Path To Prosperity

Last month’s San Pedro Today article recalling the slaughter of the innocent and devout Eva Tice in downtown San Pedro made my blood boil once again. For it is the byproduct of a deepening (by the decades) of poverty, and the drug addiction, crime and violence that has become our harbor side reality.

This was not always our identity. In the first two-thirds of the last century, our waterline was our key to prosperity, for it offered a diversity of industrial and commercial economic opportunity from the Bridge to the Breakwater and beyond. We were busy working.

However, by offering no vision for the type of public use that creates the commercial growth that would ensure a bright future, the City of Los Angeles (who holds the reins) instead created a social service and industrial dumping ground in its own southern section and seaside soul. So, for well over half a century we have suffered with a well-earned dangerous and dead end image that headlines continue to shout.

Look in on all other west coast ports to observe commercial seaside commerce and abundant economic activity – regional prosperity. The cry in the Harbor Area must be for economic justice that overcomes the anomaly of our seaside poverty.

The surest path to community safety and the seaside promise of prosperity is the full development and complete transformation of the Los Angeles waterfront. Our prominent institutions: the hospitals, schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, Marymount College, and other such institutions, must be promoted and economically nurtured in strength in order to safeguard and serve our social wellness and welfare. The development of the waterfront, which started as the Bridge to the Breakwater Grande Promenade Plan fourteen years ago, is the key to the economic health of the entire Harbor Area.

Our main street areas have degenerated into swap meets. The few waterfront commercial businesses that currently exist only serve weekend crowds, and those crowds represent a limited demographic that does not circulate into downtown or spend a dime elsewhere. All of the businesses that do not cater to that limited demographic have died (Simon’s Banquet Center is a recent example), thus the emptiness throughout the area.

Shouldn’t the waterfront serve and benefit all? Shouldn’t it be open and connect to all? Aren’t we good enough to attract people from all over the world? As a great people attraction that included visits by presidents, celebrities, astronauts, generals, admirals and heads of state, the Papadakis Taverna, which started in an empty building on a very rough corner of downtown in the early 1970s, did. And it did it for nearly four decades. That is how Sixth St. between Centre and Mesa came alive with people places. Why can’t our waterfront become an infectious welcome beacon for everyone?

The waterline must serve as a doorstep to all. Our port becoming a statewide seaside destination will engender the commercial growth that has escaped us for decades. For it will attract the great diversity of people that comprise what we call Southern Californians – not to mention the millions of folks who visit annually, as tourism is L.A.’s biggest business. Finally, it will create a locally based business community with the blessing of a diversified and bona fide job market.

Our history is our waterline. Simply put, the path to prosperity begins at our waterline. The rocky, bloody path to poverty begins there as well, as we have observed. What we make of it now, and whom we make it for, will determine our future.

There are those who will deny what I have expressed here and fought for all these years. You will have to take a good look at them and ask yourself why. I looked through and past them long ago.

Here’s to a new year, a new urban waterfront mecca, a bustling, busy international city by the blue Pacific, and economic justice to the long-suffering people of the southern portion of Los Angeles. spt

John Papadakis was the owner of Papadakis Taverna and is founder of the Bridge to the Breakwater Plan.

I Love San Pedro, But…

If you’re anything like me, you probably share the same love/hate relationship that I have with this peculiar little port town of ours. I know, “hate” is a strong word, but using an antonym other than hate would sound ridiculous, so just go with me here.

Being that this month includes the much-lauded day for St. Valentine, the topic of love and how it pertains to San Pedro is a tricky subject to maneuver. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t hear from a family member, friend or acquaintance, the phrase, “I love San Pedro, but…” The “but” is usually followed by some issue that’s currently plaguing our town that hasn’t been dealt with yet, if ever.

Most of you know what I’m what I’m referring to. “I love San Pedro, but I’m getting really sick of the gang/graffiti problem.” “I love San Pedro, but people drive like [plural expletive] here.” “I love San Pedro, but they really need to do something with [insert Ports O’ Call, Paseo del Mar, downtown San Pedro, potholes, Rancho San Pedro Housing Project, all the sober living homes, traffic on Western, etc.].” You get the picture.

San Pedrans love to love San Pedro and we wear that love like a badge of honor, and usually on our clothing. It’s funny, actually. We are the first people to profess our love for this town, yet we’re also the first people to rip it apart when something is bugging us about it. But if we ever hear someone from out of town criticize San Pedro, we jump in and defend it like it’s one of our children. Or a drunken uncle. Either scenario works.

One of the universal loves of this town, though, is our love for our local family-owned restaurants. And lucky for us, there are plenty to choose from. If you haven’t already noticed who’s on our cover this month, we’re featuring a member of one of this town’s legendary culinary families, Dustin Trani.

Trani first appeared on the cover of the August 2003 issue of the original San Pedro Magazine, along with all the Jims – brother Jim, father Jim and grandfather Jim. That story focused on their family legacy, starting with Trani’s great grandfather Filippo and the beginnings of the Trani family business in 1925. This issue, we look forward, rather than backward, and focus on Trani’s career as he splits time between J. Trani’s Ristorante on 9th St. and his new gig at Doma in Beverly Hills.

