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San Pedro Waterfront Plan Unites Business, Residents

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping for more recreational and commercial development near downtown San Pedro, local business leaders and homeowners this week unveiled their own vision of the port’s waterfront over the next decade.

But the plan was viewed skeptically by some top port officials, who are planning to lease one prime waterfront site for an auto-handling yard.

The proposal--and its cool reception by harbor officials--underscores a longstanding dispute between the port, the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and area residents over development in the West Bank, the waterfront south of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. For years, port officials have developed the area for harbor uses while the chamber and the San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, disturbed by industrial growth, have pushed for recreational and commercial uses that would bring more tourism.

Now, as the commission completes plans for a 10-year lease with American Honda along Berths 87-90, the chamber and coalition are urging the port to revise Honda’s lease so the auto yard can be relocated if the berths are needed for other projects. They also urged the port to take other steps that would shift future industrial development farther from Harbor Boulevard and bring expansion of the World Cruise Center south, not north, so planned hotels and recreational facilities will be closer to downtown San Pedro.

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“What we are trying to do today with this proposal is present something constructive, some positive ideas so that the port can see, from a community standpoint, where we’d like to go in the long-term planning for the waterfront,” Leron Gubler, the chamber’s executive director, said in unveiling the plan Tuesday at the chamber’s offices.

“As far as I know . . . this is the first time that the two agencies most concerned about San Pedro--the business side and the home-owning side--have joined together in a unified decision on a specific, substantive issue. And I’m just delighted that we’re doing it,” added Noah Modisett, president of the homeowners coalition.

But Modisett’s delight was hardly shared by port officials, including Harbor Commission Secretary Peter Mandia, who immediately raised doubts about the proposals and bristled at the suggestion that port officials are indifferent to recreational/commercial development of the waterfront.

Noting that the port led the way years ago in building the San Pedro marina, Mandia said the Harbor Department and private developers have spent about $300 million over the last decade on recreational/commercial developments.

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“Obviously, the community and the chamber are concerned about commercial/recreational development along the West Bank, and somehow it seems to suggest that the port has not been a participant . . . and I don’t think that’s true,” Mandia said.

At the same time, Mandia told chamber and coalition officials that development of the waterfront is dictated by market conditions and lease arrangements, not well-intentioned proposals. Mandia chided Tuesday’s proposal as one that “may look desirable . . . but creates an expectation” that the port can simply change the course of waterfront development.

Mandia noted, for example, that the proposal calls for someday using Berths 87-90 for a new Catalina and dinner cruise terminal but that the current terminal is far from reaching capacity.

“We wanted the cruise lines to expand their operations,” Mandia said. “Believe me, there aren’t enough ships right now, and there may not be enough ships in the next 20 years to utilize” all those berths.

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“So to say with a stroke of a pen on a map that you want to do something and it will become real is just giving a false impression,” Mandia said. “It’s not real life.”

Mandia’s pessimistic tone about the proposal led Ann D’Amato, harbor deputy for City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, to urge that port officials keep an open mind about the plan. Although reserving judgment on the proposal herself, D’Amato said port officials, at minimum, should “cooperate with analyzing the proposal” in the coming weeks.

“Rather than just a ‘no’ or ‘yes’ (from port officials), I think we’d appreciate more an attitude change,” D’Amato said.

That change, according to the chamber’s Gubler, may already be at hand, with three port commissioners--Floyd Clay, Grace Payne and Robert Rados--promising to keep an open mind about the proposals. But Clay said Wednesday that an open mind does not mean the commission will sign off on the proposals any time soon.

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“I don’t deny they’ve come up with some neat ideas,” Clay said. “But none of them will be accomplished any time soon. We’re looking down the road a few years at least.”

Even if the plan is not immediately embraced, Gubler said the chamber and homeowners are convinced their proposals will eventually influence the port.

“This is a long-term plan, and we’re very positive about how this idea will take shape over time,” Gubler said. “We didn’t expect the port staff to jump up and down with excitement today about what we presented. But I believe they’ll give it serious consideration as time goes on.”

If not, the dispute will continue.

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“You can see why they call the area the West Bank,” quipped Barbara Nebel-Painter, a chamber director.


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