By Torrey Bailey | SDSU student
Barrio Logan’s community plan, which places heavy industry next to residences, appears to largely contribute to the neighborhood’s poor air quality.
However, San Diegans rejected a ballot measure that the neighborhood believed would have improved the conditions, prompting the community to take another approach on reform.
Barrio Logan neighbors downtown San Diego, and houses thousands of low-income families. The Port of San Diego, the Naval Base San Diego, and a strip of the Interstate-5 freeway are all staples of the community, but they also increase the neighborhood’s vulnerability to air pollution.
“There’s good evidence from state surveys that the number of air toxins, or pollutants, is quite high in the Barrio Logan area, higher than in other areas of the city or county,” said Martin Stein, a Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) spokesman and local pediatrician. “One can argue two reasons: that the industrial toxins from the shipyards and related distances add to that toxin burden, and the other one is certainly the freeways.”
These toxins have been linked to several health conditions, including asthma.
The Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recently released the number of reported emergency room visits in California between 2007 and 2009. Asthma rates were categorized by county subdivisions of 10,000 residents and presented through an interactive tool called CalEnviroScreen.
One subdivision, or census tract, that encompassed areas of Barrio Logan was ranked among the highest 10 percent in the state. The data for the local census tract showed 81 of 10,000 residents went to the hospital for asthmatic reasons during those years.
“Asthma rates are a good indicator of population sensitivity to environmental stressors because asthma is both caused by and worsened by pollutants,” according to the CalEnviro Screen’s final report.
Stein believes there are only two options to reverse asthma susceptibility.
“You can gentrify the area or get all of the people out of there who live there which is unrealistic, nobody wants to do that,” Stein said. “Or you can limit the growth of industrial pollutants from the businesses, and it seems like a humane and reasonable thing to do.”
- Create new zoning laws for San Diego that would distinguish where certain types of properties were allowed to be built
- Regulate where family residence zones, retail & commercial zones, etc. could be built
- Reduce industrial zones from 230 acres to 170 acres
- Possibility to increase family residence zones
- Divide the Barrio Logan neighborhood into five communities with specific goals
- The goals would be related to:
- Designating residential and industrial areas
- Transit, jobs, industry, housing and affordability
- Identifying Chicano Park as a regional park
In June 2014, two propositions, B and C, were put up for a citywide vote. The propositions sought to restrict the amount of industrialization near the residential areas by creating a new community plan for Barrio Logan. Residents of Barrio Logan strongly supported the propositions, but both propositions received slightly more than 40 percent of the vote citywide.
This is the first time a community plan was put up for a city vote.
City Councilman David Alvarez, who represents the district that includes Barrio Logan, said he believes the resources available to each side of the campaign weighed heavily on the vote’s outcome.
“You’ve got one side that has a lot of money, and the other is just people and grassroots efforts,” Alvarez said. “It’s difficult to combat that. The ‘No’ campaign was able to get a lot more advertisements out and the ‘Yes’ side was not able to. That’s why overwhelmingly it happened the way they did.”
Aside from a difference in funds, the promotional tactics used by the “No” campaign to get the propositions on the ballot were dishonest, Georgette Gómez contended. She is associate director of the Environmental Health Coalition’s Toxic-Free Neighborhoods Campaign.
Backers of the “No” campaign funded people to collect signatures to get propositions B and C on the ballot, Gómez said.
“Their bias would be giving out information that would get people to sign, but also there was information provided,” Gómez said. “Even the information they were provided was misinformation: the loss of jobs, the displacement of the shipyards and so forth.”
For example, she said members of the EHC filmed campaigners saying that the new community plan would require the Naval Base to relocate, displacing thousands of jobs.
“(This claim) was absolutely ludicrous, completely unfounded and was never going to happen,” Alvarez said.
Air Quality and Health Risk Technical Analyses for the Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, the analysis prepared by the environmental consulting company Recon, framed propositions B and C in a way that, if enacted, would worsen the air quality.
The propositions called for a “buffer zone” between residential and industrial areas in Barrio Logan, while also building more homes. The analysis argued that the construction and existence of these new residences would increase natural gas and electricity usage, but could increase cancer and other health risks.
“Both alternatives represent a significant adverse impact when compared to existing conditions,” the analysis said.
Gómez said this analysis was subject to political manipulation. It focused only on the damage of the new developments, not the benefits of separating industrial zones from residences, she said.
Chris Wahl, who campaigned against the propositions, said, “The point that we made, and the only point we are trying to make, is that the plan adopted by the city increases cancer rates and health risks in Barrio Logan.
“The (consultant’s analyses) clearly states that it’s because they’re adding more housing by the freeway.”
Some locals are just beginning to hear about the state of Barrio Logan’s air quality.
Lizette Guajardo, another Barrio Logan local, said that she has seen rallies, but still knows little about the neighborhood’s air quality and propositions B and C.
Andrew Ryder, a technologist at one of the Barrio Logan industries, CP Kelco, said that he wasn’t aware of the pollution.
“Can’t say I’ve ever noticed (the air quality) particularly other than you get the idea when you’re walking around that this is a California, hot, dusty street kind of atmosphere, rather than mountain grasses,” Ryder said.
He said that he thought the air quality must be affected by the shipyard’s constant flow of traffic because he always sees trucks, trains, and ships coming in and out of the area on his drive to work and during his breaks.
Gaby Guzman, who is 19, has been aware of the pollution.
“I’ve been living here all my life, that’s why you see all that stuff in the air,” she said. “It’s the factories.”
Living outside of the city of San Diego, Ryder couldn’t vote on propositions B and C.
“If I was a local, I would be happy to see the industries go as long as they were replaced by something else like this new mall,” Ryder said, pointing towards Mercado del Barrio.
According to California Elections Code 9241, the city cannot retake ordinances similar to propositions B and C until a year after the election.
In the meantime, Councilman Alvarez helped establish a community planning group in January that he believes will impact the neighborhood’s future.
“Our community group will serve as a watchdog going forward … so that the mistakes in the past don’t lapse forward again, meaning the inappropriate mix of industrial uses, recreational parks, and public schools won’t be allowed,” Alvarez said.
Gómez said that the EHC will continue to hold events to raise awareness of the industries’ effects on the community. It hopes that in the future the community plan will be the residents’ decision, she said, and “the rest of San Diego will not be weighing in on the matter.”
Torrey Bailey was enrolled in San Diego State’s “What’s in the Air” sensor journalism class in Spring 2015.