Trani’s story is nothing short of incredible. At six-years-old, he’s prepping parsley, by 11 he’s working banquets, by 18 he’s working with Contessa Premium Foods and traveling around the world with CEO John Blazevich. At 22, he’s training at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. And now, at the ripe old age of 28, he’s working double time as the executive chef at both J. Trani’s and Doma. When people ask who are the future leaders of San Pedro, as one columnist does this month, Dustin Trani is certainly on that list. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I did writing it.

Four Years and Counting…
This issue marks the magazine’s four-year anniversary. I would say that it sounds like a short time, and in reality it is, but having a deadline every month the past four years (eight if you count my tenure with the original San Pedro Magazine) sure does make it feel like quite the long haul.

While I’m incredibly proud with how this magazine has operated and been received in our community, there is still plenty of room for improvement. We’re currently working on a few behind-the-scenes projects that we’ll be debuting as the year progresses that I’m incredibly excited about. As San Pedro continues its path towards redevelopment, so to will this publication.

Finally, we’re also hard at work on a very special edition of San Pedro Today celebrating our town’s 125th anniversary. We were originally shooting to publish it next month to coincide with the town’s actual “birthday” on March 1, but we’ve decided to push it to the summer in time for all the celebratory 125th anniversary events various organizations have planned. It just seemed like a better fit.

Thanks to all our readers, advertisers, Facebook fans and Twitter followers for continuing to shower us with support. Here’s to another four years and beyond.

Until next month…

Moving On Up

Chef Dustin Trani stands on the open kitchen line at Doma in Beverly Hills. (Photos by John Mattera)

He saunters through the restaurant wearing a baseball cap, blue jeans and a Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt, with his long brown hair flaring from either side of his cap and his beard precisely shaped. With this casual appearance, you’d think he was at home rather than at work, and in a way, you’d be right.

For the past 28 years, which equates to his entire young life, Chef Dustin Trani has called J.Trani’s Ristorante home. The restaurant, which bears the family name, is synonymous with San Pedro.

It’s a quiet Monday morning in the middle of January and Trani looks a bit tired, which is no surprise. The whole reason we’re chatting this morning has to do with the fact he’s been pulling double duty running two kitchens, one here at J. Trani’s, the other at Doma, the hot new restaurant in Beverly Hills that he recently opened.

The decision to move from the security and familiarity the family business affords to uncharted waters 30 miles away, which in San Pedro miles is about 100, was a tough one for Trani. After all, who really leaves San Pedro? This is a town where generations run deep and Pedro Pride is serious business.

“I was back and forth, back and forth, and didn’t know if I really wanted to do it,” says Trani about the move to Doma. “But the opportunity was there and I talked to my parents and my friends and people in the community and I asked them what they thought, and they said I had to try it. I had to seize the opportunity.”

Stepping back a moment, it seems like Trani has been seizing opportunities his entire life. The son of Jim Jr. and Viki Trani and grandson of Jim Sr., Trani started in the family business fresh out of kindergarten at six-years-old, prepping lemon juice and chopping parsley. By 11, he was working banquets with his dad.

“The summer after fifth grade, that’s when I consistently started working a couple days a week, working the pantry section, doing the salads and appetizers and desserts,” recalls Trani.

Trani puts the finishing touches on a dish at Doma.

Like any child who grows up in the family business, there comes a point in time where the choice to continue the family tradition or break away and follow another muse towards a different line of work needs to be made. For Trani, his passion for cooking collided with the discovery of The Food Network… and puberty.

“I remember it hitting me when I was in high school,” remembers the San Pedro High alum. “I’d work a couple nights up front on the floor, then I worked a few nights in the kitchen. And then The Food Network started airing and I’m watching these guys cook – that’s when this new idea of using the freshest ingredients [began]. You realize what a difference a great olive oil does to a pasta for finishing. And how layering flavors and using chilies three different times in the pasta will create a whole different balance in a dish. When I started seeing that, that’s when I was kind of like… wow. I knew how to cook as far as the basics, but there’s a whole other level I could get to.”

Trani admits he’s not much of a formal school guy. After graduation, he dabbled a bit at Harbor College but it wasn’t his thing. He even received a $20,000 scholarship in high school to study at The Art Institute of California – Orange County Culinary Arts and Design School, which he would eventually decline.

“I checked the place out and really did not feel like culinary school was for me,” says Trani. “I could see what they were doing and it’s great for starting out and developing an education on different products and what to do, but I didn’t want to be held back for two years and spend $60,000 to go to culinary school. That’s insane.”

Instead, another opportunity would reveal itself when John Blazevich, CEO and president of Contessa Foods, asked the then 18-year-old Trani if he would work on some research development for the company. Trani agreed and would split his time between the restaurant and Contessa, even becoming Blazevich’s private chef at his Rolling Hills estate.

“Getting the opportunity with Contessa to travel and going to Boston, New York, Chicago and working and meeting a lot of real famous well-known chefs like Ming Tsai and Todd English and becoming friends with them, that’s when I just completely fell in love with [cooking],” says Trani.

An Intense Science
Listening to Trani talk about cooking is like listening to Ted Williams talk about hitting a baseball. It’s more than just following a recipe or being able to manage a kitchen. There’s an intense science involved dealing with flavors and textures and the ability to figure out the best combination of each to make an original dish stand out.

“I try to apply to every dish that I make what I learned in Thailand,” says Trani, who, thanks to Blazevich, spent two months in 2007 training at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. It’s an experience Trani would refer to many times in our conversation and one he considers to be a pivotal life-changing experience.

