Great Streets = Great Community

If we are going to have a conversation about the impact arts can have on a community, we must mention the current talk of the town, the Cirque du Soleil show Totem, which opened in San Pedro last month and will run until Nov. 10.

I took my family to see the show several days after it opened and was pleasantly surprised, not only by the quality of the show and its performers, but by the sense of community that I experienced while enjoying the evening out with my family in San Pedro.

While the show will bring approximately 50,000 people to San Pedro during its month-long run, helping our local economy and our local businesses, the experience of being out in San Pedro at a high-end professional entertainment event as we ran into familiar face after familiar face is something that I have not felt since my parents took me to Ports O’ Call when I was a kid. On a warm summer-like night out we greeted each other before the show, raved about it during the intermission and seemingly floated to our cars after, waving goodnight to each other. It was a very special evening in every way.

The fact that Cirque du Soleil chose San Pedro as its Los Angeles location for Totem, coupled with the fact that the redevelopment of Ports O’ Call Village will start in just over a year, where we will see new retail, dining and entertainment opportunities, is evidence enough that San Pedro is returning to its roots of being a social community that has a lot to offer to its residents and its visitors.

The reception room at the top of Los Angeles City Hall, called the Tom Bradley Room, has an inscription that reads: “The City Came into Being To Preserve Life, It Exists for the Good Life,” a quote from Aristotle. Even though we live in a suburb of the great city of Los Angeles, we are very much part of the fabric of it and participate in the evolution of it.

We live in an urban age. For the first time in history, most people live in cities and the UN estimates that over the next 40 years, the population is going to double on the planet. While we focus on the basics that preserve life – police & fire, maintaining streets and ensuring sanitation – it is equally important that we feed the soul of the city through arts and entertainment to ensure our residents can participate in “the good life.”

The city can support our new and exploding arts community by ensuring that the public environment in our arts district is thriving by being functional and safe. We must ensure there is ample parking, lighting and police patrol. We must work to create more public space that allows for the incubation of even more art, community and entertainment. Our First Thursday Art Walk is an ideal example of this.

A couple weeks ago, Mayor Garcetti issued his first executive directive, launching the Great Streets Initiative. “A great neighborhood needs a great street as its backbone, and, as city leaders, we need the backbone to make the bold changes necessary to build great streets,” said Mayor Garcetti.

The directive establishes a working group comprised of several City departments and headed by Doane Liu, Deputy Mayor of City Services (as well as a longtime San Pedro resident and my former Chief of Staff). The group is tasked with identifying 40 potential “great streets,” and proposing potential improvements – such as lighting, street furniture and landscaping – with the overall goal of increasing economic activity, improving access and mobility, enhancing neighborhood character, increasing community engagement, improving environmental resilience and making safer and more secure communities.

Great streets make for great community. San Pedro has outgrown the more simple utilitarian needs of our parents and their parents and now we must work towards fulfilling our cultural needs. As much as I was excited about the entire evening surrounding the Cirque du Soleil show, I am even more excited that we are closing in on a future for our community that makes my wonderful experience at the show a common experience for all of us.

I commend Cirque du Soleil for their brilliance of bringing their production to San Pedro, but ask all of you to recognize that they did it because it had value to them. San Pedro has lots of value and many of us will be very blessed to experience it on a whole new level very soon. spt

The Eighth Terminal

Last month, I had the honor of being appointed a Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner by Mayor Eric Garcetti and confirmed by the L.A. City Council. The purpose of the Harbor Commission is to oversea the management and operation of the Port of Los Angeles. The confirmation hearing actually took place on my birthday and was a great way to start off what turned out to be an extraordinary day and awesome experience for family, my friends and me.

Becoming a Harbor Commissioner provides me the opportunity to do what I love and that is representing San Pedro on an even broader scale. For those who have followed my columns over the past three years you have become accustomed to my passion for this town and where I believe we need to focus in order to secure our economic future for generations to come.

When my grandfather Domenic Costa came here in 1920, and my father in 1956, they both saw a waterfront at very different stages of development and transition, so being given the opportunity to help frame the waterfront for future generations to come is a responsibility I don’t take lightly. In fact, I welcome the challenges in front of my fellow colleagues and me on the Harbor Commission.

