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

Bike Lanes – To Share Or Not To Share?

In my younger days, I enjoyed riding my bike around the Palos Verdes peninsula. My bicycle was a used green ten-speed and not anywhere near the technical complexity of today’s road bikes.

I would venture off from my parents’ house near Crestwood Avenue and make my way to 22nd St. and then head around the backside of the hill to Palos Verdes Dr. North then back home on Western Ave. On other occasions, I would tackle the switchbacks near Marymount College or ride through Miraleste Drive and then up Crest Rd. to the top of the hill to enjoy the view.

My most memorable bike ride was with my friend Todd Karli when we followed the Olympic torch back in 1984 for the Los Angeles summer games. We met at PCH and Western and followed the running of the torch up Crenshaw to Palos Verdes and down Hawthorne all the way to 190th and PCH before returning home. We experienced a little part of history that day.

Back then there were no bike lanes, although looking back it would have been nice to have had them, especially through the blind turns around the backside of Palos Verdes. Today, many cities across the country have made bike lanes an important part of the landscape and Los Angeles is no different. In fact, you can read the five-year bike lane plan for Los Angeles at the Department of City Planning website. The strategy is to lay down at least 200 miles of bike lanes every five years across Los Angeles to create a contiguous bike lane network. As part of the 2010 Bicycle Plan, 253 miles of bike lanes will be implemented at a cost projection of $27 Million, and San Pedro is right in the middle of it.

Recently, bike lanes have been implemented on Capitol and Westmont and have resulted in one of the biggest local protest in a long time. The story has lit up Facebook, been covered on the local TV news and in newspapers and local protests have been conducted on Westmont. Why? Is it because people in general do not like bike lanes? No, it’s because locals are frustrated because car lanes and left turn lanes have been eliminated and center dividers narrowed to put in these bike lanes.

The result has been longer commuting times bringing kids to and from Taper Ave., Dodson and Mary Star High School, as well as making it difficult to maneuver in and out of Ralphs and Albertsons parking lots during peak hours. Drivers are not only confused by the markings on Westmont that separate the bike and car lanes and where they can cross them when merging to make a right turn, but become so frustrated with waiting in traffic that they enter the bike lanes to bypass the traffic altogether. This has resulted in moving violations being issued. What remains to be seen are the wait times that may occur on Westmont and Gaffey St. during soccer season for families to arrive at the Field of Dreams, the impact when Ponte Vista is developed, or the delays on Gaffey now that the southbound lanes at the Channel St. intersection has been reduced to a single lane. Based on the protests, it remains to be seen if the current plan to change Pacific Ave into single car lanes to make room for bike lanes gets implemented.

One idea that may be considered to resolve the current and future bike lane dilemmas is to establish shared bike lanes similar to what has been done along 2nd St. in Belmont Shore. This type of lane requires an automobile to yield for bicyclists present in the lane otherwise autos are free to travel in the lane.

Although the bike plan was approved prior to Councilman Joe Buscaino being elected, he has been proactive in assessing the situation and getting feedback from residents and listening to business owners’ concerns in order to determine how to resolve this issue. What is also encouraging is the vocal and written outpouring by locals who are truly frustrated with the way this segment of bike lanes have been implemented and are determined to fix it. spt

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

New Baseball Coach Wants No Player Left Behind

Good morning, students. Welcome to “Introduction to San Pedro High Baseball 101.”

As most of you know by now, we have a new coach, Lefty Olguin, although calling Lefty “new” is silly because he’s been a part of San Pedro sports for much of his life. The entire Olguin clan, in fact, has been an integral part of San Pedro’s history for most of the past century; our other campus is named after Lefty’s uncle and aunt, John and Muriel.

Please note that Lefty – no one calls him Albert – is not a lefthander. He’s had his nickname since he was a baby and it has nothing to do with his limbs. It seems one day both of his parents ran to answer a phone and realized they had “left” the baby alone for just a minute. As will happen, the kids in the neighborhood picked up on the story, and he’s been Lefty ever since.

