Aug 11, 2023 - Development

City takes aim at industry's hold on Barrio

A home next to a warehouse in Barrio Logan

Kids walk past a home and industrial building on Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan. Photo: Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

City planners are taking another run at untangling harmful industrial businesses and homes in Barrio Logan.

Driving the news: A proposal to undo single-family zoning in a swath of the city got most of the attention before it was shot down last week, but the city's package of housing reforms also includes plans to force out certain businesses on environmental justice grounds.

Why it matters: A zoning change enacted last year to prevent homes and industrial businesses from existing side-by-side in Barrio Logan only applies to new businesses — allowing existing businesses to continue operating in one of the state's most polluted communities.

  • The city is now trying to force a shift with an under-the-radar piece of Mayor Todd Gloria's Housing Action Package.

Catch up quick: For decades, Barrio Logan's regulations uniquely allowed junkyards and welding companies to operate next to homes. Freeways also cut through the community, and industrial shipbuilders dominate its waterfront.

  • The City Council in 2013 approved new regulations that separated industrial and residential zones, and created a commercial zone buffer between the shipyards and largely residential areas in the community's north.
  • But the shipbuilding industry collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot, and city voters rejected the regulations in 2014.
  • It took nearly eight years, but the City Council finally succeeded in rezoning the area in 2021.

Yes, but: Because existing businesses can stay put, it would take decades of attrition for the city's new plan to provide Barrio Logan residents with a reprieve from industrial operations.

Between the lines: The city's new proposal would speed that up.

  • Junk yards, car wrecking shops, recycling facilities and other heavy industry within 50 feet of homes would lose their right to operate 15 years after the city notifies them.
  • The change would apply only in the city's federally designated Promise Zone — which stretches from East Village to Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Stockton, Southcrest and portions of the Encanto area.
  • City planners are still studying how long that phase-out period should be, and whether they can offer incentives to property owners to redevelop their property into housing.

What they're saying: Incentives may be necessary as long as existing businesses are profitable and redevelopment is expensive, Heidi Vonblum, San Diego planning director, told Axios.

  • "The intention isn't to put someone out of business, but to provide incentives to come into compliance," she said.

The Environmental Health Coalition, a major organizer behind the Barrio Logan community plan, supports the initiative but wants it to go further.

  • It's asking the city to expand the businesses considered harmful.
  • And it's asking to extend the required area between homes and businesses from 50 feet to 1,000 feet, and to include schools, parks and medical facilities.
  • "50 feet isn't enough to really make an impact on environmental justice," said Julie Corrales, an organizer with EHC who also chairs the Barrio Logan community planning group.

What's next: City Council could vote on the proposal in October or November.


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