My appointment finalized Mayor Garcetti’s commitment of appointing three of the five Harbor Commissioners from San Pedro. The other two local commissioners are David Arian, the commissions Vice-President, who was appointed back in 2010, and newly appointed commissioner, Patricia Castellanos. Commissioner Arian, a former ILWU International President, has been a fixture on the waterfront as a union worker and labor leader. In addition to Commissioner Castellanos’ role as commissioner, she serves as deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a leading policy, advocacy non-profit, where she oversees the organization’s efforts to advance economic development strategies that lead to better jobs and an improved environment.

As I prepared after my appointment hearing at City Hall, I began reviewing the capability, capacity, and strategic objectives of the Port of Los Angeles. The Port consists of seven terminals that import and export over 40% of the world’s cargo into the nation. For every one job the port creates an estimated 10 jobs are created regionally. So, staying competitive in the global economy is critical to our economic future. That means we must find ways to increase our efficiency and continue to build the required infrastructure that differentiates us from other ports across the country.

Another key element is the opportunity to redevelop Port’s O’ Call and the extended waterfront to the outer harbor where the Lane Victory sits today. In order to do so, we must think about this segment of the waterfront as the Eighth Terminal. If we prioritize this development as we do all the other terminal developments, then we will develop a world-class waterfront in our lifetime, not in a generation, but today.

The question is will we collectively embrace change? Will we embrace new out-of-the-box ideas or will we stubbornly hold on to nostalgia for the way things were rather than what they can be? My focus and hope is that we will all have an open mind and raise our expectations on what “can be” not “what was.” This does not mean we should eliminate our historic past, but rather integrate it with something new.

And we should think big. San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, Seattle’s Pike Place Market and the Baltimore Harbor are great examples of what dreaming and thinking big looks like. We in San Pedro need to start thinking as big – if not bigger – than they did because we represent the waterfront for Los Angeles, one of the greatest cities in the world.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife Carolyn for her love and support, Councilman Joe Buscaino for his advocacy and finally our new Mayor Eric Garcetti for giving a Pedro Boy the opportunity to represent his hometown on the Harbor Commission and work to influence generations to come. This is our opportunity to build a world-class waterfront together for a new generation. As the expression goes, it’s time to go big or go home, San Pedro. spt

Anthony Pirozzi can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.

A Film Festival For The Community

Ziggy Mrkich and Renee O'Connor, co-directorsof SPIFF (photo by John Mattera)

It was founded to celebrate the diverse culture and community of San Pedro, and after its successful inaugural event last October, the San Pedro International Film Festival is back for its second annual event.

San Pedro has always had a rich film history, in fact, several movies — the original King Kong, Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, Pearl Harbor, and (500) Days of Summer — and television shows — NCIS, Mad Men and Dexter — have been shot on the streets of the city.

It’s the films, and the community of San Pedro, that the San Pedro International Film Festival was founded to celebrate, and founder Ziggy Mrkich proved last year that she is up for the job.

Mrkich is no stranger to the film festival circuit, she has more than a decade of festival involvement on her resume, and after a successful inaugural event, she is “very excited,” for this year’s festivities.

“We had a very successful first year,” she says. “And I am dedicated to continuing this festival and continuing to showcase films, really good films, from the festival circuit.”

“San Pedro has a long and rich history in the cinematic arts. With dozens of feature films, television shows and commercials shot here every year, it’s fitting that we now are host to a festival that celebrates the city’s diverse culture and community, and its contributions to film,” says Los Angeles City Councilman, Joe Buscaino.

Last year’s event, which drew more than 700 people, was the Los Angeles premier of Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The film went on to win several major awards, including Lawrence’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

“I was very surprised, but extremely happy to acquire the film as part of our first year,” Mrkich says. “We were very proud to have had the opportunity to be the first in the area to screen it.”

This year’s festival will feature screenings of both documentaries and short films. Mrkich says they received more than 550 submissions. One of the hardest parts of the festival planning is securing feature films for the weekend, she says.

“I handpick the feature films based on the attention the films are getting at other festivals, namely the Toronto Film Festival,” she says. “In addition, I really try to include films that are already getting Oscar buzz.”

She says oftentimes it is difficult to secure the films, but it’s this that makes her job “exciting.”

“It’s actually really very hard to secure feature films,” she says. “I do get a lot of ‘No’s,’ but programming isn’t easy at any festival, but it all works out in the end, you just have to know going into it that you will not get to screen every film you want.”

