Tide of Public Opinion Pulls Both Ways Over Redondo Beach Pier

Times Staff Writer

Redondo Beach officials have planned to rebuild the city's historic pier since much of it was destroyed by fire two months ago, but about half of the crowd at a public meeting this week told the City Council not to resurrect it.

"I would say the residents were all thrilled when the pier burned," Joyce Long, a Redondo Beach resident and business owner, told the mayor and City Council during Monday's 4-hour meeting. She said the pier drew crime and gangs to the city, while other residents objected to noise and traffic from the pier.

Several speakers, however, supported reconstruction.

"The community wants the pier. . . . People haven't been wondering if the pier is going to be rebuilt--they're saying, 'when?' " said resident Leslie Eve, who publishes a newsletter for senior citizens and the handicapped.

And so the meeting went, Ping-Ponging back and forth as residents, business owners and others filed to the podium, some insisting that the pier should be rebuilt, others saying it shouldn't. The opinions of both groups were met with frequent applause from the audience of about 110 people.

Many residents said the question should be put to a vote. Mayor Barbara J. Doerr and a majority of the council members tentatively agreed, but officials said the earliest the issue could be voted on is next March.

In previous comments, city officials have not even suggested the possibility of not rebuilding the pier. Previously, the City Council created a Pier Reconstruction Fund and approved a public campaign to solicit donations. They also tentatively agreed to hold a design competition, and hired two engineering firms to make recommendations.

As Casey said as the meeting began:

"From the moment the pier fire was contained up to and including this evening, the actions of the mayor, the council and staff have reflected a strong, collective commitment to rebuild the Redondo Beach Pier--not just to restore it to its prior condition, but to improve it and make it better for the future; to possibly put a face on this grand old lady whose image and presence are inseparable from the community's history, character and identity, (and) to turn this disaster into an opportunity."

Only a few people gave opinions on how the pier should be redesigned, whether it should be wood, steel or concrete, or what commercial and recreational facilities should be included--the intended topics of the meeting.

Officials estimate that it will cost about $4 million to replace the pier as it was--a wooden structure with a concrete deck--or at least $6 million to replace it with a steel or concrete structure.

A May 27 blaze destroyed most of the horseshoe-shaped section of the pier, including 15 businesses, and caused about $7 million damage. Other parts of the pier and several other businesses were damaged by a severe two-day storm in January and by wind-swept waves on April 30 and May 29.

In all, 50,000 square feet of the pier's deck--about half of the structure--was destroyed during the first five months of this year, City Manager Tim Casey said at the meeting.

City Attorney Gordon Phillips said he is unsure whether Redondo Beach is contractually obligated to rebuild the city-owned pier, which it leased to a private business, Pier Properties Ltd. Partnership. Pier Properties, which leased its approximate 20 buildings to restaurants and shops, has about 40 years remaining on its lease with the city. Phillips said he will review the lease and determine the city's legal obligations within three weeks.

Councilman Ronald Cawdrey said after the meeting that even if the city does not have a legal obligation to rebuild the landmark, it has a moral one. He said the anti-pier sentiments did not surprise him because many of the opponents live nearby.

Resident John Sharp said most residents oppose rebuilding the pier and certainly don't want it to be any larger than it was before the fire. He said the remaining half of the pier "adequately reflects Redondo Beach; it adequately reflects the roots of Redondo Beach. Many citizens think piers are, frankly, passe. "

Sharp and other opponents of reconstruction said the pier encourages crime and attracts gangs. Several speakers who said they live in the adjacent condominium and apartment complex complained about noise, which they say has greatly diminished since the disasters.

Opponents of reconstruction also argued that the 4 million visitors that the pier attracts each year aggravate density and traffic problems in the city. They claimed that the pier takes away city money and resources that could be spent on other parts of the city.

City officials noted that pier is self-supporting. Revenues generated from the pier and other harbor businesses pay for the area's police, fire and maintenance services, salaries for Harbor Department employees and even rent for the space that the department occupies in City Hall. The Harbor Enterprise--the city agency that oversees the harbor--has made a profit since 1980, said Harbor Director Sheila Schoettger. Prior to 1980, harbor profits were used to pay off bonds for the harbor's construction, she said.

City officials are not sure, however, whether the harbor revenues will be able to finance the rebuilding of the pier. In addition to the pier damage, adjacent parts of King Harbor were damaged by storms in January. Altogether, damage at King Harbor this year has been estimated at $26.5 million.

The federal government rejected a request to provide financial assistance, but city and state officials are planning to appeal that decision.

Supporters of pier reconstruction said no city in Los Angeles County is immune to gang problems or crime, and said the Police Department does a good job of protecting the pier, its businesses and visitors. The pier offers a place to enjoy the ocean without spending a lot of money and is a good place for the area's youth and senior citizens to meet, they argued.

Other proponents of the pier's reconstruction suggested that a new pier be more accessible to the handicapped, offer more places to view the ocean instead of buildings and provide better restroom facilities--which one man said are now "unfit for human beings." Another suggested a surfing museum there.

Some people asked that more parking be provided for pier visitors, that garages be better lit and that valet parking be provided.

Resident Harold Davidson said, "I don't think you need any engineers. I think everything is being governed by a higher authority, and he's telling you right now, 'Do not rebuild that pier--at least not the way it was before.'...

"Cut your losses. Pay the (business) people off if they have to be paid off, but let's not endure another pier like we have."

Many residents said enough of the pier remains to satisfy the community's needs.

Bob Resnick, president of the Redondo Pier Assn. business group, told the council that the remaining businesses have seen a decline in sales between 30% and 50% from the same time last year, even though the weather has been better this year. "People aren't happy about coming down to a disaster zone, because it's really no fun," he said.

The future of the harbor depends on the pier being rebuilt, he said. "The entire King Harbor and pier area is going to sink or swim together," he said. "...The whole area is interdependent and people won't come to see half a show."

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