respond? Submit a commentary.

Justine Nielsen

Justine Nielsen is a land use attorney at San Diego Land Lawyers, Inc. in downtown San Diego.

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