Great Streets = Great Community

If we are going to have a conversation about the impact arts can have on a community, we must mention the current talk of the town, the Cirque du Soleil show Totem, which opened in San Pedro last month and will run until Nov. 10.

I took my family to see the show several days after it opened and was pleasantly surprised, not only by the quality of the show and its performers, but by the sense of community that I experienced while enjoying the evening out with my family in San Pedro.

While the show will bring approximately 50,000 people to San Pedro during its month-long run, helping our local economy and our local businesses, the experience of being out in San Pedro at a high-end professional entertainment event as we ran into familiar face after familiar face is something that I have not felt since my parents took me to Ports O’ Call when I was a kid. On a warm summer-like night out we greeted each other before the show, raved about it during the intermission and seemingly floated to our cars after, waving goodnight to each other. It was a very special evening in every way.

The fact that Cirque du Soleil chose San Pedro as its Los Angeles location for Totem, coupled with the fact that the redevelopment of Ports O’ Call Village will start in just over a year, where we will see new retail, dining and entertainment opportunities, is evidence enough that San Pedro is returning to its roots of being a social community that has a lot to offer to its residents and its visitors.

The reception room at the top of Los Angeles City Hall, called the Tom Bradley Room, has an inscription that reads: “The City Came into Being To Preserve Life, It Exists for the Good Life,” a quote from Aristotle. Even though we live in a suburb of the great city of Los Angeles, we are very much part of the fabric of it and participate in the evolution of it.

We live in an urban age. For the first time in history, most people live in cities and the UN estimates that over the next 40 years, the population is going to double on the planet. While we focus on the basics that preserve life – police & fire, maintaining streets and ensuring sanitation – it is equally important that we feed the soul of the city through arts and entertainment to ensure our residents can participate in “the good life.”

The city can support our new and exploding arts community by ensuring that the public environment in our arts district is thriving by being functional and safe. We must ensure there is ample parking, lighting and police patrol. We must work to create more public space that allows for the incubation of even more art, community and entertainment. Our First Thursday Art Walk is an ideal example of this.

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Garcetti issued his first executive directive, launching the Great Streets Initiative. “A great neighborhood needs a great street as its backbone, and, as city leaders, we need the backbone to make the bold changes necessary to build great streets,” said Mayor Garcetti.

The directive establishes a working group comprised of several City departments and headed by Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor of City Services (as well as a longtime San Pedro resident and my former Chief of Staff). The group is tasked with identifying 40 potential “great streets,” and proposing potential improvements – such as lighting, street furniture and landscaping – with the overall goal of increasing economic activity, improving access and mobility, enhancing neighborhood character, increasing community engagement, improving environmental resilience and making safer and more secure communities.

Great streets make for great community. San Pedro has outgrown the more simple utilitarian needs of our parents and their parents and now we must work towards fulfilling our cultural needs. As much as I was excited about the entire evening surrounding the Cirque du Soleil show, I am even more excited that we are closing in on a future for our community that makes my wonderful experience at the show a common experience for all of us.

I commend Cirque du Soleil for their brilliance of bringing their production to San Pedro, but ask all of you to recognize that they did it because it had value to them. San Pedro has lots of value and many of us will be very blessed to experience it on a whole new level very soon. spt

Runaway Production: A State of Emergency

The production and distribution of films and television programs is one of California’s most valuable cultural and economic resources, responsible for nearly 200,000 direct jobs and $17 billion in wages in the state. This doesn’t even include the value of seeing your backyard in a movie: priceless.

As a young boy, I remember going to Ports O’ Call to meet Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize), on set while filming Fantasy Island, and seeing Poncharello (Erik Estrada) of CHiPs ride his motorcycle down 19th Street.

More recently, I visited actor Joe Mantegna on the set of Criminal Minds as they filmed a flashback scene in front of the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, and just last week Clint Eastwood stopped by my office for a visit while filming scenes for the movie version of Jersey Boys in the San Pedro Municipal Building. FilmLA, the nonprofit organization that coordinates and processes permits for on-location motion picture, television and commercial production in the Los Angeles region, reports the 15th Council District alone saw a total of over 600 permitted filming days last year.

