A Place Of Gratitude

November is the month of Thanksgiving. Our Thanksgiving holiday can be traced to a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Mass. by the Pilgrims at their first harvest in the New World. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by approximately 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native-Americans, who had donated food to their new neighbors during their first winter here.

Our annual tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November began during the Civil War when President Lincoln declared a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

In San Pedro, many of the new immigrants from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and other seaside nations didn’t get off a boat and stay on land like the Pilgrims. They went back to sea on fishing boats and worked hard so that they could provide for their families. In the process they built a town. This is something that those of us who love San Pedro should always be thankful for.

Although the American tradition of Thanksgiving was brought to the New World by Pilgrims from England, ceremonies of prayer and thanksgiving are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.

In Ancient Greece, Thanksgiving was Thesmophoria, a festival to honor the goddess that taught mankind to tend the soil. Southwest Native-Americans perform a corn dance to give thanks for their crop. The Jewish people celebrate Sukkot, which marks the end of the end of the agricultural year and celebrates the final harvest before winter. Many Asian cultures have festivals of gratitude for their rich rice harvest.

For many years, the San Pedro festival of thanks, which heaped gratitude toward the heavens for our harvest, was the Fishermen’s Fiesta. Our local crop was fish and in many ways, both literal and figurative, it fed our town. Because the great majority of the fishermen in our fleet were Catholics, the central piece of the Fishermen’s Fiesta ceremonies was the blessing of the fishing boats by the cardinal or bishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The men and women saying their prayers of thanksgiving on those days were in many ways San Pedro’s Pilgrims and just like the Pilgrims had their Plymouth Rock, we have our port.

Another set of San Pedro Pilgrims that helped build our town from its very first days, and have emerged as the economic engine that have driven our local economy after the fishing industry shrank, is our longshoremen. They also have an annual day of thanks that honors the deep struggle of their forefathers to ensure good compensation for the harvest of their labor. It’s called Bloody Thursday.

Every year on July 5, ILWU members gather at a picnic to remember the men that were killed in the Big Strike of 1934, a labor struggle that was won by the longshoremen and created the conditions for a waterfront that has greatly prospered our community.

As we embark on a new era in San Pedro, the coming waterfront development at Ports O’ Call and the construction of AltaSea, a world-class marine research center at City Dock 1, provide us the exciting opportunity to start dreaming of new Pilgrims that will join our fishermen and longshoremen in building the next chapter of what we will be thankful for in our community.

This Thanksgiving, while the rest of the nation carves turkey and looks back at Plymouth, I think it might be appropriate for us San Pedrans to include a side dish from the sea and to take a long and reflective look at our beautiful harbor that has given us so much to be thankful for. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Our Creative Corridor to a Stronger Economy

Last spring, on a local campaign stop, Mayor Eric Garcetti was asked for ideas on boosting San Pedro’s economy. He cited the usual harbor-related stuff you’d expect, but then he added another point that pleasantly surprised me; make San Pedro one of the creative corridors that exist in Los Angeles.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. According to the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Business Policy – “The creative industries are a major player in the regional economy, generating more than 640,000 jobs and over $200 billion in annual sales revenue.” Being creative is big business in L.A. and San Pedro has many of the necessary elements to be poised for making good on the mayor’s idea.

Much of the talent is already here. As a local filmmaker, I’ve personally collaborated on numerous projects with San Pedrans. As a matter of fact, I’m even developing a TV idea with San Pedro Today’s own Joshua Stecker (how many of you knew Joshua freelances for entertainment publications such as The Hollywood Reporter?) Our partner, Matt Misetich, manages Script Pipeline, a company that discovers and connects writers from all over the nation with Hollywood’s top producers and managers.

My greatest local collaboration to date was with San Pedran, Chris Burke, and his partner, Jared Cotton, on Bloody Thursday, a PBS documentary film that chronicles how West Coast longshoremen fought to win the ILWU. The film garnered us an Emmy, which has allowed us to go on and do numerous other projects.

