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.

Party Like It’s 1988

Happy 125th Birthday, San Pedro! There’s no way to predict what the next 125 years will bring, but I strongly believe that in the next 25 years we will do much more than in the previous quarter century. And, contrary to some local critics, we’ve come a long way in that time.

Consider this: In 1988, when we celebrated San Pedro’s Centennial, anyone venturing into downtown at night would have found a virtual ghost town, which was considered too dangerous to visit after dark. The only place of note to eat and/or drink at night around this time was Papadakis Taverna.

Everything changed almost immediately after 1988 when Alan Johnson opened John T’s, which was later taken over and changed to the San Pedro Brewing Company by James Brown. Suddenly, young San Pedrans had a downtown place for drinks at night. The crowd soon invaded Tommy’s next door (now Crimsin) and the spark was lit for a downtown scene where one can now eat and drink at numerous locations.

The fact that downtown is a much better nighttime place to visit than it was 25 years ago flies into the face of the nostalgia you often hear from old-timers. True, retail isn’t nearly as strong as it was in the years prior to the opening of malls like Del Amo, but that’s the case in downtowns all across America. And the next 25 years will get better – much better.

Everything starts with the port. There are currently two major developments – AltaSea and Ports O’ Call – that will not only change the face of the waterfront, but all of San Pedro, especially downtown.

AltaSea will greatly expand the current Marine Research Institute by relocating at City Dock 1. The research center, which is a collaborative effort of eleven major universities, including USC and UCLA, will feature seawater labs, classrooms, lecture halls, an interpretive center, and an opportunity to develop the world’s largest seawater wave tank.

A world class research center will drive to San Pedro a large wave of academicians, vendors, businessmen, and professionals that will either work at AltaSea, service its operational requirements, or create business partnerships that leverage the research being done there. The most natural place for these newcomers to locate their offices will be in downtown. And more people in more offices will establish the environment for a better variety of places to eat and drink in downtown… and at Ports O’ Call.

Ports O’ Call will create a waterfront dining and shopping experience that will spark tourism, as has happened in other port towns such as Seattle, Sydney, and Barcelona. However, the key to making our area a regional attraction will be our ability to integrate for visitors a seamless experience where they can traverse between a great waterfront and a vibrant downtown scene.

The reason I was so inspired by the choice of the L.A. Waterfront Alliance as the Ports O’ Call developer is that the team includes Eric and Alan Johnson. The Johnsons own property throughout San Pedro and understand the importance of an integrated plan linking the waterfront and downtown. What other outside waterfront developer would have been such a strong advocate for downtown? Alan has a vision for downtown that includes one-way streets with better parking, enhanced public performance space, wider sidewalks that allow for sidewalk dining, and transforming alleys into pedestrian walkways – much like in Old Town Pasadena (I’d add bringing the Red Car up 6th Street to Centre).

In addition, Alan is on the board of Marymount University and is very active in helping the college establish a film school at the Klaus Center on 6th Street, which could assist in Mayor Garcetti’s idea for making San Pedro one of the city’s entertainment corridors.

It all adds up to a downtown on the upswing… it should be a great quarter century for our town!

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

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

If They Build It…Will We Come?

(l to r) Eric Johnson, Wayne Ratkovich and Alan Johnson of the L.A. Waterfront Alliance. Photographed at the Brown Bros. Building in downtown San Pedro.

It wasn’t that long ago when Downtown Los Angeles was still trying to find its way. Before Staples Center, before L.A. Live, before the lofts, the new restaurants and the Nokia Theater, Downtown Los Angeles was suffering. There were even news reports on all the vacancies in the skyscrapers. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Cut to today and what do we see? A vibrant, urban environment, constantly busy, offering world-class entertainment and top-notch restaurants in a fun and safe atmosphere with plenty of parking. Concerts, sports, special events all seem to happen in Downtown L.A. these days.

