It wasn’t supposed to last this long.
“I was hoping the City of Los Angeles would take the hint and it would become something that they did,” says Steve Kleinjan, founder of Clean San Pedro, Inc. “Well, it’s been twenty years now, I guess they haven’t taken the hint.”
That “hint” was to simply have a city-run local cleaning and maintenance crew that would take care of San Pedro’s streets and sidewalks on a regular basis, removing graffiti, weeds, and trash to keep the town presentable. Unfortunately, due to whatever myriad of excuses by the City of L.A., no such program was ever created. Instead, the city launched the MyLA311 mobile app, which is a reactive approach that still falls short on some features.
“I would go around to other cities and check out their maintenance trucks and I’ll start talking to the workers,” says Kleinjan, 66, a lifelong San Pedro resident. “I look at what tools they carry and what they’re doing. You see these types of local maintenance crews in really nice cities. They have tools to remove weeds, or paint curbs, or take stickers off of signs, all the little things you need in order to maintain cleanliness.”
Kleinjan, armed with that knowledge, went the do-it-yourself route and formed Clean San Pedro, Inc., in 1999, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the environment and quality of life in San Pedro.
Currently, the nonprofit provides a “two-pronged approach” towards revitalizing the port town. First is a large volunteer effort, usually once a quarter, to assist in community clean-ups. Second is the follow-up effort provided on a regular basis by the Clean San Pedro staff.
Regular maintenance is the hardest – yet most important – part of the process and was the catalyst for the creation of the nonprofit in the first place.
In 1998, a group of San Pedro residents organized a clean-up along Pacific Avenue for the annual holiday parade. Impressed with their results, monthly clean-ups were scheduled. Unfortunately, days after these clean-ups, the streets would revert back to their unkempt condition. It was obvious Pacific Avenue would continue this cycle unless regularly scheduled maintenance occurred.
“One major issue I have with the City is their lack of focus on Pacific Avenue,” explains Kleinjan. “I go to a city like Lomita, where nearly every curb is perfect. Why is that? It’s because when they see something that needs fixing, they act on it.”
He continues, “In San Pedro, if you go up O’Farrell Street between Pacific and Harbor, there are no curbs there. They’ve disappeared. It’s been more than 100 years and there has been no repair work. And in the 20 years I’ve been running Clean San Pedro, there has been no repair work on Pacific Avenue done by the City. They should at least be able to do some measurable amount. The neighborhood councils should be holding the City’s feet to the fire on this issue, in my opinion.”
KEEPING THINGS RUNNING
Like any nonprofit, fundraising is essential. Fortunately for our port town, Clean San Pedro’s fundraising efforts have all been under the guise of community fun and entertainment.
In the days before the City of L.A. squashed waiving permits, Clean San Pedro would put on the annual L.A. Wood car show and concert that always brought tons of people to Ports O’ Call Village. In more recent years, the nonprofit has played host to fundraisers like the Thirst of San Pedro, the annual Hot Pedro Nites Cruise down Pacific Avenue, Doo Wop show and reunion party.
“Besides cleaning up the community, we’ve sure done a good job of entertaining it, as well,” says Kleinjan.
In 2014, San Pedro received a $250,000 state grant to create a greening plan for the port town. Clean San Pedro was enlisted as a subcontractor for the L.A. Conservation Corps. The grant was awarded in an effort to create green “nodes,” pocket parks, trails and more trees and landscaping throughout the port community. (Information on the San Pedro Urban Greening Implementation plan can be found at agreensanpedro.com.)
From the beginning, the nonprofit has always had the support of the community’s local leaders, as well. “Janice Hahn has been a huge supporter. She always supported all our events, waiving fees and donating funds when she could,” says Kleinjan. “The Port of L.A. has also been a great supporter of us.”
The creation of the Business Improvement District (PBID) in Downtown San Pedro has created a stable funding source, but it only helps cover the area within PBID’s boundaries. It takes more manpower, equipment and funding to help maintain the rest of the Pacific Corridor and beyond.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
For 35-year-old Casey J. Warren, Clean San Pedro’s manager of operations, the daily challenge of keeping the town clean can be a frustrating yet rewarding experience.
“It takes patience and thick skin to do this job daily,” he says. “You’ll work so hard to make a blighted area of town look its best only to find it thrashed again the following morning. I’ve learned over the years to not take anything personally; to do the best you can with what’s in front of you, and to remind yourself that even on days where you don’t feel like you’ve made a difference, know that you have.”
For employee Robby Lorenzi, 26, it’s about giving back to his hometown. “I love being able to give back to the town I was born and raised in,” he says.
The nonprofit currently has five paid employees, all born and raised in San Pedro. “It just seems to work that way,” says Kleinjan. Through the years, he’s employed two Vietnam vets, and has even employed three homeless people, eventually getting each of them off the streets. “We put them to work,” he says. “I’d subtract their rent from their pay, we’d get them a little apartment, and give them enough for spending money in order to keep a roof over their head and keep them from misusing their money. We’ve supported three homeless people so far that are now officially off the streets and leading better lives.”
Looking ahead, Kleinjan says the biggest challenge for him is to keep the organization going without him. “What I would prefer is to see the City step up to the plate,” he says. “What we do isn’t that difficult. It’s just a matter of being proactive rather than reactive. Eventually, I’d like us to partner with a much bigger nonprofit, like the L.A. Conservation Corps.”
He continues, “[Former L.A. City Councilman] Rudy Svorinich once told me that everyone comes up with a good idea, but you got to hang in there in order to make it happen. After 20 years, I guess I’ve hung in there.”
For more information on Clean San Pedro, Inc., visit cleansanpedro.org.