It’s probably apropos that my first meeting with Chris was at San Pedro Brewing Co. because he and Jared just premiered a show called Brew Dogs for the new Esquire Network about a pair of hilarious Scottish brewers that travel America in search of great craft beer. And SPBC is at the center of numerous scenes in my documentary, A City Divided, about the USC vs. UCLA football rivalry, which premieres on Fox Sports in November. (And btw, Misetich has an office above SPBC, which seems to be fast becoming the center of the creative universe).

A great thrill in making Bloody Thursday was having a song in the film performed by Mike Watt. Ask almost any alt-rocker about San Pedro and they’ll tell you that it’s Watt’s hometown. Watt, the bassist in Iggy and the Stooges, was in the Minutemen, a seminal punk band at the forefront of a rock revolution that allowed musicians to control their own career fate with a do it yourself (DIY) ethos, which exists to this day. In fact, San Pedro’s Recess Records, headed by Todd Congelliere, has for over 15 years kept our town on the punk map with its DIY approach to promoting music.

However, punk isn’t the only form of music that’s emerged from San Pedro. For example, 2003 SPHS grads proudly watched the Grammys last February as one of their classmates took home a trophy. San Pedro’s Miguel Pimental won a Grammy for Best R&B Song, “Adorn,” and electrified the audience when he performed the song in a live duet with Wiz Khalifa.

In addition to all of the great talent that’s already here, I’m also heartened by the numerous opportunities that exist for local youth to help build our creative corridor. Marymount is constructing a state of the art production facility on 6th Street that will attract film students from all over the world. The Boys & Girls Club features an amazing studio that allows its members to record music, shoot short films, and create animation and 3D projects. San Pedro City Ballet nurtures the talents of young dancers and includes prima ballerina Misty Copeland as an alumna. And the Warner Grand Theatre is home to youth theatre company Scalawag Productions and Encore Entertainers.

We often discuss linkage between our downtown and the waterfront as a key factor in a sustainable economic future for San Pedro. I would propose that we also begin to include linkage between our local talent, youth and the creative industries of Los Angeles as a key strategy in developing San Pedro into one of the prosperous creative corridors that make L.A. the entertainment capital of the world. spt

Sleeping In Dirt

What happens when 15 “Pedro Boy” dads decide to take 25 of their kids to Catalina Island for a two-night camping trip without maternal supervision? This is what I’ve been allowed to write (the rest has been redacted).

The whole idea started sometime during the Eastview baseball season when Mike Harper and Zlatko Josic approached me about a camping trip they were planning. My initial reaction? My father didn’t escape communist Yugoslavia as a young teen and live in Italian refugee camps for four years so that he could come to America and have his family sleep in the dirt while on vacation.

They scratched me off the list and kept planning without me. However, I later heard them mention Catalina and my interest piqued. They went on to say this was luxury camping, the tents were pre-made with cots inside, the nearby small town of Twin Harbor was only a quarter mile away with hot showers, great bathroom facilities, and a pretty good restaurant. I was sold (not that I had a choice after my son Kyle heard that his baseball buddies, Nathan Harper and Robby and Cooper Josic, were going camping and he was invited).

Fifteen dads, 22 boys and three girls (my daughter Katija was one of the brave girls) boarded Catalina Express on an early Sunday morning boat to the island. We docked at 9 a.m. in Twin Harbor and the first thing we all noticed was a band already rocking it pretty good in the outdoor bar next to the restaurant (this is the part of the story where Buffalo Milkshakes start to get redacted).

We were on the island five minutes, our stuff hadn’t even come off the boat yet, and my kids were already begging me to go down on the beach. Fifteen minutes later I relented. Five minutes after that, Katija came to ask me something and I noticed she was soaked head to toe in her clothing and shoes because she had to have a shell that must have been in ten-feet of water (the shoes, her only shoes on the trip, never did dry out until we got back home).

A truck came and got our stuff and we took the quarter-mile hike to camp – more like a mile, but who’s counting? Well, I was, because by now nature had called and the porta-potty facilities at the campsite were so sub-human that I truly considered the two-mile roundtrip walk back to town just to go to the bathroom. Instead, I pinched my nose and, well, you know the rest.

