On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council was forced to make a choice between two bad options: rescind its approval of a landmark update to the Barrio Logan Community Plan or place on an upcoming election ballot a referendum that would allow voters to trash the plan update.
The choice was forced by a successful yet deceptive petition campaign spearheaded by San Diego’s shipbuilding interests, which worry that the plan update could harm their industry in the long run. There were numerous documented incidents in which paid signature gatherers flat-out lied to voters about the plan’s impacts, falsely claiming impacts such as the Navy leaving town and new condos replacing waterfront shipyards. Even mayor candidate Kevin Faulconer said the plan would eliminate 46,000 maritime jobs but later backpedaled because the claim had no basis in fact.
The only controversial part of the plan update, which was partly aimed at protecting Barrio Logan residents from industrial pollution, is a nine-block area where some prospective new and expanded industrial businesses would be required to gain special approval from the city.
City Council members are divided on the issue along party lines, with the five Democrats besting the four Republicans. Council President and interim Mayor Todd Gloria sometimes sides with business interests, but he’s been solidly progressive and with the neighborhood residents on this one. On Tuesday, before the council reluctantly voted 6-3 to place the referendum on the ballot (with Republican Scott Sherman voting first to repeal the plan update and then joining the Democrats in voting for the referendum), Gloria delivered characteristically soft-spoken yet pointed remarks, and I decided to transcribe them. Among his comments were shots at the maritime industry for negotiating-table greed, thoughts on democratic inequality and a sharp admonishment for the City Attorney’s office to back the City Council’s direction.
There’s one confusing part, in which Gloria urges a yes vote on the referendum. Presumably, he was thinking that yes vote would uphold the community plan update as approved by the City Council. It hasn’t yet been determined how the ballot question will be phrased. In any case, here are Gloria’s full and complete comments:
I want to appreciate both sides who are down here today. Obviously, it's regrettable that we’re here at this point, but we’re at a situation where the community and stakeholders spent five years of their lives working to update a 35-year-old plan at a cost of about $4 million to taxpayers. What we got is 90-percent agreement, and, ladies and gentlemen, in my line of work, 90-percent agreement is a win, and it’s one you should take. And the fact that we are not going to have that opportunity, that we are going to go with the uncertainly of the ballot, I think it’s a shame. It's unfortunate because 90-percent victory in a public dialogue is something that should be embraced and should be celebrated. And we ought to celebrate it. And I don't want this we’re in today to take one iota away from the city planning staff that dedicated years of their lives to help make this happen, to forge consensus, to work with stakeholders to get to that 90-percent agreement. We have amazing people in our planning department who definitely deserve respect for the hard work they created.
I want to say a couple things: This council has stood with the maritime industry. One of the first things I did when I took over the duties as mayor was to rehire our city lobbyists so that we had effective advocates in Washington, D.C., to protect our maritime industry and the good jobs that come with it. That was a priority we took care of that action, and this council unanimously approved that request that I made. Additionally, individual members of this council have funded the military economic impact study because we understand how important the military is to our local economy. We want to quantify that and to be able to explain that to the general public so that we can grow that industry and the jobs that are associated with it. Additionally, this council has passed resolutions to oppose the Base Realignment and Closure process, to oppose sequestration—a number of other items that stand up for this industry. This council’s credibility on this issue cannot be challenged, and that it why I think it’s remarkable that a majority of this council will be able to stand up for this plan, because we know that it’s also good for the industry and strikes a reasonable compromise.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nine blocks in Barrio Logan will not break the maritime industry. It will not do that. But sequestration will. And we should be focused and taking the time and money that’s spent on this referendum to date to lobby our folks in Washington, D.C., to make sure that the jobs and the growth in our defense budget continues, as opposed to the reductions that are happening. That is a greater threat to the jobs on the waterfront, and that is what concerns me more than the Barrio Logan Community Plan.
I want to say, and I want people to ponder the question, what would have happened if the shoe was on the other foot? If the people of Barrio Logan—if we had not adopted the community plan, would the people of Barrio Logan have had the opportunity before this council today with a referendum petition. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is that they could not. We know that they couldn’t. And that is why this doesn’t feel like direct democracy, with all due respect to the comments that we were made about allowing the voters to speak. I don’t believe that this is representative of democracy. It concerns me very much that individuals with financial resources can seek different outcomes after the elected representatives were democratically chosen by the voters have weighed in, and they’ve chosen to do so—to take this extraordinary step is concerning because it’s not available to everybody. That’s problematic, and that troubles me a lot.
I want to note that the vote required in June would be a yes vote. It’s going to require people to say yes to Barrio Logan, and I hope that voters, as they go into the voter booth, would ask themselves, would they want heavy industrial uses next to their home, next to their children, next to their grandchildren, and then vote accordingly. I hope that they would vote yes in the way that I’d hope that council members who’ll vote today to support putting this on the ballot.
That’s about what I have, ladies and gentlemen. The frustration you’re hearing in my voice, I think you understand why I’m frustrated at this measure. We’ve seen this before; I think we’re going to see this again, and I think it’s time that this council work aggressively to stop this trend that we’re seeing, to do what we can, and as such, I would like to direct the city attorney to join the Environmental Health Coalition in opposing in court the efforts to roll back the council’s action. A majority of this council has stood up for this plan, and I think that this city should be on record as supporting the plan. I recognize that hasn’t necessarily been the case to date, but it ought to be going forward. We have to try and do everything we can to stand up for the democratically selected people who are here making decisions on behalf of taxpayers. It’s five years and $4 million today; it’s only going to get more expensive with time if we allow folks to continue with this process.
Those are my general observations. I will be supporting Councilmember Alvarez, out city staff and the people of Barrio Logan and the businesses of Barrio Logan to provide the kind of certainty that we have not had in this community for too long, to untangle the mess of uses that are currently there and to provide a way forward for Barrio Logan that fully supports our maritime industry and our residents.