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Barrio Logan last fall became the first community to update its outline for future development since San Diego passed a new citywide general plan in 2008.
The plan capped decades of resident efforts to untangle the community’s unhealthy mix of schools and homes sitting next door to industrial operations.
Days after the City Council approved the new framework, the shipbuilding industry announced its plans to try and overturn it. The plan threatens the industry and the jobs it provides, industry reps said.
Between then and now, the plan became a wedge issue in a mayoral race, was the subject of a signature-gathering effort that was challenged in court and faced a business-backed campaign to get the plan overturned. Now voters will decide whether it lives or dies.
What the Plan Does
The primary goal of the Barrio Logan community plan was to separate potentially harmful industrial activities from sensitive places like houses, schools and nursing homes.
Today, Barrio Logan is a free-for-all. Someone who owns one property is free to build a home or a machine shop on the same lot.
Here’s what the community looks like right now. The green squares are homes. The blue ones are industrial businesses. You can see they’re both all over the place.
The new plan would cut the neighborhood up into an arrangement more like other neighborhoods: homes over here, restaurants and grocery stores nearby and industrial operations a safe distance away.
This map isn’t perfect: Councilman David Alvarez struck a would-be compromise to prohibit homes from being built in a few of those blocks — between Harbor Drive and Main Street, between Evans and 28th streets.
The changes outlined in the plan would happen at a glacial pace. Nothing would change overnight. The new restrictions wouldn’t kick in until a property hasn’t been used for its previous zoning for two years. Eventually, that would create the separation planners are going for.
The major disagreement is over that dark purple band north of Harbor Drive. The plan makes it a place for commercial properties only — not industrial businesses or homes — so there would be a “buffer” between heavy industrial activity and residences.
Right now, that’s home to companies that support the shipyards. Those companies could stay, but they’d have limited expansion options, and new companies trying to open there would need a special permit, which the community would have a say on.
Realistically, those permits would be hard to come by. Most new shipyard-supporting businesses would end up opening elsewhere.
The industry wanted those companies to open in the buffer zone without a special permit.
That’s where the negotiations broke down. Alvarez compromised on a request to keep homes out of the buffer, but said removing the need for the special permit would defeat the whole point of the buffer in the first place.
That’s what this fight is about. The two sides had reached agreement on every other issue.
The shipbuilding industry has made a series of arguments against the plan. Some have been demonstrably false or misleading.
It said the plan threatened 46,000 jobs and $14 billion in annual revenue. But those numbers apply to the entire maritime industry, not just the shipyards. Really, the shipyards are home to 6,127 jobs.
Signature-gatherers said the new plan would force the Navy to leave San Diego. A Navy representative said the Navy had no position on the plan.
Some signature-gatherers said the plan would replace the shipyard with waterfront condos. A recent mailer said the plan would put “housing next to shipyards.” There are no waterfront condos in the plan, and housing is separated from the shipyards by the buffer zone.
But the industry’s overall argument amounts to an opinion that can’t be factually disproven. It claims the plan presents a slippery slope: the residential community is steadily creeping toward the shipyards.
First come grocery stores across the street from the shipyard. Next, the city asks whether it’s really worth having a shipyard at all, they reason. So they drew a line in the sand.
What Happens Next
The issue is broken into two propositions because the Council made two decisions when it passed the plan: one that replaced the old community plan, and one that passed two ordinances incorporating the Barrio Logan plan into San Diego’s citywide zoning regulations.
A yes vote on the propositions means you want to keep the new Barrio Logan plan. A no vote makes the whole thing go away.
The city attorney’s office said the two propositions aren’t contingent on each other. If only the community plan update (Prop. B) passes, the elements of the plan that don’t include any changes to the community’s zoning would be implemented — like increases to the fees paid by developers when they build new housing. And if the zoning amendments (Prop. C) are passed but the new plan isn’t, only those changes will go into effect.
The city held off on implementing the new plan until the shipbuilders’ challenge was resolved. The old plan is technically still in place.
If the new plan gets tossed, Barrio Logan will maintain its “anything goes” development plan.
And the City Council can’t vote for a new plan for Barrio Logan within a year, unless it’s deemed “meaningfully different” than the challenged plan.
The shipbuilding industry offered an alternative during the planning process, which gave industrial businesses more leeway to open in the buffer area, and included less residential development throughout the community.
But the City Council can’t vote on that plan, either.
That’s because the state-mandated environmental review for a major development plan requires something called a “statement of overriding considerations” that basically says, “Yes, this plan will have negative effects A, B and C, but because it achieves goals X, Y and Z, we can approve it anyway.”
The city’s environmental review made that statement for the plan the City Council passed, but not for the alternative plan.
That means the city needs to do another environmental review before it can replace the plan. That will require the city to give the planning department money to pay for the review, and would take months or longer. And the plan that comes out of it would still need to get the industry’s support and five votes from a Democratic-majority City Council.
In the meantime, Barrio Logan will keep a plan that lets industrial businesses open right next to homes.
Correction: A previous version of this post included some errors in the map of existing conditions in Barrio Logan. The map has been updated.