When I got out, I found my kids so caked in dirt that I considered filming them for a Sally Struthers PSA to feed the children. Because we had packed so lightly, I had to ration their clothing and there was really not much we could do because the campground was situated on a large patch of what could best be described as infield dirt.

What did I say about sleeping in dirt? I have to admit, we did have pre-made canvas tents over wooden frames with cots to sleep on. However, I’d be curious how much our group contributed to the local chiropractic economy after 15 middle-aged dudes slept on those things for two nights.

So, I was right. Sleeping in dirt is a stupid idea that only people who have the luxury and the means to afford comfort would think is a good idea. But, you know what? I hope we all go back next year.

We saw a buffalo and dozens of sharks in a lagoon while on a hike. At night, the children (and the men) delighted in having our campsite visited by deer and foxes. We snorkeled in pristine water among the beautiful orange Garibaldi fish that Catalina is famous for. After BBQ dinner (thanks Z!), 15 of the best dads I know sipped on cold refreshments and watched 25 of the nicest kids you will ever want to meet sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories, roasting marshmallows, and having a blast. I love camping. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Party Like It’s 1988

Happy 125th Birthday, San Pedro! There’s no way to predict what the next 125 years will bring, but I strongly believe that in the next 25 years we will do much more than in the previous quarter century. And, contrary to some local critics, we’ve come a long way in that time.

Consider this: In 1988, when we celebrated San Pedro’s Centennial, anyone venturing into downtown at night would have found a virtual ghost town, which was considered too dangerous to visit after dark. The only place of note to eat and/or drink at night around this time was Papadakis Taverna.

Everything changed almost immediately after 1988 when Alan Johnson opened John T’s, which was later taken over and changed to the San Pedro Brewing Company by James Brown. Suddenly, young San Pedrans had a downtown place for drinks at night. The crowd soon invaded Tommy’s next door (now Crimsin) and the spark was lit for a downtown scene where one can now eat and drink at numerous locations.

The fact that downtown is a much better nighttime place to visit than it was 25 years ago flies into the face of the nostalgia you often hear from old-timers. True, retail isn’t nearly as strong as it was in the years prior to the opening of malls like Del Amo, but that’s the case in downtowns all across America. And the next 25 years will get better – much better.

Everything starts with the port. There are currently two major developments – AltaSea and Ports O’ Call – that will not only change the face of the waterfront, but all of San Pedro, especially downtown.

AltaSea will greatly expand the current Marine Research Institute by relocating at City Dock 1. The research center, which is a collaborative effort of eleven major universities, including USC and UCLA, will feature seawater labs, classrooms, lecture halls, an interpretive center, and an opportunity to develop the world’s largest seawater wave tank.

A world class research center will drive to San Pedro a large wave of academicians, vendors, businessmen, and professionals that will either work at AltaSea, service its operational requirements, or create business partnerships that leverage the research being done there. The most natural place for these newcomers to locate their offices will be in downtown. And more people in more offices will establish the environment for a better variety of places to eat and drink in downtown… and at Ports O’ Call.

Ports O’ Call will create a waterfront dining and shopping experience that will spark tourism, as has happened in other port towns such as Seattle, Sydney, and Barcelona. However, the key to making our area a regional attraction will be our ability to integrate for visitors a seamless experience where they can traverse between a great waterfront and a vibrant downtown scene.

The reason I was so inspired by the choice of the L.A. Waterfront Alliance as the Ports O’ Call developer is that the team includes Eric and Alan Johnson. The Johnsons own property throughout San Pedro and understand the importance of an integrated plan linking the waterfront and downtown. What other outside waterfront developer would have been such a strong advocate for downtown? Alan has a vision for downtown that includes one-way streets with better parking, enhanced public performance space, wider sidewalks that allow for sidewalk dining, and transforming alleys into pedestrian walkways – much like in Old Town Pasadena (I’d add bringing the Red Car up 6th Street to Centre).

