Redeveloping Ports O’ Call

I know it sounds cliché, but where did the year go? As I reset my clock it seems like just yesterday I was turning it forward and getting ready for summer. Now the holidays are in full swing and before you know it will be summer again.

We have much to be thankful for during this holiday season in San Pedro and I would need more than just this column to describe all that is good with our town. It’s rare to find such a place like San Pedro with love and pride that goes well beyond words; it’s an emotion that flows through our veins.

On many occasions, I get asked about three particular subjects that spur emotion: Ports O’ Call, Ponte Vista and the Rancho San Pedro public housing projects. The future of the first two appears to have a tangible outcome whereas the third is uncertain. Ponte Vista with its new plans for a smaller foot print and adjusted turn lanes to mitigate traffic on Western may yield support from the original massive planned development once proposed, and the process held by the Port of Los Angeles to solicit a developer for much needed change at Port’s O’ Call is well underway.

Ports O’ Call development is the moment San Pedro has been waiting for and by the end of this year eight prospective developers will be whittled down to one to determine its future. Today, although the parking lots are packed every weekend at Ports O’ Call, it is rare that you will find many locals there unless a wedding or baby shower is being held. Since the taking down of the space needle to the closure of many of the small businesses that truly made Port’s O’ Call the place to be back in the 60s and 70s, the very mention of it is always followed with fond memories and a cautious optimism about its future. As I see it, it’s time to create a new Port’s O’ Call that will not only provide new memories for our generation, but for our children and grandchildren’s generation, as well. So the real question is what will make locals and tourists alike want to go to Ports O’ Call on any given day of the week?

A new Port’s O’ Call must reflect who we are locally and where we have come from internationally. It must incorporate ideas from successful developments that attract us throughout the year such as L.A. Live, The Grove, Third Street Promenade and The Block, to name a few. I believe anchor establishments such as a Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, BJ’s and Starbucks tied in with our historic Fish Market, Ports O’ Call Restaurant, Acapulco Restaurant and other successful establishments that have kept Ports O’ Call alive is the recipe for success. An added attraction like a concert hall should be considered as well as a convention center. Today, many of our local non-profits have to hold their annual fundraisers in Manhattan Beach, Torrance and Long Beach because San Pedro does not have a facility that can accommodate over 500 guests. A convention center that can accommodate such events must be part of the plan. In a nutshell, Port’s O’ Call must have the very amenities we seek in other cities in order to draw locals and tourists everyday of the week.

We must continue the momentum of moving our waterfront and town forward. We have seen the recent arrival of the USS Iowa and Crafted, Marymount College establishing roots on 6th street, downtown San Pedro being infused with new events and street lighting by the PBID, a marine research center in the works for City Dock #1, new schools have been built and much more is on the horizon. San Pedro is truly on the rise.

Our time has come to transition Port’s O’ Call into something that we can once again be proud of and transform it into an international attraction once again. The development of Ports O’ Call is the true catalyst that will breathe real life into our waterfront development efforts for generations to come. 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

2012: A Year in Review (December 2012 Cover Story)

Photo by John Mattera

It was a year of incredible change and transformation for San Pedro.

A year of gains, losses and continued tradition. The waters brought us a new resident, a home for artisans was built, and a new councilman was chosen to lead us. We faced the challenge of the land sliding beneath us, out of control skateboarders, and the constant threat of crime. We saw a lighthouse and a church reborn, milestones surpassed, and parking meters meeting their maker. Even through the good and the bad, when 2013 rolls around, history will look back on 2012 as the year it all started coming together for San Pedro.

The previous year did not end well. We were still reeling from the Paseo del Mar landslide that happened in November 2011. At the time, no one had any answers as to why the land toppled into the sea and we were still getting used to having a neighborhood divided by the ocean cliffs. And then things got worse.

Eva Tice

San Pedrans were stunned and saddened by the killing of Eva Tice, a 60-year-old mentally disabled woman who was stabbed walking home on Pacific Ave. from a Christmas Eve church service. Police would later announce a $50,000 reward for information leading to her killer, who fled the scene and still has yet to be found.

Photo by John Mattera

The good news arrived, when, after months of campaigning and a special run-off election against Assemblyman Warren Furutani, former LAPD Harbor Division Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino was sworn in as councilman of the city’s 15th District on January 31, replacing Janice Hahn, who won a seat on Congress the previous year.

Residents also freaked out for a bit when false rumors of a serial killer in the Harbor Area spread on Facebook. It turned out to be the end result of a game of telephone after a young woman was found slain in Wilmington.

Later in January, talks began about a proposed a skatepark in Peck Park. After months of planning, the project got a monetary boost from the Tony Hawk Foundation in October. Construction bids should go out this month. Supporters hope the project will be completed before overpass construction will temporarily close the existing Channel Street Skatepark later next year.

Speaking of skating, the increasingly familiar sight of packs of un-helmeted skaters “bombing” hills at high speeds in traffic around town became a forefront issue this year when Caleb Daniel Simpson, a 15-year-old from Palmdale, became the second teen to die engaging in the activity in San Pedro. A few months earlier, 14-year-old Michael Borojevich died after he crashed skating near 25th St. and Western Ave. The deaths gained widespread media attention and prompted officials to eventually ban bombing throughout the city in August.