Redevelopment is happening across Southern California. Look at Hollywood Blvd. with the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre and the top of the line retail shops, and Old Town Pasadena with the same type of revitalization. It was only a matter of time before our waterfront became a top priority for redevelopment.

Earlier this year, Wayne Ratkovich of The Ratkovich Company, and Alan and Eric Johnson of Jerico Development, known collectively as the L.A. Waterfront Alliance, were awarded the opportunity by the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission to redevelop the current Ports O’ Call location. It’s a much needed yet daunting task as Ports O’ Call has fallen under hard times in recent years. Weekend crowds still fill the San Pedro Fish Market, but weekday traffic across the village is minimal. Most everyone in San Pedro will agree that it’s in dire need of redevelopment.

San Pedro Today caught up with Ratkovich and Alan Johnson (his brother Eric was unavailable) at The Ratkovich Company office in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss their “world-class” plans for the waterfront, their vision for the future, and what San Pedro can expect in the coming years.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length

San Pedro Today: Why did Jerico Development want to get involved with the Ports O’ Call redevelopment project in the first place and why did The Ratkovich Company want to join in? What was the genesis behind it?

Alan Johnson: As you know, the talk was that Ports O’ Call was going to be redeveloped and there was a lot of interest in town. We were approached by several people about doing it and well, you know, that’s not our thing. We do our own stuff. [Jerico] didn’t have the wherewithal to take on that big of a project. Then [someone asked], “Would you like to meet Wayne Ratkovich?” And I said absolutely! I’ve followed Wayne and his career for quite a while. I personally wasn’t going to miss the chance to meet Wayne. And the prospect of actually doing something together was just beyond even thinking about.

Wayne Ratkovich: That’s how it all began. We were introduced to one another. I don’t think [The Ratkovich Company] would have taken on the project if we didn’t have someone like Eric and Alan locally that would be part of the development. We needed to have somebody with a local presence. If we didn’t have that, I don’t think we would have put our hat in the ring. When we met, it seemed like we’d probably get along okay together. We shared a common culture in many ways. We also share the fact that this is very important for the City of Los Angeles and for San Pedro. This is important stuff. Alan and Eric have waited a long time to see this property improved and we saw it as an opportunity to fulfill our mission, our development company’s mission, which is to ‘profitably produce developments that improve the quality of urban life.’

SPT: What’s your opinion of Ports O’Call in its current state today?

Johnson: It needs a lot of help. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. There is an opportunity to do something much better than what is there. Keep much of the good, but give it a new life.

SPT: There is concern from the community that a place like the San Pedro Fish Market, which is a San Pedro institution, might become a victim of the redevelopment. What’s your mindset going into what will stay and what will go?

Ratkovich: We have to look at what we think belongs there. It must draw, and draw not only from the San Pedro community, but it must draw from the region. We got to have something that has a magnetic force to it. As we go through all of that process of trying to figure out what that is, it would be downright foolish to toss away existing success stories. We can’t guarantee anything at this point, but common sense says you want to keep what is already producing good revenue and doing good business as you build more to it. I think that’s the framework we have.

SPT: At the first public meeting at the Warner Grand, you gave a fairly lengthy presentation prior to the public comment of all the other harbor locations across the world; other ports and harbors that are on a much bigger scale than what is currently there now. Is that the mindset going into this project? Something that big and grand?

Johnson: Yes. Big. We have all talked about big. In a city like Los Angeles, with all the other world-class top attractions, I think it only makes sense. I think Ports O’Call deserves it. I think it’s fitting there. It’s L.A.’s waterfront. There are a lot of factors that say it should be big.

Ratkovich: We’re not looking at this from the standpoint of wanting to do big things just because we want do big things. We’re not measuring this in square footage. We’re saying if this is going to be successful, you can’t think small. It just won’t work. You’ve got to think big. You got to draw a big picture. You have to have a big attraction. You have to induce a lot of enthusiasm, because there’s not much enthusiasm right now. There’s not much hope. So we want to reverse that.