In addition, Alan is on the board of Marymount University and is very active in helping the college establish a film school at the Klaus Center on 6th Street, which could assist in Mayor Garcetti’s idea for making San Pedro one of the city’s entertainment corridors.

It all adds up to a downtown on the upswing… it should be a great quarter century for our town!

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Leading San Pedro

“This town eats its own.” I recall a friend on the San Pedro Chamber board saying this while lamenting that San Pedrans aren’t great at supporting their local leaders.

Whether he’s right or wrong, I believe that for many years San Pedro hasn’t done a good job of grooming future leaders. For example, before I launched San Pedro Magazine, I was not active in the community, but got involved because it now became my business to do so. The first major event I attended was a chamber luncheon attended by approximately 250 people. Although I was born and raised in San Pedro, with tons of family and friends here, I didn’t recognize more than two or three people.

Over the next several years, I became friends with many of the luncheon attendees. A large majority of them are wonderful people who do a nice job serving a community they love, but most came here from somewhere else. On one hand, it’s good to have leaders in your community that can provide a fresh pair of eyes on its issues, but on the flipside, I’ve found it challenging for many of them to accurately reflect the will of the majority of the people because they lacked the relationships to be able to do that. Furthermore, it’s not a very sustainable model to have to constantly find leadership arriving from someplace else instead of developing leaders that grew up in the community.

In recent years, things have begun to dramatically change. Our councilman, Joe Buscaino, was born and raised in San Pedro, as was the newly elected president of ILWU Local 13, Chris Viramontes. These are young dynamic leaders with the ability to attract their peers into getting involved to create a powerful leadership force for our community. In addition to Joe and Chris, I’d like to add the name of Anthony Pirozzi to the list of young San Pedro leaders that can brighten the future of our town. And I’m not the only one to think so; the San Pedro Chamber is giving Anthony its annual Leadership Award.

Anthony is one of my best friends. We met in high school when everyone called him Yog (which I still call him). In fact, I had to get past knowing him as Yog, who we loved teasing as kids, to recognize Anthony, a man that has grown into a great leader. The first glimpse occurred when Anthony joined our other friends, Dave Stanovich, Ron Galosic, Scott Lane, and Tony Cordero in leading the fight to secure baseball fields for Eastview Little League on Knoll Hill. Anyone that’s either played at Eastview or had a kid play at Eastview (I’m in both categories) will probably agree that their effort to have the fields built is one of our town’s finest accomplishments in the past few years.

The fact that Anthony threw so much of himself at the campaign is not a surprise. Anthony and I spend countless hours on the phone (his wife, Carolyn calls me his second wife) and the thing that comes up a lot is his passion for helping kids get better. He’s very proud that although he was a mediocre student at San Pedro High, he was able to get good grades at Harbor, go on to earn a degree at Cal Poly Pomona, and become an aerospace engineer. He uses his role as a Boeing executive to speak to kids about their futures and has facilitated more than $100,00 in donations from Boeing to San Pedro charities that serve children, such as the Boys & Girls Club, Top Sail, Toberman House, and Cabrillo Aquarium.

After the Save Eastview campaign had concluded, I convinced Anthony to join me on the board of directors at the San Pedro Chamber. Upon his election as chairman of the board, I began to realize that our generation has begun to assume the mantle of leadership. I can say with firsthand knowledge that we are fortunate to have leaders like Anthony, Joe, and Chris because they care so much for this town that we all love and they all share the same passion for grooming the next generation of San Pedrans into great citizens and great leaders. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Gold Star Memorial Day

Every Memorial Day, our nation honors the men and women who died while serving in the United States military. But what happens if you can’t remember the soldier for whom that day means the most to you? If you are Tony Cordero, you spend most of your adult life volunteering to make it easier for others that carry the same cross. Tony was just four-years-old when his father, Air Force Major William Cordero, died on a bomber plane that went down in the Vietnam War. Tony can’t remember anything about his dad.

In 1990, Tony was among a very small group that started Sons and Daughters in Touch, which represented the children who lost their fathers in Vietnam. Until then, the only organizations that were set up to provide assistance for grieving family members were Gold Star Mothers of America, which was started around the period of World War II and later a group called Gold Star Wives was formed. Gold Star represents all Americans that had a U.S. military family member killed in war.