“When you eat Thai food, you got sweetness, sour, saltiness and texture in every one of the dishes,” he explains. “I took what they do in that cuisine and try to apply it to every dish that I do whether it be Italian, Asian or American cuisine. I want to play on every component of your senses. So you’ll see on every dish we have your main focal point and then everything around it are just characters to make it that much better. What makes a great dish is to be able to play on all the senses and hit every component that, when you try it, everything – sweet, salty, savory, texture, smell – all that comes together. If you can do that in every one of your dishes, then generally people are going to like it.”

His Thailand experience prompted Trani to completely revamp J. Trani’s menu towards a more modern Italian cuisine.

“My grandfather and my dad supported me 100 percent,” says Trani. “But there were a lot of clientele in San Pedro who wondered what I was doing. Like, what is this squared plate doing here? You know, fish doesn’t need to come with mashed potatoes and vegetables and steak doesn’t have to come with roasted potatoes and vegetables. There were a lot of naysayers and stuff, but the end result was they liked it. It was scary at first when I started changing the menu. If I tried to do that in a new restaurant in San Pedro, I think it would have been very difficult. But being established like we are, we still had the business that was coming in. And now we’re slowly introducing everybody to this new style and it’s been a great positive response. That’s why people come in here now.”

Doma’s decor is sleek and modern with a comfortable feel.

A Different World
Beverly Hills is an entirely different universe and its inhabitants are a far cry from San Pedro’s locals, who have supported the Trani family since Trani’s great grandfather Filippo opened the family’s first food establishment in town, the Majestic Café, in 1925.

But Trani isn’t the first chef from San Pedro to venture into the land of glitz and glamour. Dan Tana’s, the famous West Hollywood eatery’s head chef is fellow San Pedran, Neno Mladenovic. As Trani explains it, it was the Croatian chef’s insistence that brought Trani to the land of swimming pools and movie stars.

“Chef Neno is from San Pedro and he’s been coming to J. Trani’s the last few years saying that my food is something I should have up in L.A.,” he explains. “He said the freshness that I’m doing, the different things, would just be great up there.”

Mladenovic then told his partner at Dan Tana’s, Sonja Perencevic, another Croatian, who, with her daughter Nikka, was in the process of opening Doma. He told them Trani was the perfect guy to lead the restaurant’s kitchen as head chef.

“They came down to J. Trani’s, tried the food and were really blown away by it and liked what we’re doing,” Trani recalls.

Trani was offered the head chef position and, with the blessing of his family, took it. He singlehandedly spearheaded the formation of Doma’s menu, hired the kitchen staff and was given full creative control of every dish served. It’s the kind of creative freedom that chef’s dream about.

The Hollywood Reporter says of Doma, “Chef Dustin Trani flexes his traditional culinary sensibility through a continental prism. A single raviolo is stuffed with sea urchin, stone crab and Mascarpone cheese. Meanwhile, sautéed Colorado lamb scaloppini in a butter cognac sauce holds court on a plate accompanied by golden chanterelle mushrooms, sweet roasted onions and agnolotti.” It makes one’s mouth water just reading it.

A writer for The Huffington Post calls Trani a “chef to follow” because he “was astonished at the accomplished and delicious dishes that have emerged from this kitchen in the course of my several dinners there.”

Doma, located in the heart of Beverly Hills, just a few blocks away from Spago, is beautifully modern in appearance, but carries with it a familiarity that creates a comfortable – not stuffy – ambiance, which makes sense because “doma” in Croatian means “at home.”

Dark wood chairs and tables caressed with white linen fill the space, with a beautiful large bar area on one side of the restaurant. Towards the back, a large bookshelf-like installation houses the wine choices. The walls are decorated with fascinating artwork of what appears to be various dresses, but on closer inspection, the dresses are made of finely shaved pieces of vegetables.

Visiting Trani in his new establishment, the support from the staff is palatable. “I just love the guy,” says Igor, a longtime server of the Beverly Hills/West Hollywood scene who probably has some incredible stories to tell in his own right.

“Oh, you’re doing a story on Dustin? That’s great, he deserves it,” says another staff member.

Trani, this time in uniform wearing a white chef’s coat and obligatory white Dodgers cap, is in full control. I watch as he meticulously garnishes a seared tuna dish, the name of which I couldn’t pronounce, nor spell, but it looks amazing.

Doma’s menu is described as “Mediterranean, eclectic Italian with a strong seafood influence.” Trani tells me that seafood, especially sea urchin, is his favorite dish to prepare.

I watch as he prepares a few dishes to try out, which would include a seared tuna appetizer garnished with buttery caviar, a red pepper infused pizza and a handmade ravioli dish, the likes of which my words are not doing justice to. Let’s just say all three dishes were amazing. We finished it off with a cheesecake garnished with espresso caviar. Again, to die for.

As he’s working, I ask if he’s taking what he’s learning at Doma and applying it to J. Trani’s and vice versa.

Doma’s back area houses a full array of wines.

“Yeah, you’re always learning and finding better ways of doing things. That’s the nature of this business,” he says. “One of the biggest things they were telling me when I started here was that I didn’t understand Beverly Hills people.
They’re very picky and they like to change things. And I’m like, I’m coming from a restaurant that’s been established since 1925 and there’s a lot of people that come in and want things that they had back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. So I think I’ll be okay with that.”