The workload lightened a bit this year for Mrkich when she brought Renee O’Connor on board.

The duo says the goal of this year’s festival is to “provide a service to the community by attracting new visitors to San Pedro, and exposing them to films they may otherwise not see.”

O’Connor, a director, producer and actress best known for her role as Gabrielle in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, is facilitating the filmmakers for various panels. She says the panels will include information on producing small and large budget independent films.

“I am passionate about helping fellow filmmakers,” she says. “These panels will allow for future filmmakers to be in the same room as current filmmakers — it’s oftentimes hard to get into the industry, and this will provide an opportunity for people to share their experience of how they did it.”

The San Pedro International Film Festival is featuring screenings at the historic Warner Grand Theatre, as well as new outdoor screenings, pop-up screenings and a special screening aboard the newest addition to San Pedro, the historic Navy battleship, the U.S.S. Iowa.

In addition, Mrkich and O’Connor will be paying tribute to legendary filmmaker Tony Scott, who died in San Pedro last August.

Scott, a renowned presence in Hollywood, spent over 40 years working in the business, carving out a career as both a director and producer. Top Gun, arguably his best-known film, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $350 worldwide.

Scott also directed Days of Thunder (also starring Tom Cruise), Beverly Hills Cop II, True Romance, Crimson Tide (starring Denzel Washington), and Spy Game (starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt), among many others.

“The tribute will include a brief retrospective of Scott’s work and his contributions to the San Pedro community,” O’Connor says. “Tony Scott shot several films in San Pedro, and has a very strong tie to this community and we want to honor that, and thank him for his contributions to the city.”

Scott’s family, including widow, Donna Scott, is expected to be in attendance.

O’Connor and Mrkich say they are “overly excited” about this year’s festival. “This is the community’s festival,” Mrkich says. “We have an open door for people who want to volunteer or be involved — this is a festival for the community, and that is why we are including a local program.”

O’Connor says that anyone who has never been to a festival should experience it just once. “This is a great opportunity to come and experience what a film festival can create,” she says. “You can come in off the street and sit down and be right next to the person who wrote and directed the film you are about to see — it’s wonderful.”

Mrkich adds, “The San Pedro International Film Festival is a win-win for audiences and filmmakers. We support filmmakers by providing an audience and platform for films, and the audience can see films they otherwise might have missed.” spt

The San Pedro International Film Festival will take place the weekend of October 4-6 at various venues in downtown San Pedro. This special edition of San Pedro Today includes the complete program and schedule for the festival. For more news and info, visit www.spiffest.org.

Leading San Pedro

“This town eats its own.” I recall a friend on the San Pedro Chamber board saying this while lamenting that San Pedrans aren’t great at supporting their local leaders.

Whether he’s right or wrong, I believe that for many years San Pedro hasn’t done a good job of grooming future leaders. For example, before I launched San Pedro Magazine, I was not active in the community, but got involved because it now became my business to do so. The first major event I attended was a chamber luncheon attended by approximately 250 people. Although I was born and raised in San Pedro, with tons of family and friends here, I didn’t recognize more than two or three people.

Over the next several years, I became friends with many of the luncheon attendees. A large majority of them are wonderful people who do a nice job serving a community they love, but most came here from somewhere else. On one hand, it’s good to have leaders in your community that can provide a fresh pair of eyes on its issues, but on the flipside, I’ve found it challenging for many of them to accurately reflect the will of the majority of the people because they lacked the relationships to be able to do that. Furthermore, it’s not a very sustainable model to have to constantly find leadership arriving from someplace else instead of developing leaders that grew up in the community.

In recent years, things have begun to dramatically change. Our councilman, Joe Buscaino, was born and raised in San Pedro, as was the newly elected president of ILWU Local 13, Chris Viramontes. These are young dynamic leaders with the ability to attract their peers into getting involved to create a powerful leadership force for our community. In addition to Joe and Chris, I’d like to add the name of Anthony Pirozzi to the list of young San Pedro leaders that can brighten the future of our town. And I’m not the only one to think so; the San Pedro Chamber is giving Anthony its annual Leadership Award.

