Mexican Americans and Immigrants Are Fighting to Change San Diego’s Zoning Laws

It is rich in history and vibrant cultural heritage, and is home to the world-renowned Chicano Park, Barrio Logan has been the epicenter of San Diego’s Mexican-American culture. This neighborhood is highly sought after, but the reason it is so popular with land developers and gentrifiers is its long history of environmental injustices and racism. forced to endure. Barrio Logan’s struggle against pollutants and other environmental contamination is part of a revolutionary legacy of resistance and self-determination that has physically shaped the composition of the neighborhood itself.

For decades, the Barrio’s working-class, historically Mexican American and immigrant residents have been fighting back against junkyards, shipyards, and industrial repair shops that have moved in to the Barrio. air pollution, noise pollution, etc. other conditions that would never be tolerated in San Diego’s more affluent surrounding residential areas. It’s no coincidence that Barrio Logan is one of the most polluted areas of San Diego — the area is also more than 70% Hispanic, and about 20% of residents Live below the poverty line

Barrio Logan, which is still located right next the Port of San Diego, is a popular spot for 18-wheelers as well as cargo equipment and ships. Due to the combination of emissions from the port and shipyards as well as the I-5 highway, the neighborhood has higher levels than most other areas in California. Barrio Logan residents are at 85-95% greater risk of diesel pollution, according to the EPA. developing cancer Compared to the rest of the U.S.

Ashley Valentin Gonzalez is an undergraduate student at the University of San Diego. She is also a BarrioLogan resident and intern for the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), an environmental justice nonprofit, believes many of these issues persist because policymakers and local elected officials don’t make any effort to listen to community members’ concerns. Valentin Gonzalez states that language and time barriers often prevent working-class residents of the neighborhood from confronting corporate representatives and officials about how their lives are affected by pollution.

Opportunities for productive dialogues between communities, policymakers, and policymakers are rare. Additionally, public forums tend not to be held during working hours when many community members cannot attend. English-to Spanish translations are not always available. Interpretations can be complex and technical and are less straightforward than the information itself.

“Language matters,” Valentin Gonzalez said. “If you’re not making [information] accessible or if you’re having these conversations but just throwing around a bunch of fancy words, how can you expect community members to contribute to the conversation if they’re unfamiliar with these terms?”

At the mercy of city planning and polluting industries

Barrio Logan residents have a long history of being ignored by the policymakers and industrialists who’ve profited off polluting the neighborhood. After the onset of World War II, rapid population growth and capital investment in both the military and industrial complexes spurred a boom in San Diego’s development. This rapid growth not just encroached onto existing residential neighborhoods, but it also forever changed how residential planning is used to develop community areas.

The neighborhood was rezoned in 1950 to be mixed residential and industrial, which allowed industries to locate near homes and schools. Residents became increasingly angry at the infiltration of industrial workers into their neighborhoods. homes and businesses were demolished via eminent jurisdiction. Barrio Logan Heights and Logan Heights were finally slashed in half by I-5. The elevated on-ramps of I-5 further hacked the area and made it more divided. Coronado Bridge In the 1960s.

Many of the same injustices and grievances continue to plague our society today. Barrio Logan residents live near industries that produce diesel, and other airborne toxic substances that greatly reduce the quality of the neighborhood’s air. Vehicles that travel I-5 emit harmful byproducts such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, or carbon monoxide, which also blanket the area. It’s not uncommon for homes and schools to stand adjacent to environmentally hazardous facilities. Barrio Logan is home to some of the most hazardous wastes in San Diego. Residents are only just beginning to be aware of the potential health hazards of living in the area. Master Plating was established in 2002. shut down After tests revealed dangerous levels of hexavalent chromemium in the area, it was declared a hazardous air pollutant.

Thousands of trucks come through the Port of San Diego’s terminal every week, and heavy-duty trucks, which use diesel fuel, regularly drive through the community to get to and from the freeway. Diane Takvorian is the executive director at the EHC. She says that trucks are a major source of pollution and also cause frequent congestion. cut through the neighborhood even though there is an established truck route to reduce residents’ exposure to emissions. Likewise, ships that dock at the port’s terminal use cargo handling equipment such as forklifts and yard cranes that unload containers off ships and onto adjacent docks and warehouses, producing diesel emissions that inevitably waft into the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

“It’s apparent that land use is so overtly discriminatory,” Takvorian said. “If you put a chrome plating or a welding shop right next to somebody’s home, even with the best regulations there’s no way for them to avoid being exposed to those pollutants.”

Barrio Logan residents may also be exposed to hazardous materials every day. Accidents at shipyards can also cause serious health problems. The USS Bonhomme Richard was an assault ship of the U.S Navy that became more vulnerable to COVID-19-related respiratory infections. caught fire One morning in July 2020, while the site is undergoing maintenance Naval Base San Diego. Fire crews took four days to extinguish this fire, but not before the ship’s smoldering wreckage emitted untold amounts toxic, acrid smoke into Barrio Logan Heights and Logan Heights. Valentin Gonzalez says that the residents weren’t notified at all about the fire or the dangers they were in. Her family and she realized that something was seriously wrong after they saw smoke coming out of the ship.