SPT: I know you’re still in the early stages, but what have you come across as the biggest challenges so far with this redevelopment plan?

Ratkovich: We’re early, but so far everything’s going really well. If we have a challenge right now, it’s convincing the San Pedro community to be patient, because they are anxious to have something happen. And in this day and age, I wish things happened faster than they do. But it takes more time than most people think. That’s why I’ve tried to convince the world that developers are entitled to two lives instead of one, because everything takes so damn long. (laughs) Right now that’s probably the one thing that concerns us the most – keeping the support of the community. I think we got a lot of support in that first meeting and we want to keep it, but we can’t expect people who are not in our business to understand why it does take so long. Also, we’re really happy that our work with the Port has been like a partnership, which you don’t expect very often when you’re dealing with a government agency.

Johnson: The port has so much planned down there and there are so many things that have to be done just right. There is going to be a couple billion dollars spent down there between AltaSea, Ports O’Call, the infrastructure… And I tell you what, there won’t be $2 billion spent there five years from now. Everything has to be laid out and understood and made to work. The challenges… certainly one is moving people along Harbor Blvd. How is that going to happen? The worst thing you’d have is this phenomenally successful development, you know, it’s not a disaster, it’s phenomenal, but it’s like a people explosion! Take what you see there now on Mother’s Day or any holiday weekend, we’re going to quadruple that. Those are the numbers that are going to happen. So how do we do that? It’s building the infrastructures. The port’s very open to it and I think we’re making good progress talking about this. We’ve had some very productive meetings and I think if there’s a roadblock, I haven’t seen it yet. It’s just time.

Could Ports O'Call become a world-class destination for all of Los Angeles? The L.A. Waterfront Alliance thinks so.

SPT: Let’s talk about funding, since you started dropping some numbers here. Where are the funds coming from to put this development together? Have you worked out a budget of what it’s going to cost?

Ratkovich: No, we haven’t, too soon for that. Our job is to create a scenario that will attract capital. So we first have to create that scenario. We have to put together the ingredients that are necessary to attract the capital. That means some pre-commitments from tenants. Perhaps existing ones, perhaps new ones. That all has to come together, and that’s our job. If we get the ingredients that will produce revenue, then we’ll get the financing.

SPT: So to be clear, that’s the current stage you are in right now? Putting the ingredients together to get that financing? Are you confident you’ll achieve that goal?

Ratkovich: That’s correct. We feel confident that there is a lot of capital available for investment. Our job is to create the scenario that attracts that capital. It’s complicated by the fact that this is ground lease property that makes financing more challenging. It’s certainly not impossible; it just makes it more challenging. It limits the number of investors or lenders. It changes the terms. Makes it a little less attractive. Interest rates are a little higher, terms a little shorter. That kind of thing. But it’s not impossible.

SPT: As far as tenant commitments go, what’s been the general response?

Johnson: Existing or new?

SPT: New.

Johnson: We’ve got some very interesting prospects.

Ratkovich: We do. We brought in the National Real Estate group from Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE) to work with us. And while we don’t have anything in writing from anybody yet, we do have pretty positive expectations about what they think they can do, who the brokers think they can bring in. And that’s good, because if we didn’t have that, we might as well fold tent right now. So we’re very optimistic about the possibilities.

Johnson: Regarding the current businesses there now, the Port has set it up in such a way that all the current leases end in December 2014. That’s how they tend to deliver the space. But as Wayne said earlier, you’d be pretty foolish not to take advantage of what is working down there and those old connections.

SPT: There’s been an issue with the name change, because you’ve already gone public that the Ports O’ Call name will be retired. Why the idea for the name change? And do you have a list of new names you’re considering?

Ratkovich: I’m the one who said I thought there should be a name change, and I do believe that. We don’t have a new name yet. There’s just too many negatives associated with “Ports O’Call.” If you’re going to reach out to an entire region, as well as the local community, I think you need to say this is a whole new thing happening. [My company] has restored 17 historic buildings in the City of L.A. I have great respect for history. But to me, it’s the history of San Pedro – not the history of Ports O’Call.