Anthony is one of my best friends. We met in high school when everyone called him Yog (which I still call him). In fact, I had to get past knowing him as Yog, who we loved teasing as kids, to recognize Anthony, a man that has grown into a great leader. The first glimpse occurred when Anthony joined our other friends, Dave Stanovich, Ron Galosic, Scott Lane, and Tony Cordero in leading the fight to secure baseball fields for Eastview Little League on Knoll Hill. Anyone that’s either played at Eastview or had a kid play at Eastview (I’m in both categories) will probably agree that their effort to have the fields built is one of our town’s finest accomplishments in the past few years.

The fact that Anthony threw so much of himself at the campaign is not a surprise. Anthony and I spend countless hours on the phone (his wife, Carolyn calls me his second wife) and the thing that comes up a lot is his passion for helping kids get better. He’s very proud that although he was a mediocre student at San Pedro High, he was able to get good grades at Harbor, go on to earn a degree at Cal Poly Pomona, and become an aerospace engineer. He uses his role as a Boeing executive to speak to kids about their futures and has facilitated more than $100,00 in donations from Boeing to San Pedro charities that serve children, such as the Boys & Girls Club, Top Sail, Toberman House, and Cabrillo Aquarium.

After the Save Eastview campaign had concluded, I convinced Anthony to join me on the board of directors at the San Pedro Chamber. Upon his election as chairman of the board, I began to realize that our generation has begun to assume the mantle of leadership. I can say with firsthand knowledge that we are fortunate to have leaders like Anthony, Joe, and Chris because they care so much for this town that we all love and they all share the same passion for grooming the next generation of San Pedrans into great citizens and great leaders. spt

Jack Baric can be reached at jackbaric@hotmail.com.

Westmont Drive Fiasco Proves It: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

It’s a good thing I take blood pressure medication because I nearly popped a vein when I read what happened to Westmont Drive. And that was before I read the response from our councilman and his spokesman.

We live in the age of stupidity, so what happened on Westmont shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, look what Washington, D.C., has given us now that policy is determined not by “will it work” but on “will it feel good?” That kind of thinking in Sacramento has given us a pair of transportation boondoggles known as the bullet train and Complete Streets Act (“Well, it looked good on paper”). LAUSD wants my wife to supervise breakfast for 24 kindergartners in the classroom (visualize crayons in syrup). And somewhere in an ivory tower cubicle in Downtown L.A., someone who’s probably never even driven on Westmont read the Complete Streets Act and decided that what one of the worst traffic areas in San Pedro needed was the elimination of a car lane to provide room for bicyclists. Something about the street being “underutilized.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I hardly know where to begin. Councilman Joe Buscaino said he’d ask the Department of Transportation to provide an update on the impact of one less car lane. Too bad no one thought of doing that before the changes were made. How about the city send just one employee to stand on the corner of Westmont and Western between 7:30 and 8 a.m. any weekday? Anyone ever try exiting from Coco’s or Rite Aid onto Westmont at any time of day? As the debate continues over adding 830 housing units at Ponte Vista, the “Nightmare on Western Avenue” not only hasn’t been helped, it’s been made worse.

It’s bad enough that it was done literally while no one was looking. That it’s just another ham-fisted effort by the nanny state we now live in to get people out of their cars and onto bikes is pretty obvious from the comments by Buscaino spokesman Branimir Kvartuc. He said that the change wasn’t made “to accommodate (existing) bicyclists but to encourage (new) bicyclists.” Buscaino then doubled down by saying, “This is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use their bikes. To those who say San Pedro doesn’t use bikes, I say, ‘Let’s start. Why not?’”

Why not? Well, have you tried to get all those parents to stop driving their kids to Dodson and Mary Star? Maybe that’s the plan: Make the drive so miserable they’ll stop. Good luck with that. Or ask your longshore buddies to bike to work. Oh, that’s right, there isn’t a bicycle lane on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Can’t see a lot of families bicycling to Field of Dreams. And it might be hard to pick up lumber or plants at Home Depot using a bike. I guess you could haul paving stones in a backpack two at a time. Perhaps you can encourage my 84-year-old mother who lives near Dodson to hop on a bicycle to make her hair appointment. The only accomplishment of eliminating that car lane right now is making sure she and dozens of other drivers sit in their cars an extra 10 or 15 minutes waiting at the intersection of Western and Delasonde.

That’s why not, Joe.

This must be what happens when a politician runs for re-election without any opposition.