Many similar organizations have sprung up since Tony’s group started their nonprofit. They each provide benefits for Gold Star families, such as scholarships and counseling. Tony talks about kids that lose a family member to war when they are very young. He says, “What is their life supposed to be like? We can help because we’ve gone through it.” Tony cites a local member of his Vietnam group that every year flies out a recent widow and her two daughters from Texas to spend a couple weeks with their members. He explains, “We don’t sit around and grieve and visit cemeteries. We go camping, do tourist things, and share stories.”

Whatever their opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans treat our soldiers and their families with respect because we understand the huge sacrifices they have made. That wasn’t the case during Vietnam. Tony says, “That mindset today is an outgrowth of the lessons learned a generation ago when there wasn’t a big embrace. Whether you think we should have gone into Iraq is one conversation, but the reality is a couple thousand of our citizens who volunteered to go didn’t come home, and it’s a good thing their families are embraced.”

One of the hallmarks of that new respect is the overwhelming outpouring of love that Americans show when they see heartbreaking photos of young children at the funeral of a parent killed in battle. Oftentimes the children are the same age as Tony when he lost his dad in Vietnam, which is tough for him to see. However, there is another scene that is harder for him to watch. He explains, “When you see a little kid in class and the teacher says we have a special guest today and in walks dad returning from war, that’s painful for all Gold Star children because that’s what we missed out on. We all had a funeral. Those are great moments and I’ve never met a single Gold Star family that has animosity because someone else had their loved one return home and we didn’t, but you look at them and selfishly say, ‘I didn’t have that homecoming.’”

As part of the cathartic process of honoring his dad, ten years ago Tony was among fifty Gold Star sons and daughters that returned to Vietnam. It was the largest contingent of Gold Star families to ever visit Vietnam together. “The families got to stand in the place where their fathers died. Combine that with seeing Vietnam and making Vietnam a place instead of a bad word and it was an outstanding experience. The locals loved us, anything made in America they wanted. I wish every Gold Star family could have the same experience,” states Tony.

As we all enjoy the Memorial Day holiday, let’s take a moment to remember the fallen soldiers and their surviving family members for their ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Tony was especially keen that this year we remember former Wilmington resident, Tofiga Tautolo, and his family. Memorial Day falls on May 27, which is the one-year anniversary of Tofiga being killed in action in Afghanistan. He is survived by a wife and two-year old son. spt

Jack can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

The Real Tax On America’s Middle-Class

July 4, October 31, December 25, January 1… All of these dates conjure up warm memories of great times with family and friends. The antithesis of these dates is April 15, when, for a majority of Americans, the biggest emotion being conjured up is dread. Nobody likes paying taxes. Period.

For most of his time in office, one of the biggest battles that President Obama has fought is his campaign (as part of a deficit reduction plan) to expire the Bush era tax cuts for America’s wealthiest 2% back to the rates that this group paid during the Clinton administration. Although 98% of the nation would not be paying the increased rate, the battle was fierce for one very simple reason: we all hate paying taxes and the idea of increasing rates for anyone is repugnant to us.

However, what if I told you that for a large number of America’s middle-class there is a huge tax being taken out of their weekly paychecks that most threatens our economic strength in the 21st Century? What is that large tax? It is the reduced size of the paycheck itself. America’s middle-class is increasingly being paid less at the expense of corporate profits. The value of corporate citizenship has been replaced by an almost fanatical obsession with the size of the Dow Jones industrial average.

Consider this from a November 2012 Time magazine article on Bill Gross: He states, “Over the last several decades, companies have taken profits at the expense of individuals. A lot of people aren’t being paid enough to spend. How can you have a sustainable recovery in an economy that’s 70% fueled by consumer spending when 90% of the income gains since the recovery began have accrued to the top 1%?”

I’m sure at this point in the column my fiscally conservative friends are rolling their eyes and making snarky comments about Jack touting the words of Western European socialists. Well, what if I told you that Gross is an Orange County Republican and is the world’s largest bond investor?