Johnson: If you see what happened over time, the Fish Market was Norm’s Landing, and it was a fish market and it had nothing to do with Ports O’ Call. Ports O’ Call has just come to mean that whole [area], but it’s really not. I remember seeing this old picture, some old weekend and the crowd in the parking lot was all around Ports O’ Call in the village, very little around the fish market. But what a transformation from now, where it’s just completely flipped! I think there are very fond memories of Ports O’Call, but it’s the Ports O’ Call that people remember back in the day.

I think the promise this redevelopment holds is the ability to bring down those people in San Pedro that refuse to go down there. Bring them through downtown; see that downtown’s nice. With a town of 90,000 people like San Pedro, you really shouldn’t need to leave town to buy all your stuff like you have to do now. We have enough retail space in downtown and throughout town on Gaffey and Pacific and all of these places that if they rediscover the waterfront and they rediscover downtown, there’s plenty of retail space for every use that is necessary and needed for them if they come back, if they support it. You’re not just bringing tourists back, you’re bringing the town back, then all of a sudden you serve their needs on those streets and you just let the market figure it out. There’s a whole effort to make that connection between downtown and the waterfront and I think that is a really key thing. It’s important to us and it’s important to the development of the town because there’s a big disconnect now.

SPT: Finally, when this project comes to fruition and you guys are ready to get the proposal out in front of the public and show the designs and we see pictures of what could be, what can you tell San Pedro to expect?

Johnson: We really want to be measured against the waterfronts of the world. We have world-class developers working on it. So to me, I think nothing short of that. I think we’ll see a very efficient way to get people off the freeway and move them through to Ports O’ Call, but then we move them through to Alta Sea, we move them to the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, we move them along our waterfront so they really have this full day in San Pedro. With tourism being the number one industry in L.A. right now, it just happens to be really good for us. We have a lot of wind in our sails, a lot of community support and so I think things really seem lined up, I know we’re going to hit bumps. I don’t want to have this become a burden on our town, a “what did we wish for?” scenario. It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. And we’re going to work our asses off that it’s not that way.

Ratkovich: The time has come for the waterfront and downtown San Pedro to be what it really should be. Something that’s really wonderful and unique and that all the citizens can share. That’s sort of a vague and broad description of what we hope to get, but that’s what it’s going to be and it should be something that not only is successful in its own right, but it contributes to the success of downtown San Pedro and to the living environment – a whole urban complex – that’s down there today. spt

Bridging Hope

Long Beach Ronald McDonald House

For John Papadakis it has always been about remaking San Pedro into a seaside destination – a city that people will write home about.

A long-time San Pedro Booster, Papadakis was also the owner of what he describes as “San Pedro’s greatest destination ever,” Papadakis Taverna. But his plan for San Pedro, as the chairman of the Los Angeles Harbor-Watts Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership to bring development to the area, isn’t moving has quickly has he had hoped. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a difference.

Instead, it led him across the bridge to Long Beach, where an opportunity arose for him to be a part of something much bigger than himself when he was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Ronald McDonald House.

Several months later, in need of cash to get the project on its feet, Papadakis suggested a fundraising event at his San Pedro staple – it was a hit.

The event, which saw more than 80 people in attendance, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster and then state senator Alan Lowenthal, now a congressman, raised $40,000 for construction of the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House. According to Cheri Bazley, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House, it was the first funding ever raised for the project.

“John’s event started it all,” she says. “This was the seed money, if you will, it was critical and very significant in launching the campaign to build the house. His fundraiser was crucial.”

The Ronald McDonald House, located at Atlantic and Vernon Street, two blocks south of Miller Children’s Hospital, opened its doors in December 2011. In that time, the house has served hundreds of families who have children with critical and life-threatening illnesses.

