It was, Jo Ann Wysocki admitted, the Wilmington Home Owners' first experience with a press conference.
But there they were Wednesday morning, Wysocki and a collection of community activists, standing before a microphone in front of the concrete-and-glass headquarters of the Port of Los Angeles.
As inexperienced as they were, they had chosen the perfect site to convey their message: The headquarters building, symbolic of the wealthy port, is in San Pedro, which the homeowners say reaps most of the benefits from being near the harbor, while Wilmington bears the scars.
"Today," declared Wysocki, "we are proposing to the Los Angeles Harbor Department and to the commissioners a program to . . . improve our quality of life."
The group's 28-point plan, which the harbor commissioners referred to the port's community relations department, calls upon the Harbor Department to:
Make a more concerted effort to include Wilmington residents in its plans;
Promote recreation and education in Wilmington by improving public access to the waterfront, building an arts center and meeting halls in Wilmington and developing educational displays for schools;
Improve public safety by establishing a truck route and by relocating hazardous materials and junkyards.
The most crucial recommendation--and the one that, if adopted, would enable many of the others to come to fruition--is a request that the Harbor Department work toward changing local and state law to enable the port to spend its profits in the Wilmington community.
Some of these recommendations mirror those contained in a recently released study by consultant Calvin Hamilton, although Hamilton's plans are more grandiose and do not call for the Harbor Department to foot the bill. Wysocki said the homeowners had agreed not to discuss Hamilton's plan at the press conference and maintained that the conference was not timed to coincide with the release of Hamilton's study.
Although Wilmington residents often complain that the port, which earned $67.2 million last year, never spends any of its profits to enhance the community, the response of port officials has been that state law doesn't allow them to help.
The port operates under the so-called "tidelands trust," which requires that the port's land and any money it makes be used for "the promotion and accommodation of commerce, navigation and fishery."
Whether port officials are interested in changing that law remains to be seen. Cal Burton, who as chief of the port's community relations department will review the residents' plan, said during Wednesday's press conference that he believes the residents have some legitimate concerns.
Burton, who spoke even though he was not invited to the press conference, noted the port has appointed a task force to study the problems in Wilmington, and said port officials "have a responsibility" to make improvements.
But, he cautioned, "I think also we have to look at the tidelands trust and what restrictions are placed on what we can and can't do."
"That's a very critical issue," replied Peter Mendoza, president of the Wilmington Home Owners. "It's only because the Harbor Department is in our community that we have problems. So they have some direct responsibility."
Wysocki, who is vice president of the Wilmington Home Owners, said
the group intends to discuss this proposal with Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores and Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach).
The homeowners said they are especially anxious for the port to provide recreation in Wilmington. Their study complained that "the emphasis has been for San Pedro to grow as the recreational harbor and Wilmington as the working harbor. This is not a fair concept."
To prove their point, the residents took Burton on a tour of Wilmington several weeks ago. They showed him trash, junkyards and trucks spewing dust and jamming traffic downtown. They showed him the grimy residue of the port's business.
At the end of the 2 1/2-hour tour, the residents took Burton to San Pedro. There, they showed him the port's $45-million Cabrillo Marina recreational complex, with its gazebos, trees and walking paths.
Asked what he thought of his tour, Burton said: "Oh, they need help. If I lived there, I'd be screaming, too."