Tuesday, as a controversial community plan for Barrio Logan got its final approval at City Council, amid threats from neighboring industrialists to overturn it at the ballot box, I caught up with City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.
Faulconer has positioned himself as a champion of the waterfront shipbuilders and a foe of the community plan, which he has warned would threaten tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.
These are based on industry warnings, articulated by the shipbuilders, the Port Tenants Association, the Industrial Environmental Association and their super lobbyist, Chris Wahl.
Tuesday, Faulconer held another press conference in front of Barrio Logan industrial buildings.
I went to ask him about a time when he disregarded a similar maritime industry warning. It was 2008 and it was in his neighborhood, Point Loma. It was the second example I’ve found where Faulconer chose residential uses over industrial uses in his own district despite pleas from business representatives.
A developer wanted to build a 47-unit condo complex called Point Loma Townhomes on Scott Street in the Roseville area near Shelter Island. The land was zoned industrial, and waterfront industry representatives were worried about losing it.
When the project reached the City Council, the late Patti Krebs, from the Industrial Environmental Association, got up to speak.
She and other industry representatives were not worried about the empty lot that was being replaced. The people who spoke against it were worried about neighboring businesses.
Using similar language the shipbuilders use today about Barrio Logan, Krebs warned: If you put homes there, the people who move into them will someday rally against neighboring industrial operations.
“We do fear that, even with all methods of real estate disclosure, there is bound to be friction from the new homeowners who will be subjected to noise and other activities of boatyard work, which includes sometimes the evening hours and weekend hours and overtime to finish their projects in a timely manner,” she said.
Faulconer made the motion to approve the project.
Donna Frye, then a City Councilwoman, objected. She said it was clear the city would be spelling the end of the maritime industrial land use at Shelter Island.
“What I expect will be happening and what has happened in many other communities is the residents will start complaining about the existing industrial uses and the industrial uses will be de facto rezoned and they will soon be run out,” she said.
Then-Councilman Tony Young agreed but they were the only two votes against the project. The City Council approved it but asked the city attorney to require people who buy homes in the new complex to agree never to sue either the nearby industrial operations or the city.
That, of course, was an unrealistic request and it didn’t happen.
Sharon Bernie-Cloward, head of the Port Tenants Association, told me Tuesday that there are four boatyards near the Point Loma Townhomes development. She pointed to Le Rondolet, a condo project right next them.
“Residents there complain about everything,” she said. “That’s an example of what we’ll see when the townhomes come in.”
So I wanted to ask Faulconer why he would do this to industrial operators in Point Loma but fight to protect counterparts in Barrio Logan.
“You have to look at each issue individually and come to your conclusion based upon what you think is the right decision and based on the merits,” Faulconer said.
Gesturing to the businesses behind him in Barrio Logan, Faulconer said there was a “real threat” to those jobs.
“These are thousands of jobs right here and that’s one of the key reasons why I stood up for them,” Faulconer said.
Then he pointed out the community supported the Point Loma Townhomes project.
And what if the community supported the Barrio Logan plan, I asked?
“Which community?” Faulconer asked. “Different communities support different things.”
In Point Loma, one industrial member of the community continues to fight it. Rigworks, a Shelter Island maritime business, wrote an appeal to the California Coastal Commission, pleading with the agency to reject the Townhomes project.
Here’s how the company put it:
Allowing residences at this location will begin to diminish the marine presence in this area and will be the foot in the door for more residences to protrude into what is supposed to be an area reserved to ‘encourage continued development and sensitive re-development of a wide variety of community, visitor and marine related community commercial uses.’
And yet it goes forward with Faulconer’s support.
Art Engel, CEO of the Marine Group, who also owns land in Barrio Logan, said you can’t compare the Shelter Island and Barrio Logan waterfronts.
“It’s a different kind of waterfront here. The magnitude comparison between a shipyard and a boatyard is like an apple and an orange,” Engel said.
Barrio Logan is the apple and Point Loma’s the orange. The orange is getting more homes and transitioning away from industry. Industry has decided to take a stand on the apple.
Bernie-Cloward said the developer of the Point Loma Townhomes agreed to force real estate agents to disclose to the residents that they would be living next to a working waterfront that would not change.
“We definitely had our concerns with the townhomes going into Point Loma. The Port Tenants were on record at the time. We came to an agreement that says, you know, you’re moving into a working port,” said Bernie-Cloward.
So why can’t we have some kind of agreement like that in Barrio Logan? The dispute there isn’t even about homeowners. Homes have been prohibited in the last disputed nine-block swath of land north of Harbor Drive.
Councilman David Alvarez put to rest their concerns that residents would move into that land. It was a concession that caused him problems among his Barrio Logan allies.
Could they not do something in Barrio Logan to make sure whatever else moved there understood the waterfront and supported it?
Bernie-Cloward said, simply, no, they could not.
After all, Point Loma is an orange. Barrio Logan is an apple.