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.