In February, the Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities announced its new home at the Warner Grand Theatre. In November, the theatre company announced an indefinite suspension, pulling out of the Warner Grand and leaving existing subscribers in the dark.

Photo courtesy of Boys & Girls Club

Students at San Pedro High School and the Boys & Girls Club got a visit from ballerina and alumnus Misty Copeland, a soloist in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland returned to her hometown in February to share her experiences getting her start at the Boys & Girls Club and rising to the top of the ballet world, where she is ABT’s first African-American female soloist in decades.

After months of restoration work, St. Peter’s Church, San Pedro’s oldest place of worship, reopened its doors on Easter Sunday at its new home at Green Hills Memorial Park. Originally built in 1884, the church was moved to Green Hills in 2011, where it underwent badly needed repairs.

A much-improved Angels Gate Lighthouse was unveiled in April after a six-month restoration project spearheaded by the Cabrillo Beach Boosters, who fixed the lighthouse’s rusting exterior. Steel reinforcements, a new paint job and zinc coating were just some of the repairs made to help protect the lighthouse from erosion for another 25 years. The Boosters also hope to restore the crumbling interior in time for the lighthouse’s centennial next year.

Point Fermin Lighthouse also made headlines this year when in May, the federal government declared it to be surplus property, basically putting it up for grabs for new ownership. A handful of groups and nonprofits have applied, including the L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society. We’re still waiting to see who will be chosen to run one of San Pedro’s iconic landmarks.

Arguably, the biggest story of the year for San Pedro was May’s arrival of the historic battleship USS Iowa in the Port of Los Angeles. Only two years ago, the Port had rejected a proposal to berth the ship as a floating museum and tourist attraction. Robert Kent, who founded the nonprofit that spearheaded the effort, got the community to rally around the project, eventually getting the Port to come around. With funding in place and the Port’s blessing, the Pacific Battleship Center made a bid for the ship, and was later granted it by the Navy. Repairs were made in Northern California before the ship was towed to Los Angeles.

On June 9, the ship made its final journey down the main channel to its permanent berth as thousands of spectators on shore lined Harbor Blvd. The ship hosted a Veteran’s reunion and opened for public tours in July.

On the heels of the Iowa’s arrival, the Historic Waterfront Business Improvement District (commonly known as the PBID) put on a Swingin’ Salute Block Party in downtown San Pedro. Residents decked out in their 1940’s best came out for free swing music and dance lessons under new decorative lights crisscrossing over 6th St. The San Pedro Bay Historical Society also put together a series of historical window exhibits displayed in shops downtown.

Also in June, nonprofit Harbor Interfaith Services opened a new, three-story facility on 9th Street, where it relocated its headquarters and expanded services supporting struggling families.

Seven months after a 600-ft. stretch of Paseo del Mar slid into the ocean after a rainstorm, the City released a geotechnical report assessing the causes of the landslide and future of the site. Both natural and manmade factors like irrigation and wave erosion played a role in the slide, but no further ground movement was detected. The City later secured funds to stabilize and grade the area and install drains. Whether or not the road will be re-routed is to be determined with the input of a new 50-member community advisory committee appointed by Councilman Buscaino.

Photo by John Mattera

Another major story of the year happened in late June, when the first of two WWII-era warehouses near 22nd Street Park re-opened as Crafted, an indoor craft marketplace dreamt up by the same developer as Santa Monica’s successful Bergamot Station. With a 35-year lease, dozens of vendors and far-reaching media coverage, Crafted has already proven to be a one-of-a-kind regional draw. After gripes about its $5 parking fee, Crafted gave away free one-year parking passes to local residents and later offered free parking on Fridays.

After planning this year’s Taste in San Pedro festival for Ports O’ Call Village, the Chamber of Commerce announced its cancellation in July. It would be the first summer without one in more than a decade. The Taste wasn’t the only foodie event cancelled this year. Weeks later, organizers of the Ćevapčići Festival announced its cancellation due to lack of funds. It was especially a bummer since the Balkan sausage fest had some big press lined up. The Port’s annual Lobster Festival went on as usual, drawing thousands of sea foodies to the waterfront.

In early August, an 18-year-old former Mary Star of the Sea High School running back confessed to stealing cash registers from several businesses on Western Ave and Gaffey St. He ran into a slight problem when his dad recognized him on the surveillance video that made the media rounds and convinced his son to turn himself in.

More than 600 parking meters were axed in downtown San Pedro and Wilmington this summer, a move by Councilman Buscaino’s office after a study concluded they did more harm than good. Rates on remaining meters also went down. Business owners had long complained that the overabundance of meters and rate hikes discouraged consumers from shopping downtown. The issue was a talking point in the special election to replace former Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

This year’s Navy Days went much smoother than last, drawing 5,000 people over the course of two days (2011’s event was longer and larger, causing a traffic nightmare and long lines). Tour goers got an inside look at the USS Wayne E. Meyer destroyer and the Coast Guard Cutter George Cobb.

