Wilmington Residents Win in Bid for Waterfront Access

Times Staff Writer

Residents of Wilmington have won a major victory in their long-running quest for access to the waterfront.

After spending months considering a new zoning plan for the Port of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Planning Commission adopted a compromise proposal that will allow commercial development such as restaurants on the waterfront while permitting heavy industry to remain in the area.

"I'm thrilled to death," said Calvin Hamilton, the former city planning director who is a consultant for two homeowner groups. "I think we accomplished almost everything that the community wanted."

Harbor officials, meanwhile, said that although they did not get all they had asked for, they believed that the Planning Commission had treated the port fairly. "I think they tried to meet the Board of Harbor Commissioners halfway," said Sid Robinson, the port's planning and research director.

The compromise was worked out just before the commission meeting by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, Planning Director Kenneth Topping and Commission Vice President William Luddy.

With Flores' blessing, the plan is expected to get easy approval from the City Council. "It's going to be a slam-dunk," Flores aide Ann D'Amato said.

Hamilton and residents applauded the decision, which allows public access to unused land at the foot of Avalon Boulevard, the community's main thoroughfare. Heavy industry near that area poses the threat of fire and explosion and precludes public access.

The compromise, which also involves commitments by the Harbor Department and one of the port's tenants, calls for the following:

The Harbor Department will clear land at the foot of Avalon Boulevard, at the north edge of the harbor's Slip No. 5, for community access. Wilmington residents have dubbed the site Banning's Landing, after Phineas Banning, the native of Wilmington, Del., who developed the harbor in the 1850s.

The tenant, Wilmington Liquid Bulk Co., which operates just east of Slip No. 5, will move hazardous materials farther from Avalon Boulevard to eliminate any danger to the public. At Tuesday's hearing, company President Howard Kurz announced that the company was willing to rearrange its operation and said it could be completed within 18 months.

The port property known as the Wilmington district will be split into two sub-areas for zoning purposes. In the section closest to residential neighborhoods, five types of heavy industry that residents opposed--marine oil terminals, petroleum tank farms, fish canneries, railroad yards and shipbuilding firms--will continue to be permitted, but only with approval from the Planning Commission, which will be able to impose restrictions.

In its initial proposal, the Planning Department had suggested leaving the entire Wilmington District, about 600 acres, zoned for heavy industry without restrictions. This would have allowed the five types of heavy industry to continue "by right," that is, without any public hearings or Planning Commission regulation.

Port officials liked that plan, but residents said it would destroy their chances for access to the waterfront by permitting hazardous materials to be handled too close to areas proposed for public use.

In an effort to force Wilmington Liquid Bulk to relocate--and prevent any similar businesses from moving in--the residents proposed splitting the Wilmington District, which planners call Area 5, into two parts. They asked for heavy industrial uses to be permitted only in the area farther from the community, Area 5B, and phased out in the nearer section, Area 5A.

In a policy statement adopted July 13, the harbor commissioners urged the Planning Commission to treat the Wilmington district as a single area. The commissioners said they would designate the Avalon Boulevard site for public access, but only if it did not force any changes in port activities.

Port officials argued that phasing out heavy industry in the Wilmington district would cost millions to their tenants, many of whom have made improvements to the berths they rent from the port. They also feared that rail access to that section of the port could be affected by the new plan.

Peter Mendoza, president of the Wilmington Home Owners group, said it was time for the port to do something for Wilmington, which residents complain is the only coastal community in Southern California without public access to the water.

Mendoza, Hamilton and others have said repeatedly that the port, which has built a marina and cruise center in San Pedro, has lavished recreation and commercial development on that community while ignoring neighboring Wilmington.

Commissioner Sam Botwin, a San Pedro resident who stepped down from the commission Tuesday, agreed. "The people own the harbor and I feel they have a right to have access to the waterfront. . . . " he said.

Area 5A: Oil terminals, petroleum tank farms, fish canning and cleaning facilities, railroad yards and shipbuilding operations permitted with Planning Commission approval.

Area 5B: Above uses permitted "by right"--without special approval.

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