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The trouble with her breathing began a few months after Estella Lopez moved to Barrio Logan. Lopez is certain she knows why: “At five or six in the morning, you start hearing heavy noise. Like machinery working together. Like heavy metal banging.” Lopez lives on Main Street in an affordable-housing complex. She is 37 but looks older. She speaks very little English and answers questions with the help of an interpreter.

“One of the things is, I can never open the windows in the apartment, because my children are constantly sick. The little one, if we don’t take care of her, she is going to develop asthma.” Lopez’s six-year-old daughter shows signs of being in the disease’s early stages. “The doctor gave us a breathing machine for her. That’s why the windows are shut, so she can breathe clean air.”

Lopez has a square jaw and fine black hair pulled tight on her head. She earns $8.25 an hour as a line cook at a Burger King in Coronado. She smiles only once during our conversation — a shy, furtive grin, really — when she explains how it is that she and the man she lives with, the father of their two girls, do not share the same last name: “We are not married.”

Lopez and her 13-year-old daughter take pills as a part of barrio living. She roots through her handbag and produces a small bottle filled with tablets. “Loratadine,” it says on the label, a drug which (according to drugs.com) is commonly used to treat allergies.

“The 13-year-old is allergic to the dust in the air,” she says. “And I am allergic to things like smoke in the air. The smoke that comes from the trucks and the contamination they are creating.”

Estella Lopez, with her mother and kids, says, “I can never open the windows in the apartment because my children are constantly sick.”

Lopez pays $550 per month for a two-bedroom apartment in the barrio. She says they used to pay closer to $1000 for a one-bedroom apartment up on Ocean View Boulevard in Southeast. Does she consider the nearly 50 percent cut in rent a decent trade for the reduced quality of life she describes?

“No. It’s definitely not a good trade-off. We are not a high-income family.” Together, she and her live-in boyfriend bring home less than $20 per hour before taxes. “Our financial situation,” she says, “made us do what we had to do.”

Breathing the air, it turns out, is a problem for a lot of people in Barrio Logan. The neighborhood is bordered by Interstate 5, Commercial Street, National City, and the second largest naval base in the continental U.S. It is a neighborhood like no other in San Diego, in that it has been zoned for both industrial and residential use, which exist side-by-side.

Within the barrio are rail yards, an oil-tanker facility, the NASSCO shipbuilding yard, diesel-powered cargo ships at the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal, and diesel-truck traffic. When one factors in 200,000 cars per day on the freeway and another 70,000 daily commuters on the Coronado bridge, it’s no surprise to learn that the barrio is awash in greenhouse gases. Hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic air pollution settle each year on Barrio Logan.

The bad air seems hardest on the youth here. The numbers of children with asthma is triple that of the national average, according to data compiled by the State of California and the Environmental Health Coalition, a San Diego nonprofit dedicated to achieving environmental and social justice. The respiratory disorder affects shift workers and laborers, as well, a moveable population that outnumbers Barrio Logan residents by more than two to one.

“Asthma is the most common disease of participants that we address with the disease-management program,” International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 political director Jen Badgley recently told a joint meeting of port commissioners and city-council members. “Our members don’t just work in the city. We live in neighborhoods like Barrio Logan.”

“My husband worked at NASSCO for 35 years,” says Maria Maya. She works for the Environmental Health Coalition as a community organizer. “The people that retire from there? They don’t live very long past their retirement. They are the first line of the impact of the pollution. We have worked with NASSCO about doing more eco-friendly ways of welding, for example, but everything we do is a struggle because of the workers. That job is their bread and butter. They don’t care [about their health] until they get sick.”

At present, there is a new Barrio Logan Community Plan Update on the table that could change the face, and potentially the health, of the neighborhood — or not. Two basic redevelopment footprints are up for grabs. One, known as “alternative one” is residential; the other, “alternative two,” favors industry. The city council is expected to vote on these in July, after which their recommendation will go to the coastal commission for final ratification, a decision not expected for another two years at the earliest.

The deficits within Barrio Logan, and the needs of its somewhat transient population of predominately low-income Latinos, first appeared on the public radar back in 1968 as part of the City of San Diego Model Cities program. As a result, the neighborhood got a clinic and youth services and some green belt in the form of a small public park located directly under the Coronado bridge ramps. This would become Chicano Park.

In 1974, the San Diego City Council sanctioned a community planning association composed of landowners, renters, and members of industry. They set out to build an even better barrio. Three years later, the council accepted the 239-page Barrio Logan Harbor 101 Community Improvement study. It is a singular read. For example, the authors described the fallout from allowing industry to dwarf the cultural, historic, and residential aspects of Barrio Logan in less than glowing terms: “The visual conflicts resulting from this land use pattern are an affront to normally accepted aesthetic standards.”

The report went on to catalog a landscape poisoned by ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbons, a place that was (and still is) utterly devoid of native plants and wildlife due to heavy urbanization. Barrio Logan, in other words, is a dead zone.

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FatCatSegat June 29, 2013 @ 12:19 p.m.

My younger brother lived right under the Coronado bridge for a little over a year I believe. Almost immediately the respiratory problems came up with his stepdaughter who was about four and his newborn. Besides the thousands of cars traveling back and forth overhead, the bridge is infested with thousands of pigeons. Imagine all that pigeon crap, lice and disease raining down on the complex adjacent to the "temporary" CALTRANS storage facility. Needless to say when this was brought to his attention, he moved away. All day long the screaming and shrieking of birds can be heard coming from the bridge, even as the noisy non-stop tiretreads overhead add to the cacophony. I feel for those people stuck there but have often enjoyed visiting the area. Food, art and the occasional bike race and of course Chicano park. Oh yeah, my compliments to the beautiful sugar skull makeup artist's work. Haunting beauty, isn't it?


sbees5 June 29, 2013 @ 3:40 p.m.

If the industry is removed and the area cleaned up, won't the rents then rise, leaving a lot of people who will have to relocate?


tonyriggs June 30, 2013 @ 6:53 p.m.

Oh jeez

This "story" is so full of holes and questionable motives; where to begin?

I have several questions 1.Why is she living with her live-in boyfriend, the father of her two children? Does he offer any finaicial support or is this just another freeloader relationship with some taxpayer assisted benefits? 2. Why is this woman working in Coronado - could it be she's wants whats been earned by others but doesn't know how to go about "getting it"? 3. What exactly is hers or her boyfriends immigration status? Are these kids their meal ticket? 4. Why does the city, county or state punish low income people by placing them in harms way? Could it be their punitive nature to "teach" people to NOT be low income? 5. Where are the peoples mislayed sympathies when it comes to the 1000's of homeless people on the streets that might love to have a roof over their head, even in barrio logan, yet the reader chooses to pull out some piece about kids? 6. With the deplorable health conditions down there, why is the city, county and/or state allowed to continue playing games with peoples health?

I am certainly sympathetic to anyone that finds themselves in low income housing, either by sad mistake, misfortune or as these children, through no fault of their own but I also find it CRIMINAL to shove a family into an apartment right next to some factory belching toxic fumes.

People can go on and on about how "beautiful" they find it down there underneath the bridges but the facts remain whether you're blind or not: Master Plating was allowed to operate and dump toxins for years before most of you readers fell in love with barrio logan - those toxins are still in the ground, top soil and air. Pidgeon shit by the bucket load gets washed down onto the houses, sidewalks and streets everytime thre is a rain storm, tons of exhaust pollution 24X7 from the freeways and shit floating in the air from the factories..

Oh well


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