The house provides inexpensive, and often free, lodging for families who travel long distances while their children undergo treatment. The houses alleviate the stress family members would have to endure by sleeping on cots at the hospital or incurring the additional expense of finding a local hotel. The facilities provide them with the added comfort of being surrounded by those who understand and can relate to the ordeal of having an ill child.

But raising the initial money to fund the construction of the house was just phase one for the board of directors. Papadakis, who still serves on the board and is a founder of the Ronald McDonald House, says that “now the key is being able to continue to raise the finances to sustain the house.”

Papadakis came up with an idea, the Heart of the House effort, as it is known, a slogan Papadakis coined himself, to continue to raise money in a sustaining effort. Bazley says it’s these donations that are critical and essential for the Ronald McDonald House to continue to operate.

“We operate on a $1.1 million budget,” she says. “More than 80 percent of our funding comes from private individuals. It is essential that we reach beyond the Long Beach community to raise awareness and raise this money because our services are very far reaching.”

That’s where Danny Salas comes in.

Salas, who grew up poor on the docks in San Pedro, says he struggled to afford so much as a hook when he was a little boy. But through hard work and dedication, Salas, with his wife and children, has become quite the success story.

Growing up in San Pedro, Salas said he wanted to do something on or near the water. So, in the mid 90s, he started a sports fishing charter business at Ports O’ Call. His business boomed. He went from one small boat to seven large boats, including an 80-foot dinner cruise liner.

“I had the opportunity about 12 years ago to move my business to Long Beach and work directly with the city and the Aquarium of the Pacific,” he says.

Salas and his business, now called Harbor Breeze Cruises, made their move to Long Beach in 2000 and have continued to grow with various cruise offerings and fishing excursions.

“It’s tough to start a business, any way you look at it, but our business has seen growth beyond our wildest dreams – I started out as a boy on the docks with nothing, and now I am able to give back.” And that’s what Salas did.

A few months back, Salas received a phone call from Papadakis, the pair met through a mutual friend and San Pedro native Van Barbieri, who passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer. Salas calls Barbieri the “angel that introduced John and I,” an introduction Salas says that without “the donation may not have been.”

Papadakis simply told Salas about the Ronald McDonald House and the Heart of the House campaign, and without asking many questions, Salas agreed to a luncheon with Bazley. Upon showing up for lunch, shaking hands and only saying “Hello,” Salas handed Bazley a check for $10,000.

“He acted out of faith,” says Papadakis.

Salas was the first contributor to the Heart of the House campaign, and when you break that down, it equates to two San Pedrans raising the first amounts of money in two great efforts.

“The Ronald McDonald House is just a beautiful home,” says Salas. “It took a great deal of effort to get it going, but funding is still needed to make sure it can operate each and every day. There are a lot of costs involved, and this Heart of the House program is there to make sure the house is always maintained.”

“Danny’s donation was incredible,” Bazley says. “Both John and Danny recognized that our mission, to serve the families with critically ill children, is very important. We are almost fully serviced by private funds and its donations like Danny’s that allow us to continue to serve the many families in need.”

For more than 30 years, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern California has served more than 50,000 families through Ronald McDonald houses in Los Angeles, Orange County, Loma Linda and Pasadena, and Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, where children with cancer and their siblings can enjoy normal childhood experiences with kids just like them. There are more than 270 Ronald McDonald Houses in more than 30 countries.

Bazley says the Ronald McDonald House has 23 guest rooms, and a commitment from local hotels to ensure that no family is ever turned away. “We have been operating at about 80 percent capacity,” she says. “We have had several weeks that we have been completely full. A large population of our families comes from Los Angeles County, and we have had 12 San Pedro families stay with us.”

Papadakis says it is unique that San Pedro residents cross the bridge to donate. But he said it is important, not only for the cause, but for the idea that San Pedro needs this same type of development.

