Update: The City Council voted late Tuesday to give Barrio Logan a new community plan, which attempts to solve the decades-long issue of homes and industry being too close together.

Faced with two versions of the plan — one favored by residents, the other by the shipbuilding industry  the Council voted in favor of the community-supported plan, with a last-minute change orchestrated by Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the area. His compromise proposal means new homes can’t be built in a few blocks north of Harbor Drive, where planners are trying to make a buffer between the shipyard and the rest of the community. The Council’s vote broke along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans against.


Check out our in-depth explainer on Barrio Logan’s new plan for more details. 

A group of blue-collar workers wearing bright yellow shirts flooded a City Council vote Tuesday to weigh in on a gray area in Barrio Logan’s community plan.

Two versions of the plan were being considered by the Council – one backed by Barrio Logan residents, the other favored by the local maritime industry. The main sticking point between the two plans: a buffer zone separating residents from industry activities.

The shirts, in both Spanish and English, express support for the shipbuilding industry’s preferred plan.

“Protect our jobs, save our suppliers,” the shirts said. “Protejan nuestros Trabajos. Salven a nuestros Provedores.”

Most of the workers wearing the shirts were paid by their maritime industry employers for the time they spent at the hearing.

Managers at Continental Maritime of San Diego – one of the three major employers in the shipyard – discussed in emails sent last week how to transport and pay employees to support the industry’s favored plan. A spokesman for the industry confirmed Tuesday that all the workers in attendance were being compensated.

The workers were fighting for their jobs and the shipbuilders were happy to pay for their civic involvement, said Chris Wahl, a spokesman for the industry, as workers filed out of two coach buses and picked up protest signs.

“Si en 2” read one sign, a reference to the industry’s preference for the second alternative to the city’s favored plan. Another said “EHC Doesn’t Represent Us,” in reference to the Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit group that has fought against the industry’s plan.

“We’re happy they’re being paid to be here, just like you get paid when you vote, or go to jury duty,” Wahl said.

Photo by Andrew Keatts
Photo by Andrew Keatts

Though workers were being compensated for their time, they seemed to strongly believe their presence was a move to protect their livelihoods. Most declined to be interviewed, and pointed instead to industry representatives who were pacing the line to enter City Hall, urging workers to hold signs in the background of TV shots.

As the line began to move, a man dressed in street clothes walked along the line of workers in bright yellow T-shirts.

“Man, y’all about to sell out Barrio Logan,” he said. “That is f—ed up what y’all about to do in there.”

“Sell out? We’re trying to save our jobs. Nah, they’re trying to take our jobs away from us in there,” a young man in white sunglasses and a flat-brimmed hat countered.

Once in Council chambers, the main council area was filled almost excessively with yellow shirt-wearing shipyard employees, plus a handful of EHC supporters in blue shirts.

When the City Council took to the dais, the crowd began waving its signs and erupted into a cheer of “save our jobs.” A group of three people holding signs in support of the city’s favored plan exchanged words with two workers sitting in front of them.

“Yeah, you don’t care, because you don’t have to live there,” said a man holding a sign that read “Alt #1: Family, community, healthy future.”

“No, but I work there,” a worker responded.

“They don’t care, they’re just doing it for the dollar,” a third man said, before a police officer ushered them away because they didn’t have seats.

For all the disagreement, the only remaining issue before the Council comes down to a relatively small decision: whether certain businesses will be allowed within a small area between Harbor Drive and Main Street.

Many companies that supply products to the heavy manufacturing at the shipyard south of Harbor Drive currently exist in the contested area. Those companies will be able to continue operating regardless of the vote.

The city’s plan would re-zone the property for commercial uses, and only let new maritime suppliers open if they received a conditional-use permit. Securing those permits would be timely and expensive – and the community would have the power to oppose them.

The industry would like new maritime suppliers to be able to open there by right.

But the industry’s real concern, according to Wahl, isn’t about making it more difficult for new suppliers to open across the street from the shipyard. It’s about what the city’s vote would say about its long-term commitment to the shipbuilding industry.

That’s why the shipyard executives speaking at City Council said their industry was facing an existential threat.

And it’s why shipyard workers who filled the house said they were fighting for their jobs.

Andrew Keatts is a former managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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