Trani splits his time equally between both restaurants, with Doma requiring a bit more attention since it’s still a work in progress. He’s been training the kitchen staff at J. Trani’s for the past eight years to get them to operate just the way he wants. They’re an extension of him, and he’s working hard with Doma’s staff to eventually get them to that point, as well.

Back at J. Trani’s, sitting at a table tucked away at the back of the restaurant, I ask Trani if there will ever be a day when San Pedro loses one of its favorite sons completely to the intoxicating throes of Hollywood.

Trani laughs and says, ” You know, J. Trani’s is going to continue getting better. And I definitely would like to open another place in San Pedro, somewhere along the waterfront, a little more casual. I want to do something where it’s a mixture between the Italian and Asian influences that I bring into the cuisine. Where it’s just an awesome, cool atmosphere, good music going on, you know, high ceilings, a bustling place,” he takes a pause and adds, “and no table cloths.” spt

Killer on the Loose

Eva Tice

Los Angeles Police Detective David Alvarez calls it the kind of crime that keeps him up at night: A tiny woman with the mind of a child viciously stabbed multiple times early Christmas Eve as she walked home from an evening church service in San Pedro.

Eva Tice, 60, who walked with a limp after a hip replacement and captured many hearts at her church with her sheer simplicity, was left to die alone on a stone cold sidewalk on Pacific Avenue. Her broken, bleeding body was discovered between 11th and 12th streets, near the old Ramona’s Bakery and across from June’s Bar, which was crowded that night. All she had with her was her Bible. Eva died a short time later at the hospital. No one has come forward as a witness.

She was attacked at about 7:15 p.m. as she was walking home, just three blocks from her apartment. Few leads have panned out. More than a year later, the case remains “disturbing,” Alvarez says. Not to mention unsolved. In essence, say those who knew Eva, it was like murdering a child.

“We need closure,” says Alvarez, who has been working the case with his partner, Patty Batts. “There are lots of people who loved her. Nobody expects this on Christmas Eve. People tend to be home with their families, even gang members. It’s just bizarre and very weird being attacked like that.”

Detective David Alvarez asks the public for help once again. “We haven’t solved it. He’s still out there and could do it again,” he says.

The church’s congregants remain dismayed, disheartened and haunted that someone would kill a woman who could get excited by childlike things. Her favorite possessions were a duck ornament and a Bible she couldn’t read. She turned down several offers of a ride home after the service, says Becky Aldape, an assistant administrator at the church. Eva was too anxious to race home to draw in some new coloring books and to see her Christmas tree with the duck ornament, which a sponsor had donated to her and her disabled roommate.

“She was such a sweetheart,” says Aldape, who wears a pin that says “Justice for Eva.” “She was so harmless. Why would someone do something like that to her? She was so innocent, so naive. I was angry, real angry.” Aldape turned her anger into making Justice for Eva buttons and worked with other congregants to blanket the neighborhood with posters seeking answers. But the answers didn’t come.

Detectives are frustrated, too, and disturbed over the death of “an innocent.” It’s a case that continues to mystify them. No one has been caught, despite the hundreds of hours Alvarez and his partner have poured into their investigation. Investigators have gone door to door, conducted more than 100 interviews, and received 30 tips. The city of Los Angeles put up a $50,000 reward, all to no avail. At first, detectives believed it was possibly a robbery, but all Eva owned of any value was costume jewelry. The intensity of the attack also is puzzling. If it were a robbery, there was no reason for the excessive brutality. She was stabbed “multiple, multiple times,” the detective says, in particular in the upper right chest.

Investigators are asking the public to come forward with anything they might have seen or heard – even the barest thread of a rumor. Something small might lead to a break in the case. But for now, the question remains: Who would want to kill a 4-foot-11 woman with a mind that varied in maturity from the age of six to a young teen? Eva already had lived a tough life and didn’t deserve this, her friends say. Her parents died in a car crash when she was a child and she was raised by social workers and foster care. She later married a similarly disabled man, who also died.

After that, Eva was given the chance to live in her own apartment with a roommate instead of in a group home or other institutional setting. A social worker looked in on the women at their apartment on 12th Street, police say. But it was at the church where Eva really seemed to live. People there didn’t mind sharing her youthful jubilance despite her age. In fact, they liked it. Today, these friends remain stunned, angry and haunted.

Eva was known for being helpful, says one of them, Joseph Baroni. She came each Saturday to help him with the church’s yard sales – something she loved to do. He recalls that, on that Christmas Eve, he was pulling out of the parking lot when he waved goodbye to her as she left. “She was my friend,” he says, the pain still in his voice. “She loved God. She loved everybody.” She was physically incapable of warding off any attack, Baroni says, and he can’t stand to think of Eva’s shock that “someone was stabbing her to death.”

Because blood would have been splashed on the killer, Baroni believes “someone knows something” and has yet to come forward. Investigators say a man was spotted running away after the attack, but it’s unclear whether he was the killer or was running out of fear.

Because Eva was so innocent, she didn’t understand relationships – sexual or otherwise – or have any idea that anyone would want to hurt her. That kind of trust may have led her to have a pool of street friends. Hope Chapel allowed Eva’s homeless friends to attend the packed memorial service, because she respected them as human beings – a lesson she taught others who knew her giving, caring soul. Once when a man fell and hit his head at the church’s yard sale, people milling about ignored him. Eva came racing back to church officials to ask them to help the bleeding man. They did and were impressed by how much she cared.