The same weekend, reports came pouring in of a man spotted jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge shortly after 12:30 p.m. on August 19. A few hours later, Port police announced they had recovered the body of Top Gun director Tony Scott, whose car was found on top of the bridge with a note left inside. His suicide drew national media attention. A coroner’s report later confirmed that contrary to reports, he was not battling cancer at the time of his death.

Photo by John Mattera

Thousands of young San Pedrans went back to school weeks earlier than usual this year, part of an early start schedule adopted by the L.A. Unified School District that’ll have them out for summer in early June (they were originally slated to get out by the end of May, but Prop. 30 changed that). This was also the first year for the new John M. and Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, an environmentally innovative annex campus built to relieve overcrowding at SPHS. Shortly after school started, there was a bit of a traffic controversy in the surrounding neighborhood.

Also in August, San Pedro native and LAPD Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon announced his retirement after 34 years on the force. A few months later, he took a new job as Chief of Airport Police at LAX.

Seventeen-year-old Monica Bender, a senior at Mary Star of the Sea High School, made headlines when she swam the 20-mile Catalina Channel the last week of August.

After a string of residential burglaries over the summer had residents on edge, eight new police officers were assigned to LAPD Harbor Division to help curb property crime. Police eventually arrested an 18-year-old San Pedro man linked to one of the crime scenes.

Astronaut and first-mom-in-space Anna Fisher returned to her hometown in September for the fundraiser opening of Harbor Day Preschool. She also took time to speak with students at several high schools. In other San Pedro space news, the ashes of Allyson Diana Genest, an avid Star Trek fan from San Pedro who died in 1999, were sent to outer space with Space X’s Dragon launch in May. It was her dying wish.

Who could forget the refinery burn-off freakout on September 15? When a power outage set off a controlled burn-off at the ConocoPhillips Refinery in Wilmington, shooting flames and smoke high into the air, many residents wondered if there was a raging blaze to worry about. Some later filed complaints about pollution emitted during the burn-off.

On a related note, the Rancho LPG facility on North Gaffey Street – those two big gas tanks across from the Home Depot – got in trouble with air quality officials after neighboring residents reported smelling what turned out to be a gas leak in October. The facility has been subject to criticism and protest from neighboring residents for decades. Councilman Buscaino held a hearing addressing their concerns earlier this year.

Also in October, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor and Point Fermin Elementary School celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 75 and 100, respectively.

On Columbus Day, eight new inductees were honored at the annual San Pedro Sportswalk to the Waterfront. Later that the day, hundreds gathered outside the Italian-American Club for the councilman’s first Buscaino Block Party and Spaghetti Dinner.

After the Port put out a call over the summer for commercial developers to fix up Ports O’ Call Village, it announced in October that eight had taken interest. A decision on a developer should arrive early next year.

The San Pedro International Film Festival made its debut in October, screening dozens of films and hosting workshops.

On October 10, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Betsy Cheek, announced her resignation after not having her contract renewed by the Chamber Board of Directors. The Chamber will begin the search for a new president/CEO early next year.

Many San Pedrans were bummed when organizers of the Railroad Revival Tour announced its cancellation weeks before it was set to roll through town (2011’s sold-out Mumford and Sons performance drew thousands to the waterfront). Willie Nelson, Band of Horses, Jamey Johnson, and John Reilly and Friends were set to perform at Ports O’ Call Village on October 27. Band of Horses still wanted to play however, putting on a show at the Warner Grand Theatre the same night instead.

Congresswoman Janice Hahn defeated Congresswoman Laura Richardson in early November in the race to represent California’s newly drawn 44th Congressional District.

Yet another version of the proposed housing development for the long-abandoned Navy housing property along Western Ave. surfaced in early November. The new Ponte Vista is more scaled back than previous incarnations and includes additional lanes to address traffic concerns that have shot down the project in the past.

This month, of course, marks two San Pedro holiday traditions, the 32nd Annual Spirit of San Pedro Christmas Parade, and the 50th L.A. Harbor Holiday Afloat Parade.

We know we missed a few items of note from the past year, but we couldn’t fit everything in. Needless to say, it’s been a year of intense change and challenges. Let’s hope 2013 is just as exciting and full of positive, forward thinking progress as we continue to push San Pedro towards a more prosperous future.

They Shall Be Missed

Sadly, we also lost a number of notable San Pedrans this year. Here’s a list of noteworthy deaths:

Steve Saggiani, longshoreman
Rudy Svorinich Sr., community leader and father of former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
“Cheerful” Al Kaye, owner, Union War Surplus
Dr. H. Michael Weitzman, optometrist and philanthropist
Tom Phillips, painter of iconic San Pedro scenes and landscapes
Joseph M. Mardesich III, entrepreneur
Stancil Jones, longtime fire captain
Joe Caccavalla, Tri-Art Festival founder
Ray Patricio, community leader and nature preservationist
Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, dermatologist
Tony Perkov, owner, Ante’s Restaurant
Geoff Agisim, sea chantey singer
John Greenwood, school board member, community leader
Cindy Rutherford, owner, Century Motorcycles
(apologies to those we may have omitted by accident)