San Pedro and other communities near the Port of Los Angeles have longed for a more vibrant waterfront with restaurants, shops and parks that draw tourists and create an amenity for locals. Measure P on the March ballot would change the city charter to make it easier to attract developers to help make that dream a reality.
After decades of talk, the city last year approved a $150-million proposal by Ratkovitch Co. and Jerico Development to transform the 30-acre waterfront. The developers aim to convert Ports O' Call Village, a kitschy collection of shops, fish stalls and restaurants, into the San Pedro Public Market, a modern complex in the style of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. The project will be bigger, more modern and more open — with more glass-and-steel construction and fewer faux-Spanish and faux-New England structures. It will still include shops, restaurants and fresh markets, but will also include offices, a Ferris wheel, a carousel and a discovery sea park.
The Port of Los Angeles will spend at least $50 million reconfiguring roads, building a new stretch of promenade and a town square, and making other infrastructure upgrades around the public market. The rest of the project will be privately financed. But the developers behind the project and city officials say the city charter, which limits leases of port property to 50 years, has discouraged private investment and could ultimately hurt the long-term success of the waterfront redevelopment.
Developers typically own the property under their buildings and the land can be used as collateral for the loans needed to build the project. The harbor and waterfront, however, are public lands that can be rented but not sold. Port officials say the charter limit on 50-year leases is too short for developers to get financing and therefore makes it hard to attract the kind of private investment needed. And when a lease is capped at 50 years, there is little incentive for the property owner to reinvest and maintain the property after 20 or 30 years, so the development falls into disrepair — much as Ports O' Call has.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino pushed successfully to change state law to allow longer leases of port property. Now, he is calling for a change to the Los Angeles City Charter to allow a maximum lease of 66 years. Measure P would not mean the port would automatically approve a slate of 66-year leases. Rather, the measure gives the port the flexibility to approve longer leases. There would still be a public vetting process of the individual leases, and there should be scrutiny to ensure that any lengthy contracts include safeguards to protect public lands.
Measure P is an important tool to help drive the redevelopment of the San Pedro waterfront. Vote yes.