Time for a reality check, councilman: This isn’t Asia or Europe. This isn’t even Santa Monica. This is San Pedro. I would have expected a comment like Joe’s from someone who lives on the Westside or a beach city, but not from a native of San Pedro who should know better. I took issue with Janice Hahn over her planting stop signs and speed humps all over town, but at least she had the pulse of San Pedro when it came to Ponte Vista. That’s what we need now, a councilman who will stick up for his constituency – the vast majority of which rely on cars and trucks.

Maybe Joe’s just spent too much time around people like that downtown San Pedro art gallery owner who had the gall to say, “People in vehicles think they own the road…We need to eliminate our reliance on four-wheeled transportation.”

Sorry, but people who drive DO own the road, in a matter of speaking. We pay 71-cents a gallon in taxes every time we stop at a gasoline station, and most of that money goes to transportation projects. Those people in their bright Spandex and shiny helmets who cruise the peninsula every weekend should thank the gas-guzzlers instead of metaphorically flipping them off. I say this as someone who road his bike to work for most of the `80s, way before it became de rigueur. And, yes, I looked ridiculous in Spandex.

This column is appearing a month after the bicycle lane went in. Here’s hoping that by now Joe has come to his senses and is doing all he can to get the Westmont car lane restored. Traffic officials realized the error of their ways last year when they messed with the turning lanes from Weymouth onto Western and quickly changed it back. Like the general in charge of the Hurricane Katrina cleanup said, “Don’t get stuck on stupid.” spt

Garcetti: A Vote For San Pedro

For years, San Pedro has been disillusioned when it comes to getting attention during election season in Los Angeles. In fact, the last time we felt special was when we had both James Hahn serving as the Mayor of Los Angeles and his sister Janice Hahn as our Councilmember. This was our opportunity to truly shine and experience a rebirth for San Pedro and revitalize our downtown and our waterfront.

The momentum shifted when Mayor Hahn lost to current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and in the past eight years the emphasis on developing our waterfront lost some of the urgency that the project had during Hahn’s term. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to complete. The question we must ask ourselves when deciding who to vote for in the upcoming Mayoral election is which candidate has the experience to take our waterfront to the next level, as this is really what’s at stake in this election for San Pedro.

Our waterfront has been the lifeblood not only to San Pedro and the Harbor Area, but to the entire Los Angeles region. It is estimated that for every one waterfront job, 10 regional jobs are created. In these tough economic times, it will be essential that the next mayor understands what is required to keep our port competitive as we battle the challenge from a widened Panama Canal, due to open in 2014.

In addition, there is the potential to have a world-class marine research center at City Dock #1 that will provide knowledge-based jobs locally like we have never seen before. A world-class center would put San Pedro on the global stage for ocean research and development as it would be the launching port for many future deep sea explorations. The center would be a catalyst for numerous small businesses to open in support of this new local industry and it would create educational opportunities that would make our waterfront a premiere West Coast hub for oceanography and maritime studies at every level, from kindergarten all the way up to university doctorate programs.

Finally, the next mayor must understand the importance of revitalizing the waterfront with the goal of becoming one of the best and most famous waterfronts in the world. We need a mayor that is not afraid to build our waterfront into becoming an international tourism destination, not just a local attraction for folks that live 30 miles from the water, but even for those that live 30 hours from it.

This is why I am supporting Eric Garcetti to become the next Mayor of Los Angeles. This was a tough decision because I personally like both candidates, but if you equate the future potential of our waterfront as a world destination to what has actually happened in Hollywood with its development over the past 10 years, then you too would support Garcetti.

As a councilman whose district included Hollywood, Garcetti must be admired for the transformation of Tinseltown during his terms, and I believe that the experience and leadership it took to get there is what San Pedro needs in its next mayor. Link this knowledge and experience with the passion, energy, and leadership of our own councilmember, Joe Buscaino, and we have a recipe for success. It is no coincidence that Buscaino has endorsed Garcetti for the May 21 run-off election. It is because they share the same vision for Los Angeles, especially growing our waterfront to become a world destination!

San Pedro is forecasted to be the swing district in this election. So, after all these years after being thought to be the stepchild of the city of Los Angeles, we could be the district that determines the outcome. This is a great position to be in. Eric stated when he was in San Pedro, “A lot of people call this area the tail. I see a different image: If the city of L.A. is like a kite, this is the anchor… The growth of this town began because this harbor was dug.” I couldn’t agree more. spt

Anthony Pirozzi is a member of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and past president of Eastview Little League. He can be contacted at apirozzi@yahoo.com.

