Though aware of a controversy over Barrio Logan industries, the secretary of the Navy refused to be carried into the debate over the neighborhood’s future during a pair of public appearances in San Diego on Jan. 9.
The City Council voted in September to rezone Barrio Logan, the neighborhood that hosts the shipyards that repair U.S. Navy ships. Many business advocates say the new zoning will hamper business and are working to have voters overturn it.
Because the zoning issue is before the voters, “it does not seem appropriate for us to take sides,” said Secretary Ray Mabus, the U.S. Navy’s highest ranking official, who spoke before the San Diego Military Advisory Council. He made similar remarks before hard-hatted workers and reporters later that morning at the General Dynamics Nassco shipyard.
Mabus went on to say that the Navy needs a “strong industrial base,” referring to the shipyards. Regardless of how San Diegans vote, he said, the Navy will continue to work with the shipyards and the city.
Nassco is now building three Navy auxiliary ships called mobile landing platforms under a $1.3 billion deal. Mabus expressed hope that Congress will put funds for a fourth ship in its appropriations bill this month.
Asked about plans for a new class of oiler — another Navy auxiliary ship — that may bring future work to Nassco, Mabus said he had no firm answer. “We’re exploring several alternatives,” he said. He noted that work on oilers would maintain Nassco’s shipbuilding capacity. The Navy said in July that it might buy 17 fleet replenishment oilers. Nassco and two other shipyards are drawing up preliminary plans.
Mabus touched on several topics while in San Diego, including the need to build new ships, and how growing personnel costs threaten other budget priorities.
Late federal budgets, and the program of budget cuts called sequestration, cut the Navy’s options, Mabus also said. “We’re mandated to make dumb decisions” under those scenarios, he said.
With budget uncertainty, shipyards can’t plan appropriately and do things to save the Navy money, Mabus told reporters.
The secretary praised a recent federal budget deal that gives the Pentagon some budget certainty through 2015.
Those attending the SDMAC breakfast were treated to a panoramic view of San Diego Bay, and were able to see the second mobile landing platform ship head past Shelter Island and out the entrance channel, on its way to sea trials. Nassco and the Navy plan to christen the ship the USNS John Glenn on Feb. 1.