Barrio Logan Braces for a Slow Seismic Change - Voice of San Diego

Land Use

Barrio Logan Braces for a Slow Seismic Change

If the City Council approves an update to Barrio Logan’s community plan, it won’t immediately solve the issue of industry and residents living on top of each other.

 

Barrio Logan residents and businesses have been trying for years to untangle their community plan and its mash-up of land uses.

But for all the attention given to separating residents from the potentially harmful effects of industrial businesses — an effort that’s been boiled down to two proposed maps — any agreement would simply dictate the areas future development. It would not immediately usher industrial businesses to a new separate area, nor would it relocate families. Any separation would be gradual, as businesses close and reopen and new housing projects are built.

Residents and businesses in the community will keep living their lives and companies in awkward cohabitation, as they have for decades.

Under the San Diego municipal code, a property maintains its land use designation after a change in zoning as long as the use doesn’t lapse for two straight years, even if ownership changes.

The proposed Barrio Logan land use maps envision an eventual orderly arrangement of different property types, but the reality is that the current patchwork will live on no matter what the City Council decides.

Even before the comment period on the new plan’s environmental report has ended, some of the parties involved in crafting the community plan update are looking into ways to address this. Both the business and residential community are looking into ways to address the issue with solutions to their specific interests. The two options below aren’t necessarily competing visions, and it’s possible both could be implemented in unison.

The Environmental Health Coalition, a nonprofit involved in the update whose primary concern is separating homes from industrial businesses, hopes to create a state-funded program to relocate certain businesses or purchase land to keep it from being used in certain ways.

The Barrio Logan Smart Growth Coalition, an advocacy group for some of the community businesses that serve the larger companies on the working waterfront like Nassco, has discussed an incentive program to encourage compatible development, but a bigger priority now is strengthening the city’s municipal code to be sure property owners don’t face forced relocation.

State-funded relocation

The Environmental Health Coalition is engaged in internal discussions to create a state program that would create a system to identify and improve communities plagued by unhealthy air quality and safety levels.

The California Environmental Justice Alliance, a statewide network of environmentally focused organizations, including the Environmental Health Coalition, calls the plan its Green Zones Initiative.

The program doesn’t have a legislative sponsor in Sacramento yet, but supporters hope to announce one in the coming months.

The program would begin with a few anchor communities across the state. Barrio Logan would be one of them, according to the group.

Georgette Gomez, associate director of the Environmental Health Coalition, says funding could come from a few pots. One would be appealing to various state agencies to receive a larger cut from existing programs meant to service these communities. Another would be increasing penalties for safety or health violations, and funneling that money back into the program.

“It’s basically going after existing money, but dedicating it for this,” she said.

Once funded, the program could pursue a number of courses to help communities “undergoing an organized transition from a toxic hotspot to a vibrant and healthy place to live, work and play,” as the Green Zones Initiative describes.

That could mean paying for a company’s relocation to an industrial area like Otay Mesa.

But it could also mean purchasing vacant properties, probably through the city, to be made available only for particular, non-industrial uses.

“We really want to engage the resident business community, because if they’re part of developing the process, there will be much less resistance,” Gomez said.

Though it’s true the new land use map won’t create any overnight transformation, Gomez says it could start to produce recognizable changes in the community within a year or two.

In the area along Harbor Drive, for instance, envisioned as a transition zone in both proposed plans, nearly half of the properties are currently vacant.

“Right now, anyone can come in, residential or industrial, and be located there,” she said. “The sooner we start a new plan, the clock starts ticking that the new zoning becomes real.”

Strengthening property rights

The Barrio Logan Smart Growth Coalition isn’t satisfied with either of the community plan updates under consideration. It asked planners to study a third option that didn’t include an overall decrease of industrial or maritime-related acreage.

That didn’t happen.

“We aren’t requesting or expecting the city to launch a third study,” said Chris Wahl, a spokesman for the coalition, and a registered city lobbyist who specializes in land use. “We know that ship has sailed. We’re looking to sit down with the city again and discuss some tweaks or changes that would hopefully create mutually beneficial results.”

One would be restricting the city from forcing businesses to relocate to properties zoned for their specific use.

The municipal code says a property doesn’t lose its old designation until it goes two years without being used in the way it was previously zoned. That means a property can maintain its zoning long after a changed land use plan, as long as it continues operating in its previous capacity.

But the code also leaves open the possibility of the city notifying the property owner that in a certain number of years, the property’s status will expire. It’s known as amortizing the previously conforming use.

The Smart Growth Coalition wants to shut down the possibility.

Wahl also wants the community plan update to swap some residential properties for added industrial land, so long as the trade wouldn’t change the environmental effects.

And, he said they’d reconsider an incentive program for relocating businesses. Previous attempts to incorporate such a program into the update never amounted to anything.

The Environmental Health Coalition hasn’t publicly discussed pursuing any changes to the city’s municipal code to give a new land use map more weight, fearing any such discussion would derail the community plan update’s progress.

But as the update comes closer to fruition, Barrio Logan’s residents and businesses will become increasingly interested in dealing with the residual effects of the new planning document.

I’m Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you’d like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529 and follow me on Twitter:

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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.

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