That’s So Pedro

San Pedro is a very unique place with a culture that is extremely specific to our little part of Los Angeles. As San Pedrans, there are certain experiences we’ve all had whether we grew up here or adopted the town as adults: having a sandwich on the coast, our affinity for clothing with “San Pedro” written on it and running into people you know wherever you go. All of these things are SO PEDRO and they should be celebrated.

That’s why my good friend Megan Barnes and I have started a brand new podcast called That’s So Pedro. Not only do we want to celebrate everything Pedro, we also plan to scour the town for news, views and interesting stories to share with you.

Our first episode, released March 1, featured interviews with Doris Theriault, the mastermind of the historical society’s Windows Into The Past project, San Pedro Neighbors for Peace & Justice who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary and Councilman Joe Buscaino days before being re-elected for a second term.

We just recently released our second episode highlighting the annual International Hypnosis Federation annual conference that brings hypnotists from all around the world to our little port town and talk skating with Andy Harris and Bill Sargeant of the San Pedro Skatepark Association.

In addition to the interviews, we infuse the show with headlines, hot topics, sound bytes and a very fun segment called Ask Marija, where the advice is served piping hot by one of San Pedro’s best baristas.

You can listen to the podcast by visiting our website www.thatssopedro.com or directly from our Facebook at facebook.com/thatssopedro. We’re always on the look out for interesting stories, if you have some ideas you can reach us at thatssopedro@gmail.com.

If you have a “So Pedro” to share with us, we have a call-in line where you can leave us a message at (424) 703-4220.

Let Me Show You

Spring is here and the weather in San Pedro is even more perfect than normal. That makes it the perfect time to come out on a walking tour with me. A must see Pedro Primer is the all new San Pedro Conservancy Tour that hits all the gems of downtown. You can check the tour calendar at www.towneetours.com for times.

Those of you who were followers of my first blog, San Pedro: Block by Block, will be glad to know that I have gone back to my roots and started a brand new blog. Show Me, Romee is my way of doubling down on capturing the Pedro experience. One of my most notable segments is the ‘Wheel of Worship’ where I have tasked myself to visit every church and temple in San Pedro that has its own building with a story to tell. I’m also trying to work out the kinks of another ‘spirited’ segment called “Pedro on Tap.” I really love exploring again! You can find my new blog at www.showmeromee.com. spt

Lights! Camera! Action!

Councilman Joe Buscaino and LAHIFF’s Stephanie Mardesich at the festival’s 10th anniversary press launch

Stephanie Mardesichloves movies.

If not for her passion for the cinema, the ebullient director and founder of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival may not have been able to carry the event through to its 10th anniversary this year.

“A decade is a significant epoch and though I don’t feel older, clearly ten years has passed,” she says of the milestone.

As Mardesich describes it, the LAHIFF has always been a celebration of film. Unlike more relevant film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, South by Southwest or Toronto, which are geared towards new and independent films looking for distribution, the LAHIFF prides itself on celebrating films from both past generations and more contemporary times, with a strong focus on children’s education thrown in.

“The motivation to continue corresponds to the values instilled by my parents to persevere, to strive for excellence as its own reward, to be an individual of conviction, and to never give up on something or someone as long as there is some hope for a positive outcome,” says Mardesich. “It’s better to try and fail than succeed at nothing, as a friend once told me. In spite of challenges we have continued and now have a ten-year record.”

Back in 2003, the idea of establishing a film festival in San Pedro wasn’t a far-fetched one. The town already had an iconic theater to host it, perfectly set in the heart of downtown. Not to mention, San Pedro already had a rich history of being used as Hollywood’s backdrop. From classic films such as Chinatown, to popular current television series like Mad Men, San Pedro has become synonymous with film production.

“Stephanie and I were at a San Pedro Chamber mixer at Ports O’ Call Restaurant and we were chatting with the late Gary Cox about how San Pedro should have a film festival,” recalls Jack Baric, an original co-founder of the festival who has since stepped away. “Stephanie really took the conversation to heart and immediately started working on getting a festival launched. She has been generous enough to include calling me a co-founder, but truthfully she put forth all the effort in launching the festival and has kept it going since then.”

