Reinvestment in Barrio Logan is overdue

by Matthew Smith

Welcome to America, where we ignore the needs of the poor and minorities in favor of big businesses. Catering to elites is nothing new to U.S. politics. Neither is institutionalized racism and classism. However, the latter problem has been ignored for years and has taken its toll on the lower class and minorities.

Recently, the San Diego City Council approved a plan to rezone Barrio Logan, a neighborhood that consists mostly of lower-income Hispanics. The plan creates a buffer zone between the shipbuilding yards, the chemical companies who transport toxins to and from the ships, and housing developments. It’s designed to improve the current situation, in which chemical companies such as Praxair lie across the street from residential neighborhoods. This creates environmental problems and health issues such as high asthma rates in the area.

What’s shocking is Barrio Logan hasn’t been zoned or received a community update in more than 30 years. Meanwhile, the city has catered to big corporations on development projects benefiting the downtown business hub and richer neighborhoods such as La Jolla. Residents of such affluent communities already have good jobs, schools and better opportunities than those who need it more in low-income, racially segregated areas such as Barrio Logan.

Many of these past decisions have been made by previous politicians who were rich, white and often in bed with special interest groups and lobbyists from corporate America. They cared little about developing the needier, mostly non-white neighborhoods. The poorer neighborhoods have often been ignored because of various stereotypes. San Diego’s 2002-2004 Community and Economic Development Strategy Plan, for example, claimed lower class communities were a part of a “culture of poverty,” which the report argued residents in these areas intentionally value illegal behaviors over workforce and school responsibility.

This type of institutionalized discrimination isn’t unique to Barrio Logan. Low income and racially segregated neighborhoods are routinely ignored by local, state, and federal governments across the country. Environmental regulations and economic development in poorer non-white communities are repeatedly neglected. As a result, studies have found African-American and Hispanic residents tend to live, on average, in the most toxic neighborhoods in the country.

Environmental and economic negligence isn’t the only problem facing segregated communities.  Schools in these areas tend to receive less funding than schools in predominantly white, wealthier neighborhoods. On average, a school from a richer district receives 24 percent more funding than schools in poorer districts. Such unequal distribution leads to teachers being paid less and contributes to a lack of resources, such as textbooks and technology in the classroom. This lack of funding and resources at inner-city schools leads to lower test scores and higher dropout rates.

The eight lowest-testing high schools in the San Diego Unified School District, for example, on average have 89 percent of their enrollment qualifying for free or reduced lunches while their enrollments are more than 90 percent non-white. In contrast, the district’s two whitest and wealthiest high schools, La Jolla and Scripps Ranch, have the highest test scores. Ethnic minorities also score higher at these schools. There’s also discrepancy in teacher experience at these schools. Teachers at La Jolla and Scripps Ranch both have an average of 18 years in the field, while the eight lowest-testing have just 12 years.

Poorer students already bear the burden of their socio-economic status and often have to take on more at-home responsibilities, such as taking care of younger siblings or working part-time jobs to support their families. Extra responsibilities force students to forsake their schoolwork and are a byproduct of governments neglecting certain neighborhoods.

These conditions lead to the underrepresentation of minorities at universities such as San Diego State. A 2004 study showed whites were five times more likely to attend a “highly selective college” than African Americans, and three times more likely than Hispanics. The study also showed 58 percent of students at these universities came from families who were in the top quartile for income distribution, while only 6 percent came from the bottom quartile.

These conditions make it extremely difficult for future generations to move up the social ladder. Children with uneducated and low income parents are far more likely to be poorly educated, and thus remain penniless throughout their lives, while children from middle and higher income families are likely to retain the same success their parents received because of increased access to opportunities. Yet politicians do little to change these problems.

To improve the quality of life for people living in racially segregated neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan, we can’t wait 30 years to fix social problems. It’s time to go to these neighborhoods and improve their infrastructure, education and resources in order to provide better opportunities for the future.

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