Which caused no little confusion for major league scout Carl Hubbell, the Hall of Fame pitcher, who came to watch Lefty when he was starring for the Pirates and was surprised to find out he was checking out a right-hander.

You’ll also note that Lefty is slightly older than the typical beginning high school coach. All right, a lot older. Old enough to be retired as the athletic director of Compton College as of Jan. 31. Lefty is used to being the “old man,” however. He graduated from Pedro in Summer `69 but had suffered a serious injury and didn’t return to playing until 1976, when Jim O’Brien made him his first recruit at Harbor College. That’s when he reunited for the first time with Bobby Ramirez, his former San Pedro High teammate and the man he’s placing as coach at SPHS. Ramirez was an assistant coach (along with Pedro legend Andy Lopez) under O’Brien that year when, with Lefty back on the mound, the Seahawks finished runner-up in the state tournament.

Lefty, having graduated from Biola, returned to Harbor in 1978 as an assistant on O’Brien’s first state championship team. One of the players on that team was Matt Stanovich, who was an assistant at Pedro under Ramirez and will remain, joined by his brother, Dave, and holdovers Ray Mendoza and Jamie Davenport. John Car, another former Pirate, takes over the pitching coach duties from Tim Ursich, who is now helping out Ramirez at his new school, Pioneer in Whittier. Car was pitching coach at Mary Star last year. We’ll explore all of these relationships next semester in “San Pedro Baseball: We Are Family.”

Lefty will be doing a lot more than coaching this year, however. He’s also just launched Future College Stars, a pet project of his that he hopes will have a lasting impact on the lives of young athletes beyond the playing field.

“The goal of the program is to academically track and support baseball in high school,” Lefty says. As a former player and coach, Lefty knows how to get the best out of his athletes on the field. As an administrator, he wants to get the best out of them off the field, in the classroom. “The whole premise is to help support the high school athlete not just for eligibility but help to get them into college.”

Lefty is hoping the foundation can raise the funds needed for people such as an academic coordinator, tutors and workshop leaders. He wants to see local college coaches speak to the students, lead clinics and promote their programs. He also wants to make sure the players have places to play year-round, with perhaps a collegiate league or instructional league. For starters, he’ll be working with San Pedro High, Mary Star and Pioneer, but hopes to expand in the summer.

“We want to put college in front of the kids instead of professional baseball,” Lefty says. “We want a consistent effort to help guarantee they get into college or a two-year program. By the time they’re getting ready to leave junior high, they’ll know what they need to do (academically). We want to try to get kids focused on college.”

Lefty is drawing on his experience of growing up in Pedro in the `50s and `60s and `70s, when he played with the likes of Garry Maddox, Alan Ashby, Joe Lovitto and the Lusic brothers. “We have a great tradition at San Pedro High of getting kids drafted,” he notes, “but there’s only a handful of them who went to college.

“Nothing wrong with signing out of high school, don’t get me wrong,” Lefty says, but he also knows a lot of great players whose professional aspirations didn’t pan out, and without a college education, their options were limited.

For more information, check out www.futurecollegestars.org. Leave it to Lefty to get it right.

The Long and Winding Road

Eight years later, and Ponte Vista is finally down to a reasonable 830 homes.

Like many, I remain opposed to changing the zoning from single-family R-1, but iStar apparently has seen the light. Testing the political wind, the new developers aren’t even going to fight for more housing, obviously hoping that the modest 830 figure will quiet most of their critics.

Of course, the devil is in the details, but at least there is now room for calm discussion on hot-button issues such as traffic mediation, which always has been my main concern, and senior units.

