Catching Up With The Councilman

Councilman Joe Buscaino, photographed in his San Pedro office. (photo by John Mattera)

It’s 1:30 p.m. on July 15 and Councilman Joe Buscaino is on a much-needed vacation. Nonetheless, he’s made it a point to be in his San Pedro office today, with his son and daughter in tow, to catch up on some business and speak to San Pedro Today for this anniversary issue.

Dressed in a polo shirt, shorts and tennis visor on this particular day, the council office seems to fit him quite well. It seems like a far cry from his days patrolling the streets as a Senior Lead Officer with the LAPD, but in reality that was just 18 months ago, and San Pedro has been quite busy during that year and a half.

Under his watch, he’s seen the USS Iowa and Crafted open along the waterfront, main thoroughfares Gaffey and Western have been repaved (including a number of side streets), Ports O’ Call redevelopment has begun, the Southern California International Gateway Project is moving forward, skateboard “bombing” has been curbed, and, with his help, Los Angeles has a newly-elected mayor who can actually find his way to San Pedro. (Not to mention, those frustrating bike lanes, which his office is currently trying to rectify.) It’s been quite a busy year and a half for the councilman, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

San Pedro Today: What do you think the state of San Pedro is today?

Councilman Joe Buscaino: There are some exciting times ahead of us without a doubt. It all starts with the waterline. For us to be a part of it to ensure that we don’t delay and we don’t stop progress is one of my goals. We’re seeing it. We’re feeling it. We’re hearing it, as well. The people are interested in investing in San Pedro. Look at the recent developments in the last year: the USS Iowa, Plaza Park, naming a developer for renovating Ports O’ Call, Crafted… We’re just excited. Look at the number of visitors that have come through San Pedro in the last year, it’s phenomenal and we’re just getting started.

SPT: Some might argue that there’s a battle going on between “old” San Pedro and “new” San Pedro. The older generation vs. the younger generation. Status quo vs. change. Do you find it tough to convince people of change here? As councilman, how do you convince people that change is imminent and we should embrace it?

Buscaino: Well, I think we need to be fair. We need to respect people’s opinions without a doubt. But I look at when my dad came back from a fishing trip; he took my mom, my sisters and I straight to Ports O’Call for dinner and ice cream. Fast-forward to today and I’m raising two kids in San Pedro, I think of them. I think of our future generation and the opportunities that are going to be provided for them here in town. I hope and pray that my kids remain here and my kids’ kids remain here, as well. The only way for us to think about our future generation is to make sure that they have opportunities in San Pedro, not just working the docks. The docks shouldn’t be the only job opportunity here for our families. There should be other opportunities for them to work and remain here and raise their families here. Change is good, absolutely. It’s up to our generation to move the ball forward and not stop progress. I understand there’s always going to be concerns about development, but at the same time, we need to listen, we need to be respectful of the process, and make the right decisions.

SPT: Social media has really put a microscope on crime in town, causing many to believe that crime is rampant. Whether it is or not, it’s happening and people are concerned about the recent criminal activity that’s been going on. As a former LAPD officer, how do we stop this problem?

Buscaino: Last year, the Harbor Area had the best crime reduction in 50 years. So regardless of what’s happening on Facebook and other social media sites, we’ve seen a reduction in crime. If you look at San Pedro, we’ve seen a significant drop in violent crime. We’ve always had a history of property crimes in town. I’ve experienced that as a Senior Lead Officer, as well. To answer your question, if you look at what’s happened in Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles, good, smart development weeds out crime. We’ve had our fair share of crime here, absolutely, but you weed it out by putting people back to work, by making San Pedro a destination, by attracting tourism dollars here. Look at Baltimore and how dilapidated it was and how quick it turned around. Good, economic development weeds out crime.

We have a vigilant community, and I’m proud of the fact and it’s evident in social media. I was proud of the fact that I have the most number of neighborhood watch groups in the entire South Bureau of the LAPD just because people wanted to help. The police cannot be on every street corner, as much as they’d like to. Our community can always use more eyes and ears.

Someone who’s just been victimized, they don’t care if crime is down or not. Yet, we have to acknowledge that the relationship between the police and the community is better than ever. We need to capitalize on that.

