CASE STUDY: Overcoming Politics with People Power and a Plan in National City

National-City-EHCIn 2017, residents from National City’s Old Town neighborhood fought and successfully won a campaign to stop an auto body shop from illegally expanding in their neighborhood. The company, Perry Ford of National City, was attempting to engage in new operations at the site when inspectors discovered that the business not only lacked a building permit, but also a business license and zoning approval to conduct such practices. [50]
In order to protect low-income and immigrant families living nearby at the Paradise Creek affordable housing development, local residents and community leaders utilized the city’s 2010 Westside Specific Plan (WSSP) to show that Perry Ford’s expansion would violate the WSSP’s aim to separate homes from nearby businesses that work with toxic and hazardous materials. [51]
This success was largely due to the perseverance of resident leaders who have been organizing for years with the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), a community-based environmental justice organization that works throughout the San Diego/ Tijuana region.
The WSSP’s focus on separating incompatible land uses to protect community health was largely the result of feedback provided by local residents and EHC’s staff. Despite the plan’s approval in 2010 and a second time in 2017 to approve the Paradise Creek Apartments, [53] the Perry Ford auto body shop is located directly behind the apartment development complex. [54]
According to Sandy Naranjo, former EHC staff organizer, when EHC first learned of Perry Ford’s request for permit, they quickly realized that it would violate the WSSP. It contains a clear matrix that defines the types of developments that are allowed with a conditional use permit, which does not include auto body uses. [55]
Local residents and EHC leaders mobilized in force to the Planning Commission meeting to protest the permit’s approval. Despite the Planning Commission’s vote to deny the permit following community members’ and EHC’s testimonies, Perry Ford successfully appealed the Commission’s decision and took their matter up to the City Council. In turn, National City’s City Council voted 3 to 2 to overturn the Commission’s recommendation and hold a new vote to decide the fate of Perry Ford’s permit. It had a few options: 1) Deny the permit; 2) Approve the original permit; or 3) Approve the permit with modifications. By the end of the night, with local residents filling the entire chamber of City Hall in protest, the City Council voted to accept the permit, but with modifications that would prevent the shop’s operations from violating the policies of the WSSP. While the local community was disappointed that a permit was approved for Perry Ford, they celebrated the fact that the modified permit would restrict the company from engaging in car detailing operations and from storing toxic and polluting substances at their site. [56]
The new permit also required the shop to adhere to protective guidelines so that its operations would not lead to any negative health impacts on nearby residents, [57] such as using only certifiable biodegradable products. [58]
This community-led campaign to prevent Perry Ford from harming nearby residents illustrates the importance of listening to the voices of impacted EJ community residents. On the night of the final City Council vote, National City resident Alicia Sanchez reflected on the community’s collective achievement: “My neighbors and I have been involved for more than a decade to build a better future for Old Town National City. . . . Today, I feel proud to know that our elected officials found a way to protect our health while also keeping local business in the community. It’s a win for everyone.” [59]
50 Sheila Pell. Aug. 25, 2017. “National City puts Perry Ford
under ‘green’ spotlight.” San Diego Reader; https://www.
51 Ibid.
52 Environmental Health Coalition. 2011. Who We Are; https://
53 Environmental Health Coalition. Aug. 17, 2017. National City
Council Votes to Prohibit Polluting Auto Body Shop Near New
Affordable Housing;
54 Ibid.
55 City of National City. March 2010. Final Westside
Specific Plan;
56 Allison Sampite-Montecalvo. Sept. 20, 2017. “National City
Approves Auto Biz with Conditions.” South Florida Sun
57 Environmental Health Coalition. Aug. 17, 2017.
58 Sheila Pell. Aug. 25, 2017.
59 Environmental Health Coalition. Aug. 17, 2017.