Let’s consider what Gross is saying. 70% of our economy is reliant on consumer spending, but 90% of the income generated is going to only 1% of the population, which begs the question, who will buy all the stuff that the 1% profits from when the bubble bursts and the middle-class can’t afford their products any longer? That’s a very real concern – as experts of all political stripes have come to realize. Slate magazine quoted former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan as saying about income inequality, “This is not the type of thing which a capitalist democratic society can really accept without addressing.”

How do we address it? Let’s take a look at a local example: What would happen to many San Pedro restaurants, drycleaners, chiropractic offices, and other small businesses if many of their ILWU customers lost their jobs and they could no longer earn enough to afford their services? It would not be a pretty picture.

In 2014, the union will be renegotiating their contract with the PMA. One of the key bargaining issues will be automation. Just like in the 1960s when containerization emerged as an issue, in this decade, the goods movement industry is at a crossroads with the issue of automation. And just like containers replaced a line of workers unloading a ship with their bare hands, automation will again change the industry.

The jobs that were lost by the ILWU to containers were gained back in new technology and increased productivity, and today the ILWU is as strong as it ever was. This must be the model for the future. As man-hours are lost to automation, the new jobs in technology, maintenance, repair, and operations must be kept in our community as good paying ILWU jobs.

The alternative is another “wages tax” where yet another group of American middle-class workers get a huge chunk taken from their incomes in the never-ending quest for higher corporate profits. And who will ultimately pay for those profits? All of us (especially small businesses) as these private sector “taxes” continue to suck money out of our economy and erode the quality of American life. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

A Victory For Waterfront Development

On a Tuesday evening in September of 2009, I had the honor of spending a long evening together with many hundreds of San Pedrans, all passionate about the future of a town we love. We all crowded into a meeting room at Liberty Hill Plaza and stayed well past midnight for a Harbor Commission meeting on adopting a proposed development plan for our waterfront.

The 400-acre project was designed to give the community better access to the water – and it included a promenade that ran alongside the water’s edge, water cuts and downtown-adjacent boating slips, various pocket parks, fountains and plazas, an extended Red Car line, and several other public features that would create a great waterfront experience for locals and visitors alike. The plan passed unanimously.

This was not just a plan to beautify the area, but to aid regional economic development through the introduction of various new shopping, dining and convention facilities that would give Los Angeles a waterfront that could compare to places such as Baltimore, Seattle, and San Francisco. At its core, the plan created a pathway for the Port of Los Angeles to redevelop Ports O’ Call Village with 300,000 square feet now zoned for shops, restaurants, a convention hall and other establishments that would make our waterfront a regional attraction.

It was great, except for one glaring problem. We were smack dab in the middle of a recession and there were very few development projects being launched anywhere. I recall a sobering dinner during this period with a friend on the real estate board at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management who told me that he saw no chance of Ports O’ Call being redeveloped.

However, as the economy slowly started to rebound, the Port finally felt optimistic enough to put out a request for real estate groups to submit their qualifications to be chosen to negotiate the right to redevelop Ports O’ Call. Although the Port was optimistic, it was a cautious optimism – as one Port source told me, they realistically hoped for two or three groups to submit. However, much to their delight, the Port received eight bids.

Among the seven bids they reviewed (one group dropped out); the Port chose a group dubbed the Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance to earn the right of negotiating a development deal with them. In my opinion, it was a great choice.

The lead member of the group is real estate developer Wayne Ratkovich. I first became familiar with Ratkovich when I noticed his name on the Wiltern Center in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood where I lived in the late ‘80s. I became interested because I automatically assumed that with his “ich” last name, he must share my Croatian heritage, but I later found out he was actually Serbian (can’t win them all).

Our ethnic differences aside, I experienced firsthand the positive effect of Ratkovich’s redevelopment of the Wiltern. It created a great place in my neighborhood to see a concert in a grand music venue, or eat dinner and have drinks in hip restaurant establishments. It became a must-visit destination for me and tons of my friends that lived and worked throughout Los Angeles and Hollywood.