SPT: On another topic, filming in San Pedro seems to have dropped off lately. Some downtown businesses have complained in the past about film crews not respecting their businesses, which has caused distrust amongst the city and Hollywood. In your opinion, how important is it to bring more production to San Pedro?

Buscaino: I meet with Film L.A. quite often. Specifically, sitting on the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee. As a kid growing up on 19th and Alma, I remember CHiPs filming on 19th Street. I ran out there and saw Poncherello on his bike. When my dad was working on the nets at Ports O’Call, he called and said, “Guess who’s down here? Tattoo from Fantasy Island!” Those are my memories of filming in San Pedro. Here’s the thing, when production companies come in they help commerce. Whether it’s the grips, the actors, the studio personnel, they come, and not only do we expose San Pedro, but we help the business community. Yes, they have to respect the businesses because it’s going to affect their business. We have to be respectful of that, too, because our small business owners put their blood, sweat and tears into their own businesses.

We need to keep filming in the City of Los Angeles. I have friends who are in the film industry and they are oftentimes away for three months at a time, away from their families. These kids I coach in baseball, their dad was away on a production in the Midwest because they offer more incentives. That’s what we’re competing with.

SPT: You’ve been councilman now for a year and a half. What’s been your biggest win so far?

Buscaino: (pause) Do I have to pick just one?

SPT: You can mention a couple.

Buscaino: Okay, two of my main goals in the next four years are to lead the city in job growth and not to delay progress. We’re moving forward on the Southern California International Gateway Project (SCIG) to make this port more competitive, more efficient and more effective, and at the same time improving our environment. Developers have been chosen to lead the Ports O’ Call redevelopment project. In Watts, we’ve cleared the path for redevelopment of the Jordan Downs Housing Development. These three main projects are going to impact our economy tremendously and put people back to work.

There’s now an opportunity to move forward on Ponte Vista where you can put people back to work and offer some homes. We’re working with the Planning Department, the neighborhood councils and the community on that and hoping that moves forward within the next six months. For me, going back to your original question, the waterfront redevelopment is crucial for us. By moving forward on that project, we already have a lot of people who’ve expressed interest in investing in the Harbor Area community. We’ve done a lot in the last year and a half.

SPT: What would you say has been your biggest challenge?

Buscaino: Not moving fast enough. At the same time, there’s a process in place that I have to respect. I get excited about these projects and at the same, you know, there’s a process in place at City Hall that we need to follow that includes a lot of departments, including the City Attorney, which we need the legal advice of. But when somebody comes up with an idea and I know it’s feasible, it’s a “let’s get it done” mentality for me.

SPT: Speaking of getting it done, you campaigned vigorously for our new mayor, Eric Garcetti. In fact, I would go so far as to say Mr. Garcetti has made more appearances in San Pedro during his campaign than the former mayor has during his entire tenure. Do you think that because of your relationship with Mayor Garcetti that we are going to see a lot more enthusiasm from the Mayor’s office for San Pedro and the waterfront?

Buscaino: Without a doubt. Eric’s family to me, he’s like my brother. And in the last year and a half, I’ve learned a lot from him sitting two chairs away. The reason why I went with Eric on this is because I’ve worked with him day in and day out. I was with him three days a week on that council. I’ve seen what he’s done in his district and I just want to replicate that here. He gets it.

He called me on Wednesday before the Fourth of July, he said, “Joe, what are you doing for the Fourth?” I said there’s a great fireworks show down here at Cabrillo Beach. So he says, “Amy and I are bringing Maya, we’re going to come down and watch the fireworks show.” And we’re going to see more of that. You’re going to see him around town. He has an office downstairs [in San Pedro City Hall] that he’s opening up for people to come in and have office hours. It’s not going to take a press conference to get the mayor down here.

SPT: Any final words our town’s 125th anniversary and what it means to you, personally?

Buscaino: I still gotta pinch myself for this opportunity to serve my hometown. When I speak across the city, I say only in San Pedro is where you can find a hometown boy getting elected to a city office. We are blessed with who we are as a community, a community of faith, a community of family, a community that never leaves this place. And if they do leave, they find their way back home. So I continue to be humbled and grateful to serve and this’ll be a great four years. spt

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

The Future Of SP Skateboarding

Congratulations to the San Pedro Skate Association for its role in creating the very first skate park in our community a decade ago. The Channel Street Skatepark has become a treasured asset for skateboarders in San Pedro, and is used by hundreds of skaters every week.