“The Ronald McDonald House serves a very important function, it allows families who have very critical ill children to stay with their children,” he says. “Some 40 years ago Long Beach was a very dirty, dangerous, tough town, but they transformed themselves and captured their water line and made it people and family friendly. This is exactly what San Pedro needs to do. We need to become a great seaside city, a destination city. It is good for San Pedrans to see this, open their minds to it and respect it. We need to continue to sustain this house. It stands for so much humanity and goodness from one man to another to provide a place to a family in a very difficult time. I can’t think of a better function than to give when someone is in need.” spt

For more info or to donate, contact the Long Beach Ronald McDonald House at (562) 285-4300 or visit www.longbeachrmh.org.

I Love San Pedro, But…

If you’re anything like me, you probably share the same love/hate relationship that I have with this peculiar little port town of ours. I know, “hate” is a strong word, but using an antonym other than hate would sound ridiculous, so just go with me here.

Being that this month includes the much-lauded day for St. Valentine, the topic of love and how it pertains to San Pedro is a tricky subject to maneuver. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t hear from a family member, friend or acquaintance, the phrase, “I love San Pedro, but…” The “but” is usually followed by some issue that’s currently plaguing our town that hasn’t been dealt with yet, if ever.

Most of you know what I’m what I’m referring to. “I love San Pedro, but I’m getting really sick of the gang/graffiti problem.” “I love San Pedro, but people drive like [plural expletive] here.” “I love San Pedro, but they really need to do something with [insert Ports O’ Call, Paseo del Mar, downtown San Pedro, potholes, Rancho San Pedro Housing Project, all the sober living homes, traffic on Western, etc.].” You get the picture.

San Pedrans love to love San Pedro and we wear that love like a badge of honor, and usually on our clothing. It’s funny, actually. We are the first people to profess our love for this town, yet we’re also the first people to rip it apart when something is bugging us about it. But if we ever hear someone from out of town criticize San Pedro, we jump in and defend it like it’s one of our children. Or a drunken uncle. Either scenario works.

One of the universal loves of this town, though, is our love for our local family-owned restaurants. And lucky for us, there are plenty to choose from. If you haven’t already noticed who’s on our cover this month, we’re featuring a member of one of this town’s legendary culinary families, Dustin Trani.

Trani first appeared on the cover of the August 2003 issue of the original San Pedro Magazine, along with all the Jims – brother Jim, father Jim and grandfather Jim. That story focused on their family legacy, starting with Trani’s great grandfather Filippo and the beginnings of the Trani family business in 1925. This issue, we look forward, rather than backward, and focus on Trani’s career as he splits time between J. Trani’s Ristorante on 9th St. and his new gig at Doma in Beverly Hills.

Trani’s story is nothing short of incredible. At six-years-old, he’s prepping parsley, by 11 he’s working banquets, by 18 he’s working with Contessa Premium Foods and traveling around the world with CEO John Blazevich. At 22, he’s training at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. And now, at the ripe old age of 28, he’s working double time as the executive chef at both J. Trani’s and Doma. When people ask who are the future leaders of San Pedro, as one columnist does this month, Dustin Trani is certainly on that list. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I did writing it.

Four Years and Counting…
This issue marks the magazine’s four-year anniversary. I would say that it sounds like a short time, and in reality it is, but having a deadline every month the past four years (eight if you count my tenure with the original San Pedro Magazine) sure does make it feel like quite the long haul.

While I’m incredibly proud with how this magazine has operated and been received in our community, there is still plenty of room for improvement. We’re currently working on a few behind-the-scenes projects that we’ll be debuting as the year progresses that I’m incredibly excited about. As San Pedro continues its path towards redevelopment, so to will this publication.

Finally, we’re also hard at work on a very special edition of San Pedro Today celebrating our town’s 125th anniversary. We were originally shooting to publish it next month to coincide with the town’s actual “birthday” on March 1, but we’ve decided to push it to the summer in time for all the celebratory 125th anniversary events various organizations have planned. It just seemed like a better fit.

Thanks to all our readers, advertisers, Facebook fans and Twitter followers for continuing to shower us with support. Here’s to another four years and beyond.

Until next month…