Opinion June 2014

Posted: June 6th, 2014 | Opinion, Opinion & News | 2 Comments


Opinion: Primary election fallout

Observations on the defeat of Barrio Logan community plans and other recent elections … or … the ugly facts about San Diego politics, environmental injustice and why planning is only for the wealthy people north of the 8.

By Lori Saldaña

I grew up in the community of Clairemont. It was developed in the early ‘50s and is often described as the first “planned” neighborhood in San Diego. It has plenty of large recreation centers and many parks, several libraries, and a variety of decent schools and even a community college to choose from.

It has also historically been the “voting epicenter” of our Finest City, leading some to observe: “As goes Clairemont, so goes San Diego.”

Interestingly, it was “chopped” in City Council redistricting. And so, while driving home, I have been observing both Council District 2 (CD2) and Council District 6 (CD6) signage at major intersections, busy residential corners, etc.

There are a few large regional shopping centers and many small neighborhood shops. Most importantly, all polluting, heavy industry is located to the east in Kearny Mesa, away from the homes and parks., (Unfortunately it was designed with driving as the primary transportation model. It is not as walking friendly as many older communities.)

Going north from Clairemont across Highway 52 you encounter more of this type of planned neighborhoods and communities: University City, Mira Mesa, Carmel Valley etc. in a freeway-linked march to Escondido … and we know how the racial politics play there.

All of which makes me think: Voters must believe that certain communities of, ahem, “color” in the southern part of the city apparently don’t deserve the same type of planning as the whiter/wealthier/less diverse communities up north. And until residents in those southern communities start voting, or recruiting enough allies to support them, the level of pollution and terrible health impacts on their residents will continue.

This is environmental racism at its worst. It has been a game well played by San Diego politicos since the dawn of the city charter, brought to a new level in recent years as “uppity” Latinos and others achieve political power.

Money is a large part of this pattern, which looks like this at the local and state level: Instead of abiding by the rules of local ordinance development, wealthy interests wage initiative campaigns to overturn votes of legislative bodies. They pay signature gatherers who may (or may not) accurately describe the details of the ballot measures, then fund high-profile TV ads with familiar, business-friendly and nearly overwhelmingly white faces spouting tales of destruction if the law stands.

But funny thing — those with less money today are often those who have historically faced discrimination in employment, housing and other neighborhood development programs in the past. And those with money for the campaigns are often in the same roles they have had for years: government contractors, developers, and financial industry representatives.

Some discrimination is personal: don’t hire, don’t allow access to services, refuse to work with “minority-owned” businesses, etc., at the micro as well as macro level.

The federal government tried to stop this with many ‘60s-era bills, but recently we have seen a push back against many of these Civil Rights laws and regulations because, you know: the U.S. is now “post-racial.”

Some discrimination is purely financial and systemic, e.g., high interest rates on student loans, or red lining, where banks refuse to lend to people in certain neighborhoods, or from certain race/ethnic/religious groups. (More recently seen: subprime lending leading to foreclosures for many “non-traditional” borrowers without access to credit.)

To see the generational impacts of this red lining, just compare Golden Hills, Barrio Logan and their surrounding areas to Mission Hills, Bankers Hill and their surrounding areas. Redlining less than 100 years ago made these two communities that began in similar geographical circumstances turn out completely different. And then look at who has traditionally lived in those neighborhoods, and continue to live there today.

This long-term, subtle discrimination has an economic, as well as a psychological, impact on the people delivering as well as receiving the messages. The cycle can be summarized as: 1) You are different from those of us currently in power (see: gender, race, ethnicity, religion, economic status). Therefore … 2) You don’t deserve to have power (see: Props B & C, recent voter ID laws in other states, other “new” forms of discrimination). And finally … 3) You “deserve” this disparate treatment because … you are different … (see #1, repeat).

It’s an endless, mindless, painful loop. And for those “others” who do manage to get power, staying there requires a whole new set of accommodation skills.

When it comes to local elections, we also have this compounding the problem: San Diegans in general, and Dems in particular, are uncomfortable talking about the “class” issues that abound in the north/south/east/west ‘burbs of our Finest City. So the Dems fling desperate, last minute “chicken manure gate” ads at Chris Cate, while the Reeps excel at playing the “scary (name that ethnicity)” game and send out flyers suggesting Alvarez is a gang banger.

As for near-historic lows in voter turnout, what do you expect? In CD2, it was two women who looked and sounded alike and promised remarkably similar things. I don’t blame voters for not being motivated, let alone confused.

In CD6, wait til the GOP unleashes on Carol Kim this fall: prepare for racism, sexism etc. to be writ large.

This year’s mayor’s race, and now Props B & C, have clearly illustrated the great north/south, east/west divide.

Clearly, wealth, whiteness and/or male privilege has its perks. In the most recent case: Buy yourself a dumping ground for your industrial friends who pay for the ballot measure and advertising campaign. They clearly calculated the cost of promoting “business as usual” in the barrio and estimated what it would take to recoup their “investments.”

For them, these campaigns are just the cost of doing business. And, some might say: They are making a killing!

And where were the Barrio Logan advocates? In this city-wide election, I received no mail, and saw no writings, about the environmental/social injustice of having children and seniors living, working, walking, playing etc. next to toxic polluters, unless you count “chicken manure” as toxic waste.

The Dem Party has found no common ground with environmental justice advocates to send out effective mailers. That has to change (and I understand a plan is in the works).

No one responded to the Chamber when it cried “job killer!” Advocates with backbone should have responded bluntly: “Child killer!”

Where were the photos of the asthmatic kids and their families? Maybe a screen capture of medical bills and prescriptions for endless albuterol refills — many “privileged” families can relate to those. Or were proponents afraid it would “scare” non-Latino voters away if they put an actual face on the health risks?

If so, be creative: Use comparison charts to track respiratory ailments, school absenteeism and other basic indicators of community health.

Because in the end, we all pay for these injustices, with broken communities, polluted air, water and soil, and sick, less educated people of all ages who have more sick days, and fewer years to work and save and invest in our city, let alone pay for their children to have those “better lives” I was told about in Clairemont.

And that’s how the cycle perpetuates itself. The poor get toxic waste. The rich get campaign contributions.

I suppose, at least now Barrio Logan residents have a chance at healthcare for treating all those respiratory ailments, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Now if only we could get agreement on preventing those ailments in the first place.

 —Lori Saldaña was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Border Environment Cooperation Commission’s advisory board, and was its chair from 2001 – 2003. She represented the 76th Assembly District from 2004 – 2010, where she served as Speaker Pro Tempore, chair of the women’s legislative caucus, and chair of housing/community development. She is currently an associate professor of business information technology for the San Diego Community College District.



Centennial clarification

A correction to the article [See “Park’s 100th in Peril,” Vol. 15, Issue 4]: 2015 is not the 100th anniversary of Balboa Park (est. 1868) but the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Too often, the two are conflated and most readers will not know the difference.

—Judy Swink via


Dancing shoes

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  1. Doug Porter says:

    1. The American Federation of Teachers did sponsor at least one mailing in support of Props B&C.
    2. Community activists, writers and artists DID call the Chamber and their allies out for their lies. Our voices were ignored by the mass media.

  2. Lori Saldaña says:

    Thank you Doug- I’m an AFT member, so my dues help support these efforts. Educators understand what’s at stake for these communities : sick kids can’t learn as well, polluted neighborhoods are no place to build a strong future. But the message was overwhelmed by chamber et al.

    Money is speech… with a bullhorn.

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