Opinion: Council District 15: Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

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Tie two shoelaces together at the ends with a granny knot and you’re left with something shaped very much like Harbor Gateway, which links the northern and southern parts of Los Angeles’ Council District 15. The odd contours are not a gerrymander, at least not in the traditional sense. Los Angeles annexed this ‘shoestring’ strip in 1906 in anticipation of taking over, several years later, the independent cities of Wilmington and San Pedro and the adjacent muddy bay. With federal money for a breakwater and dredging, that bay became the Port of Los Angeles.

Living in something called a shoestring may not be conducive to civic pride, but the current name reminds residents that they’re part of the city primarily as a link to an asset that’s as much as 10 miles away. It’s a hard area to represent on the City Council, and a hard area for residents to get the attention of their council member. So far, everyone voters have elected to represent this district has lived in and had a voter base in San Pedro, at least going back to World War II. That would remain the case if LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino is elected in the Jan. 17 runoff to succeed Janice Hahn. But his opponent, state Assemblyman Warren Furutani, lives in Harbor Gateway. Although his mailing address is Gardena.


That’s another thing about Harbor Gateway: If you live there, the post office and almost everyone else says you live in Gardena or Torrance, not Los Angeles. Even the high school, located in Los Angeles, is called Gardena High. The Holiday Inn is called the Torrance Gateway. Fallas Paredes, the discount chain, says its headquarters is in Gardena. The Wal-Mart says it’s in Torrance. The many trucking, shipping and logistics companies that have quarters in the granny knot area identify with either of those two South Bay cities -- although the fact that they cluster in a narrow strip of Los Angeles rather than Gardena or Torrance puts the lie to the common assertion that L.A. is unfriendly to business.

The two neighborhood councils, at least, know where they are; they split at the knot into North and South councils. Harbor Gateway North also shoots east from the shoestring, running along both sides of the Century Freeway as well as south down the Harbor Freeway.

The gateway to the gateway is the monumental interchange stack between the two freeways. Construction obliterated so much of the neighborhood that a legal agreement mandated the creation of an affordable housing developer to create 4,000 units to replace what was lost, together with job training programs. The developer then became Century Housing Corp. The stack was named for Judge Harry Pregerson, who presided over the lawsuit and the agreement.

The north portion has the Harbor Freeway -- the 110 -- as its spine, taking up a large swath of its mere eight blocks of width between Vermont Avenue and Figueroa. The knot, in addition to its office parks and trucking centers, includes two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup sites, emblematic of the contaminated industrial legacy left to the people of Harbor Gateway.

The Del Amo Facility was in the so-called Dominguez Addition, which was annexed to the city in 1943 just in time for the construction there of a synthetic rubber plant. The facility helped the U.S. win World War II, but its continued operation into the 1970s contaminated the soil and drinking water with PCBs and other dangerous substances. Just to the west, on Normandie, is the site of Montrose Chemical Corp., once the world’s largest producer of DDT. Defenders of the insecticide say it prevented countless cases of malaria; perhaps, but Montrose’s practice of dumping waste into the ground, and then into the county sewer system, contaminated drinking water and created a toxic offshore dump a mile off the Palos Verdes Penninsula. To this day, white croaker and other fish caught there are deemed poisonous.

Further south, Harbor Gateway takes up a different eight blocks in width, from Normandie to Western, unimpeded by the Harbor Freeway to the east. This region has been troubled by gang violence exacerbated by racial tension. African Americans whose parents and grandparents were restricted in their living patterns around Los Angeles by racially restrictive covenants into the 1950s (although by then such covenants were outlawed) now found their movements restricted by Latino gangs, which reportedly declared areas of Harbor Gateway and adjacent areas off-limits to blacks.


The violence drew citywide attention with the 2006 murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Injunctions and a surge of policing have helped stem the violence. But patrolling is complex and must be coordinated with police in Torrance and Gardena and the county sheriff in Carson and the adjacent unincorporated West Carson strip.

The gang crime, environmental and economic challenges of Harbor Gateway would provide a full plate for any City Council member. But it’s the district’s awkward geography -- a half-mile wide, connecting better-known Watts and the more politically powerful harbor area nine miles away -- that pose the biggest obstacle to the area’s adequate representation.

In The Times’ Mapping L.A. comments section for Harbor Gateway, an anonymous former resident said in June 2010:

‘The city puts no money into it and as a result, crime has escalated. Building codes go unenforced; crime is rampant; not a place to raise children.’


Watts and Not-Watts


Questions, and frustration

Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

-- Robert Greene