The City of Los Angeles, including San Pedro and the Port, have often been the star setting of many productions, but in the last decade we have been losing that status and the jobs that come with it. Runaway film production continues to worsen, so much that our new Mayor, Eric Garcetti, has called the situation a “state of emergency” in a recent Variety magazine cover story.

As an example, the movie Battle: Los Angeles was not shot in L.A., but rather Louisiana, a state where film industry employment is up 76% in the last decade. The amount of on-location filming in Los Angeles has plummeted 60% since it peaked 15 years ago. Production of television dramas saw a significant 20% decline in 2012 compared to 2011. This is the largest decline on record and a hard blow to the local economy. Only eight percent of last fall’s new network television dramas were made in LA, compared to 79% seven years ago.

Making one $200 million movie in California has an economic impact greater than six seasons of Lakers home games, so we must do everything in our power to keep these productions here.

While the City Council has already passed a set of initiatives to waive fees for TV drama pilots and Mayor Garcetti has promised to name a “film czar” in his office, we must do more.

“These days studio chiefs insist that filmmakers they work with take advantage of out-of-state incentives to lower production costs, which on a single major motion picture can amount to savings of tens of millions. Those savings are crucial in a franchise-obsessed era when big-budget movies commonly cost north of $200 million to produce,” reports Variety.

According to Entertainment Partners, California lost $3 billion in film crew wages because of runaway production. As reference, a single $70 million movie sustains 928 jobs and generates $10.6 million in state and local tax revenue.

We must rival the out-of-state incentives. The California Film and Television Tax Credit Program has helped support local production since 2009 and has brought new projects to the Los Angeles region, but we must do more.

Evidence continues to mount that California can easily outmatch major competitors like Georgia, Louisiana or Canada for only a fraction of what they offer. Solutions to the problem of runaway production are available, if we want them.

I agree with Mayor Garcetti that the State Film Credit cap must be lifted. This will be the work of our State Legislature. I will urge my colleagues in Sacramento to also see this as a “state of emergency” and help us offer even more incentives for our entertainment industry to remain in Los Angeles.

On a municipal level, we must do what it takes to make it cheaper and easier to film in Los Angeles. I will continue to fight to keep Los Angeles the entertainment production capital of the world, and to preserve the jobs and economic benefits that come along with it. I urge you to support me in this effort.

I launched a redesign of my website www.LA15th.com. This new site will allow residents access to more information and is equipped to accept your suggestions and requests in making our city a better place to live and work. spt

Shopping Local Pays Off

As we recover from the Thanksgiving weekend and move full steam ahead into the holidays, I feel it is important to remind ourselves about the meaning of the season that we are entering. Many of us might already be feeling the stresses of managing work, family, shopping, preparing, decorating and all of the other things associated with the modern holiday season.

Regardless of religion or specific traditions that we participate in, the one thing we all have in common and expect to experience in the coming month is sharing and community. Around this time of the year, we have a desire to spend time with each other; we attend parties, exchange gifts, eat a lot more than usual and are generally more social than the rest of the year.

Last Saturday, my family and I participated in Small Business Saturday – a concept that encourages holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local – and give them a boost between the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy known as Black Friday for big box sales and Cyber Monday for online deals.

We bought gifts at Crafted, at stores in downtown San Pedro and on Western Avenue. While there are many theories about the effects of shopping local, there is no doubt in my mind that the concept has many benefits for our community. Not only are researchers finding that there is a profound economic impact of keeping money in town, but I believe the connections merchants build with the community when they are a part of it creates emotional ties that are crucial to developing a vibrant culture.

Owners like Peggy Lindquist of The Corner Store, Otto Henke of Urban Feet, Terry Katnich of Ace Hardware and Mona Sutton of the Omelette and Waffle Shop have connections to San Pedro. They give back to the community.

