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)

Calling ALL Alumni (& Friends)

This year, a group of local non-profit executives began meeting once a month after work to spend some social time together to commiserate on the difficulties our organizations have faced.

Executives from the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, Gang Alternatives Program, Harbor Interfaith Shelter, Toberman Settlement House, YMCA, Harbor Community Clinic and Rainbow Shelter get together to wind down and relax with a group of peers who understand the same pressures and struggles. Don’t get me wrong, we all love our jobs and I feel that I am one of the luckiest people on earth to be able to lead the Boys & Girls Club, my refuge as a child. But the reality is that we have been facing some very stressful times these past three years as funding has been difficult to secure while the number of youth, homeless, abused, without healthcare, hungry, neglected, obese and despondent who come through our doors increases, oftentimes needing so much more than we can hope to fully supply.

I am not writing this article to whine about the struggles and challenges these executives and I face each day. Rather, I strive to reinforce once again the great work each of these organizations facilitate and the thousands of lives we often change and even save. To put it bluntly, we need your support now more than ever.

The reality is that you can have the greatest programs, staff, volunteers and facilities known to man – but if you do not have the consistent and increasing funding support needed to meet the growing demand of so many more children, adults and families in need, then so many lives that could have been saved will be tragically lost.

Our community’s non-profits are often the lifelines needed by so many individuals and families that are struggling just to hang on for another day. Each of us has a Board of Directors who gives personally of their bounty and time to support the great work being done. However, a non-profit cannot be supported solely by a Board when there are so many to be served.

For our Boys & Girls Clubs, our daily attendance alone grew from 2,150 per day last year to over 2,500 per day the first five months of 2012. Since most of the organizations I listed do not charge a fee for service, we must raise millions of dollars annually to meet the needs of the children, adults and families we serve. That’s millions of dollars we must raise each and every year.

As our 75th Anniversary year comes to a close, the largest untapped opportunity for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor are our thousands of alumni who, like me, had their lives changed for the better because of the Club. This is a call for your help.

We need you – our alumni – to give back (and substantially) now more than ever. As I mentioned at the Club’s recent induction to the San Pedro Sportswalk – we are the “finished products” of the Boys & Girls Club. We are now law enforcers, restaurateurs, postal employees, company executives, teachers, longshoremen, elected officials, lawyers, union leaders, prima ballerinas, electricians, crane operators, CPA’s, Port employees, retired professionals, small business owners and doctors to name just a few. We are calling all alumni as we need your support now more than ever if we are going to sustain our great impact by continuing to change and sometimes save so many lives.

For the non-profits of our community, it really does take a village to continue to do our great work day in and day out. I want to thank all of the individuals and companies that support my organization and all the other worthy non-profits of our community – your generosity is truly appreciated and important. For the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, the last 75 years have been great. Let’s make sure the next 75 years are even better. spt

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