Since the days of Richard Henry Dana, San Pedro and its port have been inextricably linked environmentally, economically and culturally. For many years, a symbiotic relationship existed between the port and the community. The port provided thousands of good, decent-wage jobs in fishing, canning, shipbuilding and longshoring. The community provided a high quality, multi-generational, skilled workforce. The relationship made San Pedro a relatively wealthy, almost self-sustaining community.
That changed in the 1970s and '80s as the fishing, canning and shipbuilding industries were globalized. Thousands of jobs went to lower cost, less restrictive areas of the world. The port continued to grow exponentially, becoming one of the world's busiest container ports. However, there was no commensurate growth in local jobs. Community wealth began a long, slow decline as private investment in a community adjacent to a large industrial facility with few jobs dried up.
In the late 1990s, under some pressure from the community, the Los Angeles Harbor Department committed to removing all industrial activities on port property adjacent to San Pedro, from the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the breakwater. The promise was that all future uses would be exclusively retail, commercial and recreational, consistent with the governing Tidelands Trust Act.
After several years of focus groups and community meetings, the Harbor Department developed a 30-year "preferred" development plan consisting of extensive infrastructure improvements, a continuous, world-class, waterside "Grand Promenade from Bridge to Breakwater," parks, open-space and approximately 3 million square feet of retail, commercial, office and hotel development. In addition, several higher and lower density alternative plans were offered.
After additional months of community meetings, Harbor Department management decided they were pursuing too many alternatives, didn't see enough consensus on any of the plans within the community, and revisited all plans.
Last December, a new five- to seven-year plan, the "San Pedro Waterfront Project" was unveiled. The plan consisted of a scaled down infrastructure scheme with minimal retail, commercial and office expansion. The proposal ostensibly sets the stage for future development, but postpones any substantial economic growth for another 10 years.
Redevelopment is key
The core of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber's mission is to develop a vital and sustainable local economy that enhances the social and environmental resources of the community. Waterfront redevelopment is the key to accomplishing the mission. It is our one best opportunity to attract significant community investment; produce environmentally clean, well-paid jobs; add new higher education resources; and, in the process, reestablish the symbiotic port/community relationship.
The Chamber has proposed an alternative to the Harbor Department plan designated the "2007 Community Growth Alternative." It is, at heart, a synthesis of the original "Bridge to Breakwater" and the new "San Pedro Waterfront Project." The plan calls for constructing the Grand Promenade infrastructure as envisioned in the original plan, and adds 1-million square feet of new construction during the five- to seven-year time frame of the new plan.
The original Grand Promenade, which gained widespread community support, is viewed as the backbone of a new San Pedro. A wide, lushly landscaped, waterside walking and biking path with a Pacific Electric Red Car running alongside, the promenade will act as the catalyst for a revitalized downtown, serve as the basis of a "walkable" waterfront neighborhood, and attract new private investment. The very promise of this promenade becoming a reality has already led to a boom in new condominium construction in and around downtown San Pedro.
Along with the promenade infrastructure, the Chamber's additional development recommendation emphasizes creating new, environmentally responsible, well-paid job and maritime-related education resources. Among the specific project recommendations are a maritime research/higher education center; facilities for service businesses in environmental and clean energy sectors, engineering and other knowledge based 21st century businesses; and a maritime expo/trade center.
Community sustainability requires balancing the economic, environmental and social systems for the benefit of current and future generations. The Chamber's 2007 Community Growth Alternative aims to accomplish this by adding new, well-paid jobs in fields that add environmental value, along with higher education resources that offer a growth path for future generations to transition into those jobs. Environmentally sound economic growth raises community wealth, enabling citizens to, among other things, access better education and healthcare resources, thereby creating a workforce capable of producing further economic growth. A sustainable wealth cycle is created.
The Los Angeles Harbor Department has created one of the world's great container ports. With planned redevelopment of the waterfront, the Chamber sees the potential for our port to move beyond just goods movement. By adding high-tech research, education and commercial facilities specializing in maritime environmental, logistical and security issues; and a world-class waterfront Grand Promenade; we can become a complete "International Maritime Village" that would be the envy of the world.
Camilla Townsend is president and chief executive of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
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