Left: Russ Tamblyn and Academy Award winner George Chakiris, co-stars of West Side Story, at the 2009 festival. Right: Mardesich with actress Betty Garrett and host Tom Hatten at the inaugural festival in 2004

The inaugural festival launched on April 30, 2004, and included such films as The Perfect Storm, the 2000 drama starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, based on Sebastian Junger‘s best-selling book, the 1949 musical comedy Neptune’s Daughter, starring Esther Williams, Betty Garrett and Ricardo Montalban, and an afternoon screening of Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the kids.

Other films featured at the festival throughout the decade include The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), South Pacific (1958), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and West Side Story (1961), among others.

In 2006, the LAHIFF hosted the world premiere of Baric’s San Pedro documentary, Port Town, which brought a near capacity crowd to the Warner Grand that year.

“When I think of what the festival has become, I just think of Stephanie and how she has persevered in keeping it going,” says Baric. “It is not an easy thing to keep a festival running year after year and yet she has done it, which is a compliment to her passion.”

Mardesich’s other passion is education. Her late mother, Lee, was a teacher at Bandini Street Elementary School and instilled in her family the importance of reading. Mardesich used that inspiration to establish the “Read the Book, See the Movie” (RBSM) program, which has become the cornerstone of the film festival.

“From the beginning, it was clear LAHIFF should have an education element for students,” remembers Mardesich. “It’s so simple. Pick a book that has a film attached. We’ve been focusing on classic literature, but the choices are infinite. Read the book and talk about the differences in the two genres. It’s a more thoughtful way to encourage literacy.”

Every year, one film adaptation of a classic novel is chosen for the RBSM program. Publishing sponsors Penguin and Puffin Classics donated 1,200 paperback copies of the book that are distributed to students from middle school to adult education classes. Participating schools include: John & Muriel Olguin Campus of San Pedro High School, Dana Middle School, Rolling Hills Renaissance School, Pacific Lutheran School, Port of Los Angeles Charter High School, Mary Star of the Sea High School, and the Harbor Service Center (formerly known as San Pedro Adult Learning Center).

For newly-elected L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, the RBSM program is what separates this film festival from the rest.

“‘Read the Book, See the Movie’ is my favorite element of the film festival,” he says. “My wife, who is a teacher at White Point Elementary, has participated in this program, and we understand the educational value that it delivers. LAHIFF’s commitment to San Pedro, its culture and its history, is important.”

Clockwise L to R: The LAHIFF’s 10th annual festival programing includes There’s No Business Like Show Business (1953) starring Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe, Chased by the Dogs (1962) and Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993)

This year, the four-day festival takes place May 2-5 at the Warner Grand Theatre in historic downtown San Pedro, the heart of the Port of Los Angeles, beginning with a free screening of the RBSM film, Disney’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1993), starring Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy), on May 2 at 10:30 a.m.

“The story of Huckleberry Finn and his friend the runaway slave Jim, speaks to friendship, loyalty, and courage with an anti-slavery theme,” says Mardesich. “The timing of this classic choice with regard to the recent films Lincoln and Django Unchained is relevant considering issues of social responsibility and morality with historical reflection.”

The festival continues on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. with the opening night screening of Chased By the Dogs (1962), the film adaptation of the Egyptian novel The Thief and the Dogs by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

Saturday, May 4, marks the annual Hollywood Nostalgia Tribute night featuring Irving Berlin’s 1953 classic, There’s No Business Like Show Business, starring Ethyl Merman, Dan Daley, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe. The screening is preceded by the “Show Biz and Red Carpet Gala” at the Arcade Building, directly across the street from the Warner Grand. Tickets for the pre-show Gala are $75 ($65 if purchased before April 18), which includes admission to the film, an open bar, appetizers and buffet supper homage to 1950s cuisine. General admission to the film is only $10.

The festival concludes on Sunday, May 5 at 1 p.m., with its traditional “DocSunday” programming featuring the New Filmmakers LA (NFMLA) “On Location Program,” showcasing 22 short films made to promote the City of Los Angeles.

With its eclectic lineup, Mardesich is hoping to pull in audiences who appreciate various genres and who are open to viewing films they might never have seen before.