The night Eva was killed, congregant Susie Mendez planned to give Eva a ride but had to leave the service early when she was notified that a car had hit her grandson. She was devastated when she heard the news and says she continues to think of Eva every day. “It just makes me sick,” says Mendez, who received a text message about the murder in the middle of the night. “It breaks my heart. That night, she was so full of life and so peppy, like a little kid in a grown woman’s body.”

Eva couldn’t wait to get home that Christmas Eve. She had several gifts under the tree – gifts she would never have the chance to open. spt

Anyone with information should contact investigators Alvarez or Batts from 7:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mon-Fri at (310) 726-7881. On weekends or holidays, contact the Detective Information Desk at 877-LAPD-24-7. Anonymous web-tips can also be left at www.lapdonline.org (click on anonymous web tips).

Untamed Creativity

E.G. Ryan reads one of her children’s books to students at Gulf Street Elementary School in Wilmington (photo by Diana L. Chapman)

With an unusual past as a senior defense analyst for the U.S. government, E.G. Ryan (her pen name) never thought she’d give up her post – a job where she was able to “fly all over the world.”

Even when she learned she was pregnant with twins, Elisabeth Ryan kept working. “I was traveling to Guam, Singapore, Japan, Germany,” explains the nearly six-foot blonde. “I was pregnant and miserable. I never thought I’d be that mom who would stay at home completely. But the day I saw them [the twins], they came six-weeks premature and that changed everything.

The arrival of Nick and Maximillian (Max), now 8, and the later arrival of four-year-old Alexa Rose, all with the last name Ryan-Shirley, sparked her imagination and brought back her old flame she carried for years – writing and drawing.

At the age of six, Ryan wrote and illustrated her first book. Now eight books later with a boatload of ideas percolating, the incessant doodler says she had no idea her children would change her path. They gave her endless, adventurous antics, she says. A bounty of material for her books which she will share during a book signing Sunday, Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Corner Store (1118 West 37th Street).

“They are my books,” Ryan explains. “Without them, I would not have had any children’s stories. Without them, I’d still be working for the government. They are so close to my heart.”

Her wild, bright tales include Spunky the Dog and Foxy the Cat – characters that appear in all her books. The books often feature animals at their home such as frogs and ants and each has a charming tale even parents will greatly appreciate. Most have a gentle message without boxing kids on the head – and gives parents another way to teach children to get out and play, clean up their rooms and enjoy life.

In Spunky the Dog, Spunky gets mad and mean and the more mean he gets, the more green spots show up on his body. He deserts his family and continues on his own mean journey until he realizes he doesn’t like being mean anymore. He returns home to see if his family still wants him.

Ideas often materialize in Ryan’s daily life. Her first book, Moon Balloons, spun from a day when the two-year-old blonde, curly-top boys at the time, clutched balloons their mom had given them. Nick accidentally let go of a balloon and as he watched it float to the sky he began screaming and crying with Max immediately following suit, Ryan says.

To quiet them, she had to think quick. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s going up to help hold up the moon.'” The twins immediately calmed down.

The author’s ambling into the publishing industry hit some rock hard objections. Some told her she shouldn’t write and illustrate her own books. She needed to pick one or the other, and of course, there were no promises of publication. Refusing to give up, the harried and busy mother of three decided to publish the first set on her own and at one of her first events at The Corner Store in San Pedro, Ryan sold 200 books in one day. Foxy the Cat, Spunky the Dog, The Dreamies, Moon Balloons and The Collect-Its jumped out the door. The Good Foodies is available now too along with Spot’s Smile and The Green Thumbs.

“I see [they like the books] from the response I get from the children, from the parents, from the educators,” Ryan explains, who adds she does the work because “I want more niceness in the world. I want kindness.”

What she knew, Ryan says, was what publishers did not: children loved her stories. She began to read in classrooms across the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Los Angeles Unified schools and could tell by the looks on their faces that the children were riveted.

Her untamed illustrations that suck up cloaks of staggering color, likely are one of the biggest attractions to her books. The combustions of blends welded with intense detail immediately snag children’s attention. All her books are drenched in shades such as mustard yellows, streaks of lime greens, and splatters of ruby-reds and teal blues.

Wanting to see for myself if kids really enjoyed her work, Ryan kindly came to Gulf Street Elementary School in Wilmington and read to first graders who stared at the storyteller with big eyes and sat frozen. They didn’t make a peep. The author then moved to a group of 4th graders who – even though were older – passionately loved her stories. I picked this class since I’d been conducting writer’s workshops there and wanted to see what the students thought. They were asked to write about Ryan’s work.

“I like how she writes about her family in her book and her animals,” wrote 4th grader, Johnathan Benavidez. “I couldn’t believe when she said she had frogs. That is very cool. I like how she wrote about her daughter and how her room was dirty.”

Wrote Hannah Marie Martinez, 10: “I liked her books because she uses a lot of color and designs. I liked all her books and I want to read the others. I think she will write a lot more books. I love Spunky.”

The author also has written three novels: SOS 999, Letter 16 and Irish Eyes, two of which will be published by the end of the year.

“I just love it,” Ryan says of writing. “I have a zillion ideas. I have whole stories in my head. My life is like a purse. It doesn’t matter how big it is. It’s always full.” spt

E.G. Ryan’s books can be purchased at Amazon.com, The Corner Store and Rok N Ell Baby Boutique, both in San Pedro, and through www.EGRyan.com.