When you shop local, a portion of the sales tax you pay is directly funding essential government services like police, fire, and street maintenance for your own community. When you shop outside the City of Los Angeles, you’re paying for someone else to have smoother streets, lower crime and faster fire department response times. So how is it that I start with reminding everyone about the “Reason for the Season” and I end up talking about consumerism?

There is no going back from the culture of consumerism we have all chosen to participate in. Even though we may daydream about escaping the stresses of it all, the reality is that it has become part of our DNA and we love both giving and receiving. So, if we agree that we want the shopping element to be one of the things that brings us together as a community during the season, I am advocating that we as a culture of neighbors use our buying power for our own good – which means we buy local.

While I agree that the Small Business Saturday campaign is a great way to bring awareness to each other about the benefits of shopping local, I believe we must adopt the concept into our routines more than just one day per year.

This is the perfect time to remind us that the value of our community is only as big as the effort and energy we contribute to it. Let’s remember to support each other as often as we can afford to and let’s build a community that is sustainable and thriving.

Doing this will improve the quality of life for all of us by making our local economy strong, our relationships stronger and allowing us to enjoy each other in the ways intended by the spirit of the holiday season. spt

The Future Of SP Skateboarding

Congratulations to the San Pedro Skate Association for its role in creating the very first skate park in our community a decade ago. The Channel Street Skatepark has become a treasured asset for skateboarders in San Pedro, and is used by hundreds of skaters every week.

California is the birthplace of skateboarding. The sport began to receive worldwide attention in the late 1970s, when a group of skateboarders from Venice, known as the Z-Boys, began using empty swimming pools to practice new tricks and hold competitions. The pools – many emptied due to a severe drought – were almost always on private property, and the skateboarders usually did not have the permission of the property owner to use them. Skateboarders also used other existing infrastructure – plazas, planters, stairs, ramps and railings, on both private and public property.

In a city severely lacking adequate park and recreation space, it’s not surprising that youth began to look at the endless miles of concrete and urban sprawl as their own private playground.

The lack of dedicated facilities for this quickly growing sport led to an often-contentious relationship between property owners, police and skateboarders, contributing to the sport’s reputation as an underground counter-culture activity.

However, as skateboarding grew in popularity and became more mainstream, policy makers and elected officials began to recognize the need for dedicated skateparks, to allow skateboarders a controlled environment to engage in the sport, without trespassing on private property. This also allowed for the implementation of rules to reduce the risks involved in the sport, such as requiring the use of helmets and protective pads as a condition for using the parks.

Next summer, we will be opening a brand new skate park at Peck Park in San Pedro, and my office is working on building a new skate park in Watts. Today, skateboarding is unquestionably a mainstream, legitimate sport and, as a former Senior Lead Officer at LAPD, I would much rather kids be honing their skills at the skate park, as opposed to vandalizing property with graffiti, breaking into cars or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Skateparks facilitate the art of maneuvering a board in one fashion, but as many of us are aware, some skaters use their boards in other fashions – including riding them down steep and hilly streets; a newer specialty of the sport, known as downhill skating, or “bombing.”

While I respect the fact that being able to maneuver a skateboard at speeds in excess of 40-mph, takes lots of skill, talent and guts, running red lights, stop signs and mixing it all with moving vehicles is a recipe for disaster.

This is why I have been so vocal about putting an end to it.

My actions enacting an ordinance banning reckless skateboard bombing does not mean that I do not recognize the fact that many of our young skaters have a need and desire to participate in this sport, which is growing in popularity. In fact, there is a worldwide sanctioning body – the International Gravity Sports Association – that has established rules and guidelines, and arranges competitions all around the world.

As your elected representative in the City of Los Angeles, I constantly strive to represent everyone in our district and everyone in our community. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to give back to the young boys and girls who feel I have taken something away from them, and there is no way I can pass it up.

A group who wishes to hold a downhill skateboarding competition in San Pedro this spring has approached my office, and I am proud to support their efforts. The event would close Gaffey St. from the lookout point down to Paseo Del Mar, creating a temporary closed-course for all skaters to enjoy, while providing safety and emergency resources to create the safest and most fun environment.