“Bringing out the audience is probably the greatest challenge of this festival,” admits Mardesich. “[My dream] would be to have a full house — that’s at least one third of the 1,500 seat capacity of the Warner Grand — at the programs. We’ve been fortunate to have several capacity crowds. That’s exciting, though not realistic in current times. When the movie palaces were built, there was an audience to fill the huge space. It’s rare for that to happen any longer, thus theatres like the Warner Grand have become multi-use venues.”

Even with a handful of loyal volunteers, the LAHIFF is still Mardesich’s baby. It’s rare that you spot her around town not wearing one of her many multi-colored LAHIFF t-shirts. Come marketing season, that shirt is usually accompanied by a handful of postcards and posters that she single-handedly distributes across town and throughout Los Angeles.

With continued community support from Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Supervisor Don Knabe, plus local business sponsorships, the LAHIFF continues to stay alive, even through challenging times. With a decade of experience, Mardesich still expresses hope that the festival will become ever grander and more relevant during the next ten years.

“It would be wonderful if an entity or sponsor had the interest to give their name above the title and bring an infusion of funds so there could be a paid administrator and staff and the festival could perhaps go to another level,” she says. “I would still want to be involved and advise so the mission is not distorted, however, the effort it takes now is very consuming and one of these days I might like to take a voyage elsewhere than on the cinematic bridge.” spt

The Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival takes place Thurs-Sun, May 2-5. Tickets for all programs and reception will be sold online through Brown Paper Tickets, Williams’ Book Store (443 W. 6th St., Downtown), and at the box office (cash only) during the festival one-hour before programs start. General admission is $10 per program; $8 with discounts from select affliliations: GVF, LAMM, IDA, CMA, BAFTA LA and ILWU, and seniors and students. Prices subject to change. For full details, visit www.laharborfilmfest.com.

Raising The Bar

I enjoy living in San Pedro near the ocean; however, there is room for improvement in this town. Ideas for an even better San Pedro usually come to me after I have visited a hip city that seems to have it together. Since our family has put our roots here, I advocate for changes that are important to me.

Most people have their own vision of what they would like to see happen in San Pedro and variety is one of the reasons I like this town. I think most of us want to live in a clean and safe city. Having pot holes fixed, trees trimmed and getting the police to respond to calls in a timely manner are basic responsibilities of the city that we have paid for through taxes.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been improvements in San Pedro, but it needs to continue. I have lowered the bar on my expectations of San Pedro unknowingly over the years and I know I am not alone. I have had the attitude that I will take whatever I can get in regards to improvements. While we are part of Los Angeles, other areas in the city do not all share these low expectations. In these areas, you will not find a sidewalk raised up three feet by a city tree like we have on 14th Street. With the economy, expectations are even lower and the reason for lack of progress always seems to be money.

Take for example tree trimming. I have heard for years that trees are not being trimmed because of lack of money. After every storm or a big wind, palm fawns make a huge mess that city workers clean up. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just trim the palm trees? I know I have a greater chance of seeing Big Foot than a tree being trimmed by the city, but since they planted all these trees they need to take care of them. If you go to other areas of Los Angeles and other towns, trees are being trimmed. The overgrown city tree in front of my house is a realization of my lowered expectations.

My vision of San Pedro includes wanting to rent competitively priced stand-up paddleboards on the water for my family. Currently, I drive to Seal Beach to rent boards for me and my kids, the shop is located right on the water so it is user friendly. I have rented a board in San Pedro but had to have it delivered to the beach because the shop is not allowed to rent at Cabrillo Beach and my son was not allowed to ride on it per the shop. Other beach and port cities have water rental recreation but in San Pedro it is lacking and not convenient, even though we are a beach town.

Safety is also a concern and I would like to see more of a focus by the LAPD on drug enforcement. While I know crime and drugs are in every town, we have more than our fair share here. Drug enforcement does not seem like a priority in San Pedro until somebody has a gun and the helicopters are flying around again. Maybe LAPD can be more responsive to the residents in San Pedro and the many concerns they have in their neighborhoods. I would like to know what vision LAPD has, if any, for San Pedro.

I can go on about my vision for this great town, like adding sidewalk cafes, having reasonably priced theater for children and creating a Mexican Cultural Center. What is your vision of San Pedro? If you do not share your ideas, then they are just thoughts that nobody will hear. Share your vision with your Councilman; tell him that you are raising the bar.

To reach Councilman Joe Buscaino, visit www.la15th.com or call (310) 732-4515. 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)