“I just remember my parents screaming, ‘Shut the windows,’ but I closed the window late,” Valentin Gonzalez said. “For three days my Dad just laid in bed with headaches. We couldn’t even walk and felt too nauseous to drink water. We couldn’t go outside to get fresh air because the whole environment was toxic.”

Following the blaze, Valentin Gonzalez says that the first warning or outreach to the community didn’t come from the city of San Diego — it was from the EHC in the form of a social media post urging residents to close their windows and wear masks if outdoors. In the weeks following the blaze and the city leaders’ poor outreach to affected communities, many angry residents demanded that the city make tangible plans to deal with Other potential disasters are possible in the future.

The City of San Diego did eventually take steps to address the neighborhood’s concerns about air quality. The city implemented the measures over a year following the Bonhomme Richard fire. Portside Air Quality & Improvement Relief Program (PAIR), a program administered by the San Diego Air Pollution Control District. This program would install 525 air purifiers in homes in Barrio Logan Heights Sherman Heights and West National City that are most in need. Installations were prioritized for seniors, children, and those with health issues. While these measures will provide some protection from similar events in the future, they can’t address the harmful effects Barrio Logan residents suffered in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Residents were exposed to a variety of pollutants as a result of the shipyard fires. This caused respiratory problems and ear conditions, as well as respiratory issues. This only added to the community’s health concerns. Many also claimed that they suffered neurological and upper-respiratory conditions as a result of the pollutants. In a federal complaint following the fire, residents say their homes and workplaces became “inescapable gas chambers” and that they continue to suffer from “intense headaches, breathing difficulties, asthma-like symptoms, eye irritation, and a toxic smell that caused anxiety and fear.”

Fighting for equitable zonation and other protective measures

Advocates say that focusing on one type of emission or a specific polluting industry isn’t enough to protect Barrio Logan and adjacent neighborhoods because it reduces the true scope of the health and environmental impacts that communities are contending with. It is also time-consuming and complicated to navigate the maze of regulatory agencies and permitting offices that oversee everything, from cargo handling equipment and ships in the port to painting and welding in shipyards, and even freeways through the neighborhood.

“In Barrio Logan there are two big ways that residents are exposed to excessive amounts of pollution,” Takvorian said. “One is because of discriminatory zoning and land use when the City of San Diego essentially got rid of all zoning requirements. In most communities, there is a clear separation of residential, industrial, or commercial zoning. [but] in Barrio Logan it’s all mixed-use zoning.”

Changing zoning laws could be crucial to improving conditions in Barrio Logan, so the EHC has been pursuing efforts to update the neighborhood’s zoning through a new community plan. The revised community plan was approved by the San Diego City Council in 2013. This would have created a neighborhood planning group. “buffer zone” The commercial area should be separated from industrial uses. The buffer zone was opposed to by the shipbuilding industry. organizing a petition San Diego voters in June 2014 voted to repeal the plan through a referendum. ultimately rejected The community plan.

But organizers and residents were not discouraged. They learned from their first campaign to not underestimate the financial power of the ship-building sector and promoted a new initiative Barrio Logan Community Plan Update The 1978 plan, which allowed residential and industrial uses to be placed side-by-side, was replaced. In 2021, San Diego mayor Todd Gloria signed the plan into law. Takvorian claims that the plan has more anti-displacement language. This includes language that addresses gentrification as well as more attention to affordable housing. It also includes more specific language regarding what types of industries are no longer allowed within the community’s transition zone.

Additionally, the EHC has encouraged local leaders in San Diego towards larger policy shifts. Last fall the EHC celebrated another huge victory when the Port of San Diego’s board of commissioners signed off on an extensive plan to curb air pollution. The plan includes the ambitious goal to have all trucks and cargo handling devices at the port switched to zero emission by 2030, five year ahead of the current deadline. state mandate Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Julie Corrales, Barrio Logan resident and policy advocate for EHC, hopes the city will approve the new community plan. California Coastal Commission, which is responsible for Barrio Logan. Unfortunately, the commission’s timeline for approval is vague. Corrales claims that the approval process can take anywhere from six months up to three years.

“The Coastal Commission has a long agenda, and now that industries know that their chance to expand is limited, they’re going to try and pass things while they’re still operating under the current plan,” Corrales said. “So it’s important that the Coastal Commission expedites this process and approves it.”

While Corrales says the city is far more considerate of the neighborhood’s concerns than it was a decade ago, residents of neighborhoods like Barrio Logan are still treated as an afterthought. Corrales likens the attitude to one that runs a city like a business, where revenue and taxes are prioritized and communities like Barrio Logan aren’t perceived as “valuable to them.”

“The city can be still more friendly; we need more champions in city hall,” Corrales said. “We need folks who take the hard road, say things that need to be said, and fight for things that the community needs the most.”