I understand that there will be a few members of the community who will argue that sanctioning this event sends mixed messages. However, I have consistently stated that I am not against skateboarding, I am against reckless skateboarding.

By providing downhill skateboarders a closed course, where they will not be sharing the road with automobile traffic, requiring liability waivers, and implementing safety precautions like requiring protective gear, lining the street with hay bales, and having first aid standing by on-site, we hope to reduce most of the potential risks.

I don’t believe holding this special event encourages reckless skateboarding any more than the Long Beach Grand Prix encourages reckless driving. In fact, it provides a unique opportunity to reach out to young skateboarders, and educate them on the new ordinance, as well as the importance of wearing helmets and protective gear.

Creating smart public policy is often about striking an appropriate balance between two important, but contradicting positions. In this case, it’s about finding the balance between ensuring public safety and protecting personal liberty. I believe my skateboarding safety ordinance did that by requiring that skateboarders obey the same rules of the road as motorists and bicyclists follow, without banning them on public streets altogether, as many had advocated for. Similarly, I believe this downhill skateboarding event strikes that same balance.

As a parent, I understand the desire to protect kids from any activity that could bring them bodily harm. But, we have to recognize that we can never make this world as safe for them as we would like, and that government can never replace the role of parents, nor should it attempt to. The best we can do is to reduce and minimize risk, and hope that by providing necessary education and safer alternatives, kids will make smarter decisions on their own.

The Need to Modernize San Pedro High School

The educational facilities we provide our students have come a long way since I graduated from San Pedro High School in 1992.

After a group of community members recognized the need for a new local high school to educate underserved students in small, innovative learning environments, the Port of Los Angeles High School was opened in 2005. Today, POLAHS is an independent, college preparatory charter high school, home to 950 students.

In 2007, both Mary Star of the Sea High School and Rolling Hills Prep opened new campuses in San Pedro. Mary Star’s new campus on Taper Ave. opened to 500 students a year after being named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America and Rolling Hills Prep off Palos Verdes Drive North opened to 250 students.

Last month, the opening of San Pedro High School’s John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus ushered in a new era for our students. It is the most modern and most green campus in the district and will be capable of generating 80% of its own power. It is the new home to 500 students who are enrolled in Marine Science, Mathematics Magnet or Police Academy Magnet courses.

While the addition of four new, modern campuses in less than ten years is an amazing feat, we have more work to do. We must ensure that the students attending the original San Pedro High School get their fair share of modern education technology and make sure there is not an inequity developing between the old and the new campuses.

Modernizing the original San Pedro High School campus needs to be our next step and we know how to do it. In 2009, voters approved Measure Q, a $7 billion bond that will pay for modernization of existing campuses. Measure Q is meant to resolve the inequity between the 125 new schools the LAUSD has recently built and the older 700 campuses, including SPHS, which need attention.

I agree with, and support, School Board member Dr. Richard Vladovic’s vision for San Pedro High School. This vision includes modernizing every building with a new look, implementing the latest technology, including wireless Internet and plans to replace books with tablet devices allowing the students access to much more than just the written word. His plans also call for the removal of the temporary bungalows, returning open space back to the students and returning onsite parking back to the teachers.

Some other features being considered include creating a physical connection between Dana Middle School and San Pedro High School by constructing a new 9th grade academy between the two campuses.

The building of the new schools has allowed the LAUSD to move off of the year-round multi-track system that many agree was flawed. Today, LAUSD scores are on the rise, especially in San Pedro. Almost every elementary school is close to or above an 800 API.

Education is important to my family and me. My wife and both my sisters are teachers in the LAUSD, so I am very well aware of the challenges they and their students face on a daily basis.

When I attended San Pedro High School, I constantly heard, “You are the next generation, you are our future.” Now that I have experienced what that really means, I will do whatever it takes to ensure our students have the best learning environments that we can afford to give them.

I wish all the students at POLA, RHP, SPHS, the Olguin Campus and Mary Star High School all the best. You are our future. spt