It looks like those goats may have to look for new grazing land soon. spt

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

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)

New Councilman Faces First Test With An Old Problem

When it comes to Ponte Vista, a relieved Janice Hahn must be sitting in her D.C. congressional office thinking, “Well, Joe, the ball’s in your court now.” For our new councilman, the honeymoon is over. Joe Buscaino‘s had it pretty easy so far, with nothing but one great photo op after another (USS Iowa, Crafted, waterfront development, downtown bistro lights, pulling out parking meters) – all positives and no controversies. Then, after a two-year break in the action, along comes the new Ponte Vista plan. Hahn did what she could to stop the Bisno disaster, then kicked that can down the road for her successor to deal with. And as we all know, it’s a can of worms that sharply divided the community previously and will probably continue to do so under the iStar banner. Janice can tell him that no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Unlike Bisno, the new developers at least have the decency to start with a fairly reasonable number of units, 1,135, but my concern, as it always has been, isn’t the number of units per se, but the density. That’s why I’ve always stood firm that the property should remain zoned R1 for single-family habitats. Since we all know the real issue is traffic, the main concern about Ponte Vista remains the number of cars it will add to the still overburdened Western Avenue corridor.

Do we really need more apartments in San Pedro? We’re already way overbuilt as it is. Business owners always want more customers, but our infrastructure can’t handle the current density. We’ve just crammed too many people into an area that wasn’t designed to handle them.

I actually agree with Louie Dominguez about the one key component missing from the iStar proposal. If city planners agree to rezoning, they should at least make iStar put senior housing back in the plan. Senior housing means lots of widows and no kids. That translates into fewer cars. And while senior housing may cut into iStar’s bottom line, it’s a boon for local real estate. Seniors will sell the single-family homes they no longer want or need, putting them on the market for families that actually could use the space.

So now Joe’s in the hot seat. Dealing with Ponte Vista may make him wish he was back on the beat.

A Childhood Trifecta

Almost every time I go shopping, I run into someone I know. It’s a San Pedro thing. Still, since I haven’t been to a class reunion since 1974, there are a lot of childhood friends I haven’t seen in a long time, which made recent events strike me as more than a little unusual. It started with the Harbor College Silent Auction fundraiser, where Lefty Olguin had invited his cousin to play some background music. It turns out this cousin is Mike Guerrero. I’d heard that Mike played gigs around town, notably Godmother’s, but I hadn’t seen him since we’d graduated together from San Pedro High in Winter 1969. It was fun catching up with someone I had known since our days together at Leland Street Elementary and being in the same Cub Scout den.

Then, just a few weeks later, I was at the reunion for Phil Scott’s San Pedro YMCA swim teams, where I ran into a number of “old faces” from San Pedro High days. And one of the faces I instantly recognized (which isn’t always easy after 43 years) was Joey Dragicevich, who only recently moved back to California after decades on the East Coast. Joey wasn’t just another Winter `69 classmate; he also was one of my Leland Street and Cub Scout buddies, along with Guerrero.

It took a tragedy to complete this story, but one of the first calls I received after Van Barbieri’s passing was from his brother Anthony. While Van and I got to know each other later in life, it was Anthony I graduated with and, yes, knew from Leland Street and that same Cub Scout pack that included Mike and Joey. Anthony has spent most of the intervening years in San Diego.

The odds that within a few weeks I would run into any two of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years has to be extraordinary. The odds of running into all three have to be astronomical. Seeing all three childhood playmates once more as we near our dotage was just plain heartwarming.

Van Fare-well

Even though he may have lived most of his adult life on the Hill, everyone knows Van Barbieri’s heart was always in San Pedro. It was said in many different ways, but Van was a Real San Pedran. In his 72 years, he managed to have three successful careers, first in journalism with the News-Pilot (where many remember his “Van Fare” column), then as the longtime publicist for Olympic boxing that earned him hall of fame recognition, and finally in real estate. What with all of his other civic activities, including the Sportswalk and DB Club, it’s no surprise Mary Star was nearly filled for his funeral. If we are judged by the number of friends we have, Van truly was a champion. spt