San Diego Business Journal

A dispute over the future of Barrio Logan may end up at the ballot box by the middle of next year.

Industrial maritime business interests plan to launch a signature-collection drive to put a referendum to voters that would overturn the city’s new zoning plan for the neighborhood.

On Sept. 17, the City Council approved its Barrio Logan Community Plan Update, which attempts to better separate industry from the low-income housing that is also prevalent in the neighborhood of 4,300 people. Business leaders spoke out against the measure, saying its land-use restrictions and other new rules would make it more difficult for them to operate there.

The Protect Our Jobs Coalition — a new group that said it represents more than 5,000 residents, shipyard workers and maritime organizations — plans to begin in early October gathering signatures for a referendum. It will have 30 days to collect about 34,000 valid signatures.

If it does so, the matter will return to the City Council, which will have the option to reverse its decision. If the council opts not to review the issue, the zoning plan would go to the voters. A coalition spokesman said the measure could appear on the June 2014 ballot. The coalition also said there may be more than one citywide referendum.

Impediment to Industrial Expansion

Barrio Logan is a hub for U.S. Navy ship repair and related industries. Big shipyards — BAE Systems Inc. San Diego Ship Repair, Continental Maritime and General Dynamics Nassco — occupy large waterfront tracts and are major customers for small and midsize suppliers that have congregated in Barrio Logan over the decades.

All told, San Diego County’s maritime sector is a $14 billion industry that employs 46,000 people.

As such, business representatives objected in particular to the rezoning of five blocks close to the major shipyards for neighborhood and nonindustrial commercial uses. The five-block area attempts to create a buffer between industry and housing.

One supplier said the zone change will make it “very difficult and costly, if not impossible” for new shipyard suppliers to move into that neighborhood.

Suppliers on previously conforming lots in the five-block zone would be grandfathered in. But maritime industry representatives said the new zoning would impede expansion or getting financing.

Getting permits to operate in the neighborhood is already a challenge, Cal Marine Cleaning President Matt Carr said in a prepared statement. The business employs 200 people.

Stepping In New Directions?

Some, such as Nassco President Fred Harris, see the zoning change as the beginning of a larger change for Barrio Logan. In a statement, Harris called the plan “a dangerous first step toward the elimination of San Diego’s shipyards.”

Land-use lawyer Robin Madaffer said one should consider the long-term implications of the City Council’s decision. She suggested that it sends a signal about the direction Barrio Logan should take.

Some see tourist and commercial uses encroaching on Barrio Logan. There is talk of a second tower at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel south of the San Diego Convention Center. Early last year, real estate developer and newspaper publisher Douglas Manchester proposed a new stadium for the San Diego Chargers and an entertainment complex at the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal, north of Barrio Logan.

Some already consider the northern part of Barrio Logan a neighborhood for hipsters.

The Protect Our Jobs Coalition includes the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. The president of both organizations — Mark Cafferty and Jerry Sanders, respectively — spoke in favor of industry and against the new zoning plan.

The coalition also includes the businesses running the three major shipyards, the Port of San Diego Ship Repair Association, the San Diego Port Tenants Association and two labor unions: the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 389 and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 1998.

The rezoning plan still needs approval from the California Coastal Commission.