E.G. Ryan’s book signing is Sunday, Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. at The Corner Store (1118 West 37th Street).

Beauties Below Gaffey: Harbor Farms Part II

Bruhnke’s urban minifarm in full bloom. (photos by Sierra Haase)

Last year, the concept of Harbor Farms was born when Rachel Bruhnke, a high school teacher, purchased a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a huge back yard on 17th Street, and began her dream of having her own little urban mini-farm.

Outside, she planned on installing solar panels and rain gutters. Inside, she planned to incorporate certain things such as a Hot Box to warm food, and to use her basement to store canned food and harvested vegetables. She wanted to ensure she and her daughter lived as environmentally friendly as they possibly could by collecting grey water, saving rainwater and composting. She also hoped to reach out to the community to teach other homeowners how to utilize their land to grow food and to become individually sustainable.

I interviewed Rachel in the July 2011 issue of San Pedro Today, and since then much has happened and been achieved. Always wanting to teach and share, as a class field trip for her Environmental Engineering class she walked her students to her home so they could watch her solar panels be installed. The rain gutters are up and collecting water that she uses to water her vegetation in three different containers: one in the front yard and two in the back. She hired a friend to install a wood and wire fence around the front yard that the plants can cling to as they grow, and she now has tomatoes, herbs and a borage plant that attracts bees.

She never installed her Hot Box, but thinks she might use the space for a solar dehydrator to dry herbs and veggies. She has acquired two coveted chickens that she collects eggs from, and since last July has grown a plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs, including pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, chard, sweet peas, cabbage, thyme, sage, mint, and much more. In April, she showed me her small greenhouse where she was starting tomatoes, cucumber, squash, cantaloupe and lettuce from seed. She now knows how to can, too, thanks to a seasoned Italian neighbor, and is ready to give Tomato Salsa as Christmas gifts. She plans on holding canning workshops in the future.

Fresh eggs from Bruhnke’s two chickens.

Rachel is a busy mom who works fulltime, but still finds time to take care of her plants. When asked if it is a lot of work to up-keep the garden, she says yes, but also says, “Plants take care of themselves. My motto is Trust the Sun, Grow Food.” But that’s not all she does. She is starting an innovative consulting business called Rachel’s Greenhouse, where she teaches resilience, self-reliance and sustainability to people as a sustainability coach. To help prepare, she took a course at the Neighborhood Garden Academy in Los Angeles, the first of its kind, and volunteered to hold the graduation ceremony in her very own backyard.

She also has held several farmers’ markets and hosted garden tours. But here is the big news: Harbor Farms has turned into a group of urban mini-farms, as there are now 12 in all. They are located throughout San Pedro, including 14th and Mesa, 7th street, and at one of Rachel’s former student’s home on 30th street. Together they help residents install urban gardens on their own properties. The only requirement is that they be as public as possible with their garden in order to inspire others.

Graduation Ceremony for the Community Garden Academy in Los Angeles.

Rachel’s love for the environment and her compassion for the community is contagious, to say the least. I now have plans for a front yard garden of my own. spt

New Campus Offers New Problems

(photos by John Mattera)

Students who left behind 75-year-old San Pedro High School to attend its new $80 million annex at Angel’s Gate that officially opened in August say they have faced a myriad of emotions leaving their flagship school.

Introduced with great fanfare at a dedication ceremony last month, the John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus – which was built to relieve overcrowding at San Pedro High – has some students saying they are nervous, scared and delighted all at same time to attend the $80 million facility at the Upper Fort MacArthur Reservation.

The state-of-the-art-campus comes complete with ocean breezes, a competitive swimming pool, a gymnasium and a 780-seat amphitheater. It also comes with a history of raising public ire from some nearby residents, many of whom wrangled so hard against the complex from its inception that they won Los Angeles Unified School District concessions such as no night lighting and an attendance cap of 800 students.

While quiet for awhile, the rumpus resumed immediately once the school opened Aug. 14 when it became clear that one concession school officials made would be broken – the use of Alma Street which skirts the west side of the campus.

Using busses along Alma is a must, explains Sandra Martin-Alvarenga, the school’s magnet coordinator. Each day, two busses do round-trips three times to the flagship campus, a straight shot from Alma to 17th Street. Students at both schools can take advantage of courses or extracurricular activities where they are offered.

The ride is five to eight minutes verses using the Gaffey and 37th Street exit “which is a meandering ride” out of Angel’s Gate and difficult for the buses to navigate, Martin-Alvarenga says. “We’ve got to get these kids to school on time. We are also trying to optimize the campus. We’re not an exclusive school. We want to give as many students to come here we can.”

The use of Alma reignited long simmering tensions between some neighbors and the school. Homeowner Dan Malstrom, one of many residents perturbed with this new twist and fears there’s more to come, argues this just stirs “the residual hate” that Los Angeles Unified provoked to build the campus – an action that upset many in the neighborhood who feared the annex would decline property values, take views and endanger the safety of the neighborhood.

Concerns about the safety of Alma, a somewhat narrow residential street, is another reason the artery shouldn’t be used, they argued. Malstrom has collected 200 signatures from surrounding homeowners against the opening of Alma Street – even for the busses.

