San Pedro: Constantly Evolving, Yet Grounded in History

“Like the Pacific Ocean lapping at its shores, the community of San Pedro is ever-changing… the only constant is that its culture, economy and environment are, as always, tied to its port.” Those were the opening words of an article on San Pedro’s past and future that I wrote a few years back for a Chamber of Commerce publication. On the occasion of San Pedro’s 125th anniversary, it seems appropriate to revisit some of what I learned while researching that article.

Every community evolves based on changes in economic trends, demographics and technological developments. San Pedro is not unique in that respect. However, we are certainly unique in how those factors, in combination with our geographic location, have shaped the community that San Pedro is today and will become in the future.

Historically, our economy has evolved through multiple stages: ranching, trading in hides and lumber, military activities, fishing, canning, shipbuilding, and international trade. All have had their impact on the community, and each one, to a greater or lesser extent, has been dependent on the fact that we are located adjacent to one of the world’s great ports.

Each economic era brought new demographic elements to the community. Originally populated by Spanish and Mexican ranching families, the advent of military activities and large fishing and shipbuilding industries brought new immigrants from around the country and around the world. Today, San Pedro is truly an ethnic melting pot with many residents tracing their heritage to Spanish, Mexican, Italian, Slavic, Japanese, Norwegian Swedish and other immigrants. The blend of traditions, ideas and cultures that derives from that mix has given San Pedro a flavor all its own, and an energy and open-mindedness that’s seldom found in more homogenous communities.

Technological change has also had a major effect on San Pedro. Ships have gone from sail, to steam, to diesel power, and have grown from small schooners to megaships. That has enabled the pace of international trade and activity at our port to increase exponentially and, with the advent of containerization, automation has made it possible to handle enormous volumes of cargo. The downside has been that automation brought with it the negative effects of fewer local jobs and the added pollution produced by diesel-powered ships, trains, trucks and cargo handling equipment.

Looking to the future, San Pedro will continue to evolve economically, environmentally and socially. To become sustainable in all three areas will require the creation of a new, well-paid local job base and the elimination of the negative environmental effects produced by the large industrial port. Knowing that, port management and the community have come together on several sustainability initiatives primarily centered on diversification of port-related activity.

Current and future community development plans include a bridge-to-breakwater waterfront promenade and Red Car route, the USS Iowa, a new downtown harbor and plaza, a completely redeveloped Ports O’ Call Village, Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles and AltaSea (a world-class marine research institute). These waterfront venues are designed to create new jobs based on tourism, arts and culture, recreation, academics and marine research. PortTechLA, a public/private technology center and business incubator founded by the San Pedro business community in cooperation with the City and Port of Los Angeles, will develop and grow new technical, manufacturing and export jobs by attracting companies with technologies that help port tenants meet challenges with the environment, clean energy, logistics and homeland security.

This is a very dynamic and exciting time for our community. However, as our economy grows, we add new community assets, and become more environmentally sustainable, one thing is sure to remain constant… that unique sense of community that has marked our entire history. People make a community. And there is no better community in which to live, work and play than San Pedro. spt

Herb Zimmer owns PriorityOne Printing in downtown.

Happy 125th Birthday, San Pedro!

So I know, I’m still on probation.

I have lived in San Pedro for twenty-two years, and raised three adult children here – but next to so many of my friends and neighbors who have generations of history in San Pedro, I know I still count as a newcomer.

But for me, San Pedro is truly home.

When I was little, my father used to bring my brother and I down to Pedro to ride the old ferry to Terminal Island and back, years before the bridge was built, and to have dinner at Olsen’s. During the war, my father had served as a pilot bringing in the ships to our harbor and he loved bringing us back to this historic and vibrant port community.

I knew this was the place I wanted to raise my children. It is the town where my son, Mark, attended middle school at Dodson, where he played in Eastview Little League, and where he grew up to teach at POLA High School.

I take great pride in my adoptive hometown and it is an honor to wish San Pedro a happy 125th birthday and celebrate with all San Pedrans.

Our town is the picture of diversity. It is home to Croatian, Italian, and Mexican communities going back generations. From Mary Star of the Sea, to Temple Beth El, to St. Peter’s Presbyterian, this is a town that has embraced all faiths. It is a town of proud traditions that date back decades and bring us all closer in every passing year. Even I put away my embarrassment and don a swimsuit every January 1st for the annual Polar Bear Swim at Cabrillo Beach.

I love the San Pedro identity: small town feel, big city pride.

And I could not be prouder of the privilege I have had representing San Pedro for the last decade.

I was proud to serve alongside my brother in the City Council during his time as Mayor of Los Angeles. He was the first mayor to live in San Pedro and together we worked to make sure that the Los Angeles city government worked for our town that had long been underserved. We started the overdue project to revitalize the waterfront and breathe life into our tourism industry. We encouraged investment in downtown San Pedro and the development of new lofts and locally owned businesses. We understood the importance of the port to our local economy and worked to ensure the port remained the source of good paying jobs but didn’t come at the expense of the health of our children.

Now, in Congress, I am continuing the work that I started. I founded the bipartisan Congressional PORTS Caucus that brought the conversation about ports to the forefront and is now 82 members strong. I am fighting to ensure that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach get the funding they need and deserve to stay globally competitive and secure. My own son, Danny, is a casual longshoreman: the future of the port is the future of my family. (As long as he has a good job, maybe he won’t move back home!)

Every week, when I leave my house in the early morning darkness and roll my suitcase out to my car to go fly to DC, I turn and look out over the port, over the Vincent Thomas Bridge, over the homes of my friends and neighbors. I take a deep breath of this community, so I can bring San Pedro with me to the nation’s capital. And there, in the first blush of dawn, I start to count down the hours till I am back with you again. spt