I later learned that Ratkovich has a great reputation for redeveloping places that had seen better days, but doing so without losing the authenticity of what made those places special in the first place. I’m excited and can’t wait to see how he and his team will make Ports O’ Call new again while giving a nod to the heritage of our waterfront and community.

Ratkovich’s local partners on the project, the Johnson brothers, Eric and Alan, are also fantastic choices. Their company, Jerico Development owns several properties in downtown San Pedro that both retain historical authenticity and are well kept. Ask the business owners that occupy their buildings and you will learn that these are great guys that deeply care about our town and do their part to contribute to the shared success of the downtown community. For example, Alan’s wife, Liz, runs Grand Vision, the non-profit that played the lead role in the restoration and administration of the Warner Grand Theatre.

Congratulations to the Port and to the Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance. I, and all of San Pedro, can’t wait to see you make Ports O’ Call great again. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Do Guns Give Us Liberty Or Death?

I think all sane people will agree that the Sandy Hook tragedy was one of the saddest days in the history of our country. The idea that 20 little children were all killed in cold blood mortified our nation. However, their bodies had not yet been removed from the school grounds when the fierce cries of 2nd Amendment advocates pierced the nation’s airways, as they all feared that their beloved guns would be taken away.

Anybody that dares argue a gun control position with gun advocates is often subjected to rabid condescending retorts. How many pro-gun posts have you seen on Facebook in the last month that deride people who choose not to own guns as morons that are just begging to get it from the bad guys? Here’s one I saw recently:

My next door neighbor wants to BAN ALL GUNS! Their house is NOT ARMED! Out of respect for their opinions, I promise NOT to use MY GUNS to protect THEM.

Well, it turns out the neighbor with no guns is much more likely to attend a gun-related funeral of the gun owner than the other way around. A 2004 national case study in the “Annals of Emergency Medicine” concluded that people who own guns in the home are almost twice as likely to be killed by a gun as those who do not own guns. This can primarily be explained by guns used in domestic violence crimes and, secondarily, by accidental deaths.

Even though you can go through reams of statistics, such as the fact that 31,672 people were killed in the U.S. by guns in 2011, gun ownership is such a staple of American life that a vast majority of citizens (myself included) are not in favor of outlawing handguns for home protection or rifles for hunting. However, this doesn’t stop the paranoia. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article written by country singer Charlie Daniels on CNSNews.com:

America, no matter what Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid and the rest of the far left in America say, they want your guns.

This is just one example of many shrill claims by the far right that President Obama is conspiring to take away their guns. However, here’s an excerpt from Obama’s position on guns:

Barack Obama respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms. He will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns. Obama and Biden also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.

President Obama is not alone among presidents when it comes to the issue of supporting a ban on assault weapons. When the law was first enacted in 1994, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton supported it.

I would challenge any pro-gun advocate to cite even one life saved by a private citizen using an assault weapon when a handgun would not have been sufficient. I don’t think it’s ever happened, but you can point to countless shootings in places like Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, and Virginia Tech where dozens of people were slaughtered because the gunmen had the capacity to rapidly empty bullets into scores of victims.

So what’s the rationale for allowing assault weapons? It’s our freedom! For example, here’s a beauty that radio host Alex Jones shouted/frothed during an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN:

We have all these foreigners including megabanks that control the planet. When they take our guns, they can have their world tyranny… The establishment knows that no matter how much propaganda, the Republic will rise again when you try to take our guns!

Can somebody please point out to these nut-jobs that we have a military to protect our nation from world tyranny and that the chubby middle-aged wannabe cowboy “patriots” can put down their guns? The lunatics are truly running the asylum in this debate.

These 2nd Amendment fanatics love to spout patriotic slogans such as, “Give me liberty or give me death!” But it must be asked, who will give us liberty from their sure path to more deaths? spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Never Give Up

Ernest Sickenberger

New Year’s is a time for resolutions. Although people come up with multitudes of ways that they’d like to improve themselves, the most often cited resolution is to exercise and lose weight.