“LAUSD made a promise that they would keep that gate closed,” Malstrom contends. He adds he’s a product of the magnet and believes in the school. “They need to keep that promise now so the community can heal. If they don’t keep this promise what’s next?”

He continues, “There’s more to this issue than just the busses that people don’t understand. It’s not just about two busses that pass by six times a day. It is also about other school traffic, such as delivery and commercial trucks as well as other vehicles using the gate when it’s left open. It’s about safety versus convenience.”

Now entering the fray are area residents whose children attend the Olguin campus. They want to drive in at nearby Alma to drop off their children rather than detour around to Gaffey Street – an issue Principal Jeanette Stevens has yet to determine. Stevens oversees both campuses.

The new state-of-the-art San Pedro High School campus annex comes complete with ocean breezes, a competitive swimming pool, a gymnasium and a 780-seat amphitheater.

Having attended numerous past community meetings often punctuated with a drive from residents to prevent the school’s development, Coastal Neighborhood Council president June Burlingame Smith says she’s not sure where the latest issue will head.

“If both sides are willing to listen to one another respectfully, and all options are on the table from the beginning of the dialogue, and if both sides are honest, a solution can and will be found,” Smith says. “If one side says there is no room to negotiate, then it will be usual trench warfare.”

Still up for debate is whether the school should open both the pedestrian gate and allow all vehicles to use the Alma entry. Slugging through that while trying to get a new campus off the ground isn’t easy, Stevens says.

“For the most part, the Olguin campus is up and running smoothly,” Stevens says. “There are issues around the Alma gate. However, most of the small problems have been solved. Students are in their fifth week of school. Classes are settled, sports are in full swing at both campuses and the shuttles are making their routes in a routine manner. Now we are fine tuning to ensure that each campus experiences the luxuries of the other.”

While adults argue about the school operations, students are deciding what they think of their new digs. San Pedro’s marine magnet and police academy are housed at the new annex because they draw students from across Los Angeles – the most equitable way the district could determine who attends.

Twin girls who will finish there as seniors offer opposing perspectives. “I have never been in a school that’s so nice and privileged,” says Jessica Martin, 17. “I definitely feel sorry it’s only for a certain amount of kids and I feel we are being segregated. Some of our magnet kids already have big heads and this is going to make them bigger.”

Natalie Martin, Jessica’s twin sister, thinks differently. While she believes it will be challenging – especially shuttling back and forth for classes between the two schools – she likes change. “I did enjoy San Pedro High, but I welcome the change,” she says. “I like this school. It’s eco-friendly. This school is open and beautiful and colorful. I feel I deserve to be here. I worked hard for it in my classes.”

San Pedro High will continue to act as the mother ship for the annex. While students worry about schedules and shuttling between schools, teacher Jennifer Ritz says with any new school there will be blips in the chart. “Every good system has to go through a period of trial and error,” says Ritz, an advanced placement world history teacher who said she too will miss the flagship campus. “Everything that’s successful takes time.”

Mother Carolyn Johnson, and her daughter, senior Maureen “Mo,” 17, a competitive rower, were pleased when they toured the campus. “Even though there’s inconvenience and transition, I’m excited for her,” Johnson says of her daughter. “It’s new and exciting and it has a new energy.”

Several Police Academy seniors hope the new campus will put them on better footing than their old high school where they often were embarrassed to wear their uniforms and believed other students considered them less than equals.

Cadet Jose Hernandez, 17, says, “At our old school, other kids were like, ‘You are not part of us.’ It was awkward just going in your uniform. It’s just a stereotype that we’re not smart.”

For once, “It’s more like our school,” says Cadet Jeremy J. Garcia, 17, also a senior. “We’ll be able to do a lot more. We’ll have our own field. Our own obstacle course. We’ll even have our own role call room. Before we were just sideliners.” spt

Check My Custom Machines

Ron Binkley photographed with his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac La- Salle, 2-door Opera Coupe. (photo by Valerie Electra Smith-Griffin)

The layers in-between the lip-smacking cake that’s our town are its people, such as Pedro-blooded Ron Binkley, a non-stop cars and electronics tinker who once played a mean electric keyboard and danced the night away with an alluring woman known only as Midnight at the now vanished Canetti’s Restaurant.

It’s a typical gray mist-laden morning, and Binkley replaces the baritone, two-tone foghorn once known as “Moaning Maggie” with the commanding startup of his most reliable 1971 Ford Torino Station Wagon, its wheels whirling off to San Pedro’s Sacred Grounds, his personal haunt for his ritualistic cup of high octane. It’s a happening destination where he celebrates the day with relished camaraderie consisting of long-time friends and his kids who enjoy sharing the day with Pappy. After toasting the sunrise with Columbian and cream, he returns to his home that’s chockfull of cars, a mish-mash of machinery and a plethora of photographic memories spread across a thick wooden table that is laden not with salt and pepper shakers, placemats and artificial fruit, but hundreds of faded Kodacolor, sepia-tone and grainy black and whites of cars, machinery, wars past and family, collaged and creating a watercolor wash that are the festive colors of Binkley, whose lead foot is glued on the accelerator pedal of life; his fervor for all things cars, and the restoration of engines and drive trains ever-smoldering.

