Two miles: That’s the distance between Coronado and its neighbor across the bay, Barrio Logan. But in some ways, the two are worlds apart.
A decision on the proposed warehouse for Mitsubishi Cement Corporation has been delayed following public outcry, including a protest at the Port of San Diego Administrative Building. Critics say the warehouse would further damage an already heavily polluted neighborhood.
The project was to be considered at a Dec. 13 meeting of the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners, but Mitsubishi asked to remove the item from the agenda to give the company more time to speak with the community.
Barrio Logan’s air is thick with pollution, scoring in the 97th percentile for poor air quality. The neighborhood’s asthma rate is 95% higher than the rest of California. Its population is 83% Hispanic, with a median household income of $47,000.
Mitsubishi first proposed its cement warehouse in 2020, but was told by the port commission to revise the project to address its environmental impact. The new proposal includes mitigation efforts to address emissions, but critics worry about the number of diesel-powered trucks that would flood an already industrial neighborhood nestled beneath a sprawl of freeways.
“Diesel pollution is known to cause cancer, asthma, and other chronic diseases,” said dozens of community letters of dissent sent to the San Diego Port of Commissioners. “Can you imagine diesel-polluting trucks making over 500 trips a day through Coronado, seven days a week? No. Then why Barrio Logan and National City? The answer is environmental racism. The Port of San Diego has profited at the expense of people of color for generations.”
The Port of Commissioners received two dozen similar letters from lawmakers and community members. “You would not allow this in Coronado,” a letter from Theresa Acerro read. “The residents of Barrio Logan deserve the same concern.”
(Editor’s Note: The article was edited on Jan. 3, 2023 to correct the above quote that was incorrectly attributed to Frank Urtasun, a Port of San Diego Commissioner.)
But Mitsubishi says it developed its proposal alongside the Maritime Clean Air Strategy (MCAS) and hopes to speed the transition to zero-emission vehicles the port aspires toward. Currently, electric trucks capable of hauling cement are not available, but Mitsubishi said in a press release that part of its proposal would include adopting that technology as it becomes available.
“Our project addresses diesel truck emissions, consistent with the MCAS, with the important value of providing jobs and local access to cement – a fundamental building commodity that currently is primarily accessed by being trucked in from the High Desert or the Port of Long Beach,” said Austin Marshall, President of Mitsubishi Cement Corporation, in a statement.
From prime waterfront to prime warehouse property
Barrio Logan is one of San Diego’s oldest Hispanic communities, and it was named the sixth-coolest neighborhood in the world by Timeout for its vibrant art scene. But over the years, policy has industrialized the neighborhood, creating pollution and sinking property values.
First, during World War II, the expansion of Naval Station San Diego cut off the neighborhood’s waterfront access. (It was later restored — though minimally — with Cesar Chavez Park.) Years passed, and the neighborhood industrialized as rezoning allowed manufacturers to move in. Then, in 1969, the construction of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge canopied much of the neighborhood with concrete.
Property values decreased, crime increased, and pollution soared as industrial rezoning continued through the decades. Despite its thriving art scene, colorful murals, and cultural assets, Barrio Logan is choked by industry, and the community feels the impact.
Children who grow up breathing polluted air are more likely to develop asthma and childhood cancer, and the pollutants impact both lung and cognitive development. Long-term exposure triggers heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
A program to distribute free air purifiers to residents of highly polluted areas, including Barrio Logan, launched earlier this year. While the program had just 500 purifiers to give, its aim is to study air quality in industry-adjacent neighborhoods and identify ways to mitigate the problem.
Meanwhile, though, more industry hopes to move in. At press time, Mitsubishi had not responded to requests for comment on its plans for community outreach.
Editor’s Note: The article was edited on Jan. 3, 2023 to correct a quote that was incorrectly attributed to Frank Urtasun, a Port of San Diego Commissioner.