Originally published by the StarNews

The battle over Barrio Logan land use intensified in recent weeks when the National City-based Environmental Health Coalition filed a lawsuit in response to efforts aimed at striking down Logan’s updated community plan Nov. 14.

The suit, which was filed against the San Diego City Clerk and San Diego Registrar of Voters, alleges that the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association participated in violating the Elections Code by giving false information to voters in an effort to gain signatures on a petition that would refer the community plan to a new vote.

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The plan update would put heavier restriction on industrial development in the underserved mixed-use community as part of an effort to address pollution and health concerns in the Logan’s residential zones.

“I honestly don’t think we have any falsehoods in our petition,” said Derry Pence, president of the Ship Repair Association.  “We’re not against having a community plan for Barrio Logan.  In fact we are in agreement with 90 percent of the plan.  What we want is some consideration that will allow us to continue to do business, by right, the way we always have done business.”

“We feel that they have been collecting signatures illegally,” said Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) executive director Georgette Gomez. “We feel that the petition itself is worded in way that is just not true.”

This conflict is the latest in a long-standing and sometimes contentious relationship between the maritime industry and community residents.  The community plan update which passed San Diego City Council by a vote of 5-4 in September was met with immediate opposition from shipyard representatives who said the plan poses a direct threat to maritime jobs in the area.

The plan makes several changes to zoning that would create a strictly commercial area, buffering residential from industrial.  It restricts residential development in this “buffer zone” and does not allow for new industrial expansion in the area with few exceptions. It also restricts the expansion of existing industrial businesses to 20 percent growth.

“The statement that jobs will be lost is misleading,” Gomez said.  “The plan itself does not affect the shipyards.  They are making objections, saying that residential will be encroaching into the shipyard and that is just not true.  Their messaging in their current objection is that existing businesses are going to be pushed out.  That’s not true.  Any business that has been operating there legally will be protected by law.”

The Ship Repair Association represents the Navy shipyard industry in San Diego as the Navy’s sole source of ship repair and maintenance, said Pence.

“We need to remain effective and efficient in that capacity,” Pence said.  “If the business climate changes and makes it harder for us to do that, the Navy may, and I emphasize may, go elsewhere for ship repair maintenance sources.  And those sources will not be in San Diego.”

“They’re saying that there is so much demand and we’re not allowing enough space to accommodate that demand.  That’s not true,” Gomez said.

Should the Ship Repair Association’s referendum petition be confirmed by the council, the fate of Barrio Logan’s community plan could go to voters during the next election.

“It is my hope that this issue will once again be presented to the city council and the city council will choose at that time to resend their vote of September 17. And then the issue will at least be in the hands of voters,” said Pence.
This is the first battle in what the association expects will turn out to be a long fight to protect maritime jobs in the future, said Pence.

The next court hearing on the allegations of false petition statements is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Everyone was at the table to put together the plan compromise, including residents, EHC and industry representatives,” said Councilmember David Alvarez who represents Logan in a recent statement. “It’s unfortunate that this effort to create jobs and a healthy community for children is being threatened.”

Proponents of the plan update remain hopeful that progress in the community will be made and a further compromise will be reached.

“It’s been a long time a coming,” said Gomez.  “I don’t believe it’s come to a screeching hault.  It’s a bump.  We know from similar communities that we worked with in South Bay and other places in the past that we have made progress and then we hit little speed bumps.  So we feel like we have a made a bit of an advance, and we’re going to continue to work to advance.”

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