After six years of negotiations, a contentious round of San Diego City Council debates and a hard-fought referendum campaign, it's back to the drawing board for plans to bring some order to the haphazard residential, commercial and industrial zones in Barrio Logan and its adjacent shipyards.
By decisive votes of roughly 60 percent on Tuesday, voters rejected a plan that the City Council passed last September to establish a commercial buffer zone between the industrial shipyards along the city's southern waterfront and homes in Barrio Logan.
The shipyards and their allies objected to only a handful of provisions in the plan, with one of the most vocal opponents ― Mayor Kevin Faulconer ― saying he agreed with 90 percent of its provisions.
But after Tuesday's election, none of the provisions will take effect. And under the City Charter, the City Council must wait a year before reintroducing a measure that has been defeated at the ballot box unless substantial changes have been made.
On the other hand, the defeat could pave the way for the shipyards to eliminate the provisions that they fought against most strongly, including increased licensing requirements for new commercial businesses entering the area, as well as restrictions on expansion for existing businesses.
"Very much is in play right now, [although I'm] not sure exactly what's going to happen," said Chris Wahl, president of the Southwest Strategies political consultancy, which coordinated the shipyards' campaign. "We are trying to get our heads wrapped around what is legal and what is possible."
Erik Bruvold, who heads the National University System Institute for Policy Research, predicted that sometime this summer, Mayor Kevin Faulconer will bring the shipyards and Barrio Logan community leaders back to the table to craft a plan that would pass legal muster.
Bruvold said that as mayor, Faulconer "has a stake, at least a political one, in trying to bring the parties together."
In the meantime, City Councilman David Alvarez, who spearheaded the creation of the plan, and City Council President Todd Gloria, who shepherded it through its contentious 5-4 passage in the City Council last September, are smarting from the election results.
Alvarez called it a "victory of money in politics," referring to the $1.4 million that the shipyards amassed for their campaign. That was nearly 20 times more than the $70,000 that the zoning plan's backers put together.
“Money & lies used to undermine planning and democratic processes,” the normally unflappable Gloria tweeted as the votes rolled in.
Gloria, who maintains that the shipyards had grossly overstated the plan's potential negative impacts, warned that “the City Council won’t forget."
Political analysts say the referendums could serve as a model for opponents of other measures being contemplated by the council, such as proposals to raise the minimum wage or increase the so-called "linkage fee" that developers pay to subsidize affordable housing.
"I think what we are seeing is a period in which referendums are going to be pretty common," Bruvold said. "I am not at all surprised that groups from the shipyards to medical marijuana advocates to those opposed to the linkage fees seek to bypass the council and get to the ballot."
Bruvold said the shift toward ballot measures is likely a temporary result of the City Council's recent shift from Republican control to Democrat, who have periodically ended up in conflict with local businesses.
"When we look at the rest of the state, we don’t see this situation as permanent, with councils passing measures that are subsequently overturned," he said. "Eventually an accommodation is reached. Democratic-majority city councils and political leadership in Los Angeles and San Francisco have learned to work with the chambers of commerce in those cities. Not every issue there results in civil war. I expect the same thing to occur in San Diego."
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