By February 1, most of those resolutions have been broken. However, if Ernest Sickenberger gets his way, he will motivate people to not give up on their goals and to get on a path to fitness. It’s his dream to start a physical training company that inspires its clients to live well.

The roots of Sickenberger’s goal were planted on March 1, 1998, when he suffered a horrifying snowboarding accident that landed him in a coma for 45 days. Councilman Joe Buscaino, a classmate of Sickenberger’s from San Pedro High, recalls his feelings when he learned about the accident. “A number of our friends prayed for him. We thought he was going to die, but he shocked us all with his amazing recovery. He’s just a man of strength and determination.”

After coming out of the 45-day coma, Sickenberger was in the hospital for an additional two and a half months. “They thought I would be there for a year,” he says. Sickenberger attributes his good physical condition with keeping him from dying. “I always worked out and I was in good shape. That’s one of the only things that saved my life,” he claims.

The fact that Sickenberger is even capable of telling his own story is nothing short of a miracle. Doctors didn’t expect him to be able to walk and talk again. However, it was not an easy path. He explains, “I couldn’t do anything. I had to learn how to breathe, how to talk, how to walk, how to dress myself, how to live my life again. “

Although it took an amazing degree of strength to get moving again, Sickenberger acknowledges the depth of despair that he felt after his accident. “It was very frustrating. I was like a child in diapers again. In the first year I thought about killing myself. And then I had a realization, this is my new life. There are things you can’t do, but so what? Who cares? I’m alive.”

Sickenberger acknowledges his mistake that so severely injured his brain. He explains, “All of this would have been avoided if I had just worn a helmet. I thought snow is soft.” He raps a table for emphasis and adds, “But the trees are harder. I hit a tree and boom, forty-five days in a coma.”

Councilman Buscaino recently invited Sickenberger to share his story at City Hall. Buscaino was introducing a motion for stricter skateboarder safety laws, inspired by the deaths of two teens in San Pedro while skateboarding. “He came to testify on the seriousness of preventing accidents involving head trauma. Never have the chambers been as quiet as when he was providing his powerful testimony,” recalls Buscaino.

Sickenberger has also accompanied Buscaino to their San Pedro High alma mater to speak on the issue of helmet safety. Buscaino says, “I was with him when he shared his story with the teens. Ernie is an inspiration to our town and I’m just grateful to call him my friend.”

After graduating from San Pedro High in 1992, Sickenberger went to Harbor and El Camino College before transferring to the USC. He was only six weeks from graduating at USC when he had his accident. “I was in a coma when the rest of my classmates got their diplomas,” says Sickenberger.

Eight years after his accident, Sickenberger decided he wanted to go back to college and get his diploma. He states, “I figured, let’s go back to school, and not just any school, let’s go back to USC. My dad always told me, ‘Shoot for the highest. If you miss, so what, at least you tried.’”

Making the decision to go back to school was not an easy one because even eight years after his accident, Sickenberger had a daily routine of physical therapy, speech therapy, and adaptive exercise programs. “All that was like a full time job, we had to do repetition, repetition, repetition,” explains Sickenberger.

Because his schedule allowed him to only take one class a semester, it took Sickenberger three years to graduate from USC’s School of Business, but graduate he did.

Less than one percent of the people rehabilitate from the type of accident that Sickenberger suffered. He says, “I’m the one percent. It’s remarkable. I have a lot of knowledge that I can provide to people that are in a similar situation and are looking for lessons. That’s huge.”

Sickenberger’s goal is to start a personal training company. His own exercise routine includes spinning at the gym for cardio fitness and weightlifting for strength. He especially wants to specialize in helping people recover from the same types of disabilities that he’s had to deal with. “I want to help people to get back their functions because I could basically do nothing after my accident and I had to learn how to use my body again,” says Sickenberger.

So, as you might gather, Sickenberger won’t need a New Year’s resolution to get motivated. He explains his resolution/philosophy, “You only get one shot at life and I got two. This is my second chance, so I’m gonna have a big game.” spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.