San Pedro: Constantly Evolving, Yet Grounded in History

“Like the Pacific Ocean lapping at its shores, the community of San Pedro is ever-changing… the only constant is that its culture, economy and environment are, as always, tied to its port.” Those were the opening words of an article on San Pedro’s past and future that I wrote a few years back for a Chamber of Commerce publication. On the occasion of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, it seems appropriate to revisit some of what I learned while researching that article.

Every community evolves based on changes in economic trends, demographics and technological developments. San Pedro is not unique in that respect. However, we are certainly unique in how those factors, in combination with our geographic location, have shaped the community that San Pedro is today and will become in the future.

Historically, our economy has evolved through multiple stages: ranching, trading in hides and lumber, military activities, fishing, canning, shipbuilding, and international trade. All have had their impact on the community, and each one, to a greater or lesser extent, has been dependent on the fact that we are located adjacent to one of the world’s great ports.

Each economic era brought new demographic elements to the community. Originally populated by Spanish and Mexican ranching families, the advent of military activities and large fishing and shipbuilding industries brought new immigrants from around the country and around the world. Today, San Pedro is truly an ethnic melting pot with many residents tracing their heritage to Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Slavic, Japanese, Norwegian Swedish and other immigrants. The blend of traditions, ideas and cultures that derives from that mix has given San Pedro a flavor all its own, and an energy and open-mindedness that’s seldom found in more homogenous communities.

Technological change has also had a major effect on San Pedro. Ships have gone from sail, to steam, to diesel power, and have grown from small schooners to megaships. That has enabled the pace of international trade and activity at our port to increase exponentially and, with the advent of containerization, automation has made it possible to handle enormous volumes of cargo. The downside has been that automation brought with it the negative effects of fewer local jobs and the added pollution produced by diesel-powered ships, trains, trucks and cargo handling equipment.

Looking to the future, San Pedro will continue to evolve economically, environmentally and socially. To become sustainable in all three areas will require the creation of a new, well-paid local job base and the elimination of the negative environmental effects produced by the large industrial port. Knowing that, port management and the community have come together on several sustainability initiatives primarily centered on diversification of port-related activity.

Current and future community development plans include a bridge-to-breakwater waterfront promenade and Red Car route, the USS Iowa, a new downtown harbor and plaza, a completely redeveloped Ports O’ Call Village, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles and AltaSea (a world-class marine research institute). These waterfront venues are designed to create new jobs based on tourism, arts and culture, recreation, academics and marine research. PortTechLA, a public/private technology center and business incubator founded by the San Pedro business community in cooperation with the City and Port of Los Angeles, will develop and grow new technical, manufacturing and export jobs by attracting companies with technologies that help port tenants meet challenges with the environment, clean energy, logistics and homeland security.

This is a very dynamic and exciting time for our community. However, as our economy grows, we add new community assets, and become more environmentally sustainable, one thing is sure to remain constant… that unique sense of community that has marked our entire history. People make a community. And there is no better community in which to live, work and play than San Pedro. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown.

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