The Gilbert Electric Train Set, Slinky, or that extra special toy packaged with a barrage of sexual curiosity questions, the Doctor and Nurses Kit, magnetized many kids of the 1940s but not necessarily so for our mechanical-minded Binkley. Reflecting on his mother’s memory, Binkley says, “In 1940, at the age of three, I found car parts in an alley and, using a board, rolled them up into my crib.” For Binkley, his fascination with vehicles and machinery visibly evolved from a curious childhood habit into a lifelong emotional, and some might add, spiritual attachment.

In his early teens, Binkley worked as an usher at the Warner Grand Theatre where he played piano for the 1950 movie premier, South Sea Sinner, which also starred Liberace. Other jobs included Howard Cross Auto Repair and 7th Street Garage. In 1959, his strong interests in electronics and aerospace were further stimulated at Ryan Aeronautical Company, best known for building Charles Lindberg’s “Spirit of St. Louis” for his illustrious 1927 transatlantic flight. Always one that harbored a now realized yearning to witness man’s flight to the moon and beyond, he worked on the Doppler Radar for the Lunar Lander until he was drafted into the army, then returned to Ryan and onto Vickers Aerospace as an instrumentation technician on the Gemini Space Capsule. He retired in 1998 as foreman of the Radar and Antenna Restoration Division in the Electronics Weapons Facility at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard.

Binkley’s cars read like classic commercials from Cal Worthington and his fantasy dog Spot, but unlike Worthington, he won’t stand on his head, and don’t expect to see a Smart Car, which to Binkley, is an abomination of the greatest kind. As we peruse his aisles we see his 1968 Buick Special complete with a Buick 350 V-8. Interested in a 1931 Model A, or perhaps a Ford 1955 F100 Truck? The head-turning 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible that was advertised last week flew off the lot, but that snazzy 1938 Cadillac 75 series Coupe that was one of forty-two cars ever built, and survived the London Blitz, is waiting for you to drive it away, as is the 1964 1/2 Mustang and the 1940 Cadillac ’62 series with a L-Head V-8.

“My cars must have noise, that’s why I install duel exhaust and headers on all of them. It’s like beautiful music to my ears,” says Binkley.

Perhaps a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster is more to your liking, or a head-turning 1969 purple Cadillac El Dorado with a no-nonsense 472 engine. Yearning to nourish your inner diva? Try an eye-popping 1961 Chevrolet Impala Convertible, it’s the one Binkley used to chauffeur former Councilwoman Janice Hahn in the San Pedro Christmas parades, and it comes complete with a 348 V-8 engine and 4-barrel carburetor. Still perplexed as to what honks your horn? Try a 1938 Cadillac La Salle Opera Coupe, complete with a 1942 military tank engine, or its earlier LaSalle cousin from 1937. If you crave a 1936 Ford 4-door sedan with the 1949 Olds V-8 and 1937 LaSalle transmission, sorry pal, that one flew off the lot as fast as its scorching wheels could go.

In addition to the artful cars just mentioned, Binkley is also the proud owner of two, 700 pounds each, solid stainless steel, early model nuclear submarine periscope foundations, complete with floor plates that display 360 degree markings. Perhaps they’ll eventually come in handy as lawn statues. Seriously, pink flamingos are so yesterday.

Binkley reflects on his prize car. “Without hesitation, one of my favorites was the one I purchased from Cecil Thomas and Sons on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro. A 1936 Ford 4-door sedan for $49.” Being the modification surgeon that he is, he rebuilt the engine with an Oldsmobile overhead valve V-8, a rear-end from a 1941 Cadillac LaSalle transmission, duel 4-barrel carburetors and a drive shaft from a 1932 Cadillac V-12. The track of Lions Drag Strip (1955-1972) in the Wilmington district, adjacent to Long Beach, whose slogan was “Drive the Highways, Race at Lions”, paved the way for the revamped car. “My lifelong friends, Billy Stecker, the late Jack Stecker, Frank Iacono and Tom Taros are 1940s and 1950s drag racing world icons and without Taros, all the hot rodders wouldn’t have a place to go.”

Lions Drag Strip is now a ghostly image in Binkley’s rearview mirror and his Canetti’s nights are kept alive in lively remembrances at Sacred Grounds with friends who frequently slip in a friendly barb of, “Can’t you find another subject besides cars to talk about?” Ignoring the question, he downs his final sip of Columbian and cream, eager to make a mad dash home and determined to breathe new life into his latest project, a canary-yellow 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, 2-door Opera Coupe. Care for a ride anyone? Take Binkley’s word for it, once you hear the engine roar and caress that velvety burgundy mohair interior, you haven’t lived! spt

BREAKING: Taste in San Pedro RESCHEDULED

The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce just released a statement regarding the cancellation of this year’s Taste in San Pedro.

(SAN PEDRO, CA) Inspired by the community response to the successful Swingin’ Salute in Downtown on July 6th, and the addition of new attractions to the LA Waterfront, the Board and Staff are eager to regroup and redefine the Taste in San Pedro to meet the needs of the community, our vendors, and the financial needs of the Chamber.

In light of this regrouping and after careful consideration, the Board of Directors of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce has made a decision to reschedule this year’s Taste in San Pedro, that was originally scheduled for August 3rd and 4th. Many factors contributed to this decision most notable were financial constraints resulting from the current economic climate, and the inability to host the event on Sunday this year at the Ports O’ Call location.

The Chamber thanks their previous Taste supporters and invites everyone to be on the alert for news of the New Taste in San Pedro.

The rescheduled date is yet to be determined.