“We have a map,” says Gómez, “a proposed map. Seventy-plus percent reflects the community’s voice.” The remaining 30 percent, she says, is developer, industry, and city input. “The incompatible land uses have been addressed. We’re not talking about zoning but land use. So we don’t have homes near factories. Mixed use is specified. Retail community-serving operations, and not heavy industry. And we identified an area almost at the northern end of National City [for industrial zoning]. It’s already industrial.”
Gómez says the process will probably take two or more years. “Even then, this plan is just a piece of paper, a wish list. But there is so much interest in addressing incompatible land uses, it comes down to us, the community pushing for that to occur.”
Of course, here we are, sitting in an Anglo “intruder,” Ryan Bros. They’re still considered newcomers even though they’ve been here for five years. The Ryans were part of an earlier push of middle-class “outside” entrepreneurs. Others haven’t made it in the barrio. An art gallery half a block up, Expressions of Mexico, tried to champion barrio and Mexican artists but closed in 2007 after a couple of years. The Guild, a sophisticated postindustrial-looking restaurant one block north, with very fancy dishes, has also closed after a short run.
“Ryan Bros.’ coming is good, and bad,” Gómez says. “The good is that they’re not a polluting industry. What’s maybe not so good is they bring in other Americans who are not interested in Barrio Logan and its culture, everything that is the barrio, and just want to make it theirs, another North Park. This is not North Park. This has history. Its own history.”
That history began in the 1850s, when California became U.S. territory. Over the next 20 years, city boosters fought to get Barrio Logan, then known as “Pueblo Lots 1158, 1159, 1162, and 1163,” chosen as the railhead for the transcontinental railroad. Congressman John A. Logan worked on the bill in 1871 and was later rewarded by having a street — and then the area surrounding it — named after him: Logan Heights. Meanwhile, the stock market crash of 1873 ended dreams of a railhead, which went instead to L.A.
In the new century, many Mexican-American families migrated north between 1910 and 1930, fleeing the horrors of the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath. A surprising number of their offspring still live in the barrio. Their presence expanded steadily throughout the 1940s and ’50s, when this barrio was a burgeoning community of 20,000 or more. Then came the mixed-use zoning laws, the yonkes, and evisceration by freeway. That year, 1963, when the construction of I–5 split the Logan Heights community, became the ironic birth date of Barrio Logan. Since all the battering, including the construction of the Coronado Bay Bridge, when many homes and businesses were demolished without notification, the barrio’s population has dwindled to 4000 residents.
But, I wonder as I come down the steps of Ryan Bros., doesn’t it often happen that you destroy a community in order to save it? Isn’t it inevitable that yuppies will come in and force lower-income, long-term residents out, through a sheer willingness and ability to pay more? The new people can then — unconsciously, perhaps — turn Barrio Logan into a Soho on the Anglo model. Already some “settlers,” such as artist Alana Sills, have given the area their own Anglo name, “Soco” — South of Commercial Street.
The Ice Cream Indicator
Creeping takeover? “Life Is Too Short To Be Bitter,” says the sign above Ryan Bros.’ entrance. Across the road, in a maroon cinderblock building, I spot three sparkling new little Gem all-electric vehicles, white, with red-and-white-striped hooped canopies behind their cabs. I have to find out what’s going on. It turns out three guys from New Jersey relocated to Barrio Logan to sell San Diego their Italian ices. “I couldn’t believe it because the whole East Coast is saturated, but you don’t have them,” says Rob, who, with his dad Robert and his dad’s old schoolmate Kenny, set up this enterprise. “My dad always wanted to come here. And it’s so good for this business. Back in Jersey, you might get three, four good-weather months a year. Here, we have a new product, and the whole year to sell it in.”
Why Barrio Logan? “We pay $2500 a month to rent the space,” says Rob. “It would cost way more downtown. We’ll be operating mainly downtown, but here we’re close enough, without the prices. Of course, each of these wagons costs about $12,000, and the ice storage [equipment] on the back costs more. But, hey, people can’t resist.”
We go over to one of the Gems. Rob clicks a remote, and the trumpets of the Rocky theme blast out. “Sure beats a bell,” he says.
Down the road, near Perkins Elementary, I hear one of those little hand-flicked bells dinging. It’s Anthony, and his heladería, his traditional, Mexican-style ice cream cart, waiting for school to get out. He charges $1 for an ice on a stick, while Rob’s Italian ices cost $3. It’s almost too perfect a symbol: Anthony’s ices are just as cold, but suddenly, nowhere near as cool.
People Can Smell the Money Coming
Signs of the assault on the old-style barrio are everywhere. Down the road, at 1678 National, right next to an apartment complex under construction, Antonio Villalpando comes warily out onto the veranda of his rented house, wondering who the stranger at the gate is. The house is old, with vertical clapboard walls painted a tired white, with sea-green highlights. The veranda’s roof leans like a sleepy eye. But the place is still solid, built of old-growth redwood. Nothing creaks as Mr. Villalpando clumps down the steps. “I’ve been in the area 33 years, and prices are going up,” he says. “I pay $500 a month for this house. It has two bedrooms, and it’s 108 years old. But the owner says he’ll sell the land if the price is right, so I’ll probably have to leave. Then they’ll tear down the house. That’s happening everywhere. People can smell the money coming.”