California is the birthplace of skateboarding. The sport began to receive worldwide attention in the late 1970s, when a group of skateboarders from Venice, known as the Z-Boys, began using empty swimming pools to practice new tricks and hold competitions. The pools – many emptied due to a severe drought – were almost always on private property, and the skateboarders usually did not have the permission of the property owner to use them. Skateboarders also used other existing infrastructure – plazas, planters, stairs, ramps and railings, on both private and public property.

In a city severely lacking adequate park and recreation space, it’s not surprising that youth began to look at the endless miles of concrete and urban sprawl as their own private playground.

The lack of dedicated facilities for this quickly growing sport led to an often-contentious relationship between property owners, police and skateboarders, contributing to the sport’s reputation as an underground counter-culture activity.

However, as skateboarding grew in popularity and became more mainstream, policy makers and elected officials began to recognize the need for dedicated skateparks, to allow skateboarders a controlled environment to engage in the sport, without trespassing on private property. This also allowed for the implementation of rules to reduce the risks involved in the sport, such as requiring the use of helmets and protective pads as a condition for using the parks.

Next summer, we will be opening a brand new skate park at Peck Park in San Pedro, and my office is working on building a new skate park in Watts. Today, skateboarding is unquestionably a mainstream, legitimate sport and, as a former Senior Lead Officer at LAPD, I would much rather kids be honing their skills at the skate park, as opposed to vandalizing property with graffiti, breaking into cars or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Skateparks facilitate the art of maneuvering a board in one fashion, but as many of us are aware, some skaters use their boards in other fashions – including riding them down steep and hilly streets; a newer specialty of the sport, known as downhill skating, or “bombing.”

While I respect the fact that being able to maneuver a skateboard at speeds in excess of 40-mph, takes lots of skill, talent and guts, running red lights, stop signs and mixing it all with moving vehicles is a recipe for disaster.

This is why I have been so vocal about putting an end to it.

My actions enacting an ordinance banning reckless skateboard bombing does not mean that I do not recognize the fact that many of our young skaters have a need and desire to participate in this sport, which is growing in popularity. In fact, there is a worldwide sanctioning body – the International Gravity Sports Association – that has established rules and guidelines, and arranges competitions all around the world.

As your elected representative in the City of Los Angeles, I constantly strive to represent everyone in our district and everyone in our community. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to give back to the young boys and girls who feel I have taken something away from them, and there is no way I can pass it up.

A group who wishes to hold a downhill skateboarding competition in San Pedro this spring has approached my office, and I am proud to support their efforts. The event would close Gaffey St. from the lookout point down to Paseo Del Mar, creating a temporary closed-course for all skaters to enjoy, while providing safety and emergency resources to create the safest and most fun environment.

I understand that there will be a few members of the community who will argue that sanctioning this event sends mixed messages. However, I have consistently stated that I am not against skateboarding, I am against reckless skateboarding.

By providing downhill skateboarders a closed course, where they will not be sharing the road with automobile traffic, requiring liability waivers, and implementing safety precautions like requiring protective gear, lining the street with hay bales, and having first aid standing by on-site, we hope to reduce most of the potential risks.

I don’t believe holding this special event encourages reckless skateboarding any more than the Long Beach Grand Prix encourages reckless driving. In fact, it provides a unique opportunity to reach out to young skateboarders, and educate them on the new ordinance, as well as the importance of wearing helmets and protective gear.

Creating smart public policy is often about striking an appropriate balance between two important, but contradicting positions. In this case, it’s about finding the balance between ensuring public safety and protecting personal liberty. I believe my skateboarding safety ordinance did that by requiring that skateboarders obey the same rules of the road as motorists and bicyclists follow, without banning them on public streets altogether, as many had advocated for. Similarly, I believe this downhill skateboarding event strikes that same balance.

As a parent, I understand the desire to protect kids from any activity that could bring them bodily harm. But, we have to recognize that we can never make this world as safe for them as we would like, and that government can never replace the role of parents, nor should it attempt to. The best we can do is to reduce and minimize risk, and hope that by providing necessary education and safer alternatives, kids will make smarter decisions on their own.