Big Reveal Threatens Ports O’ Call Restaurant

  • 05/07/2018
  • Reporters Desk

By Carlos M. Garcia

I attended the presentation at the Warner Grand Theatre on March 20 on the San Pedro Public Market. San Pedrans had all been waiting with great anticipation for the unveiling of the new design plans. Many who attended remember our business district in its glory days. I only wished that there had been more young folks there, second and third generation San Pedrans and new younger arrivals. After all, they and their children will be the primary beneficiaries of the Port of Los Angeles’ $100 million commitment in public access waterfront project funding over 10 years.

The big reveal was that there was a new phasing plan that threatens to close the Ports O’Call Restaurant for three years before transitioning to the SPPM. The new phasing plan requires that the restaurant be demolished in a first construction phase to make way for the relocation of the San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant at the completion of that phase (1A).  This decision to tear down the POC Restaurant before the first phase of development rather than before a second construction phase (1B), as originally planned, put the future of this San Pedro landmark and its employees in immediate jeopardy, particularly after the port served an eviction notice on March 7, 2018. Hence, the consternation in the community about the uncertain fate of the restaurant.

To say that the port and the San Pedro Public Market LLC have been thoughtless with respect to the importance of the restaurant to the San Pedro community is to put it mildly. The change in project phasing raised all the old fears about whether the port can be trusted —warranted or not — and whether the developer really understands San Pedro.

While the port rightly claims that it is entirely the developer’s decision about which of the current tenants are invited to be part of the new development, both the port and developer must agree on the phasing of the development with respect to the promenade that is being paid for out of the first five years of public access waterfront funding. So, the port cannot absolve itself completely of responsibility in this public-private project.

There is, however, an alternative phasing plan for the developer to consider that would keep both the restaurant and the Fish Market in continuous operation throughout the construction of the SPPM, if a suitable interim location cannot be found. The restaurant would be kept open in its current location until the completion of the first phase of construction, scheduled for late 2020 or early in 2021, and then be relocated to another location in the SPPM. The Fish Market would remain in its current location for one more year than currently planned before being relocated to the restaurant site either during or at the completion of the second phase of construction in late 2021 or early in 2022. This alternative phasing plan would be a win-win.

Realizing the upset brewing in the community when this change in phasing plans began to be more widely known in the fall of 2018, the developer approached the port to see if Ports O’Call Restaurant could remain open through the end of 2018. To do this, the port required, as one condition, that the developer provide a letter of intent to the restaurant offering to include it in the new development, which the developer did on March 6, 2018. However, the port’s lawyers had laid down other hardball costs, schedule and legal conditions that the developer could not accept. The port required that the developer agree to pay any related cost impacts for keeping the restaurant open through 2018, release the port from any responsibility for project delays and pay for any resulting legal claims.

While questions have been raised in the community about the actual risks associated with these three conditions, the primary complaint in the community is that the port and developer have not lived up to what was considered a commitment to the community to provide an interim location for the restaurant before transitioning to the SPPM; they, in effect, have reneged on that agreement. The port stated, for example, in its Staff 2009 Final Proposed Project Summary that:

[The] Port will accommodate selected existing successful businesses as part of a redeveloped Ports O’ Call. Those selected businesses within the Ports O’ Call area would not be taken out of service until replacement locations are available. 

The port has not offered a suitable interim location to the POC Restaurant. The port has explained that two potential interim locations were offered to the restaurant, but the proprietor of the restaurant had rejected them as unsuitable. The port contends that it has done its due diligence in this regard and that all its actions have been legally sufficient. Moreover, the port points out that it is the developer who is solely responsible for making phasing and citing decisions; the port has no say in the matter. It is the developer’s decision to relocate the Fish Market to the restaurant site at the completion of the first construction phase.

The restaurant’s proprietor has publicly stated that, despite receiving a notice of intent from the developer, it could not survive a three-year hiatus in operations until the completion of the second construction phase. Based on the current phasing plan, the restaurant will be evicted in 2018 and the restaurant building demolished before the port begins promenade construction in the spring of 2019. The developer’s current offer is to include the restaurant in phase 1B, which will not be completed until late 2021 or early 2022.

The San Pedro neighborhood councils are taking steps to address this situation with both the port and the developer. Two of the three San Pedro neighborhood councils, Central and Coastal, passed resolutions at their April 2018 meetings requesting essentially that Ports O’Call Restaurant remain in continuous operation until transitioning to a new location in the SPPM. Mirroring the 2009 Project Summary, their resolutions both include the following points:

  • The restaurant is to remain in its current site until relocation to a suitable interim location (size and location) can be completed; and,
  • The restaurant is to remain in the suitable interim site until relocated to the SPPM.

At its April 24 meeting, the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s Port Committee approved a resolution urging the SPPM LLC and the port to engage in negotiations to ensure that both Ports O’Call Restaurant and Fish Market remain in continuous operation before transitioning to the SPPM. The proposed resolution will be considered by the full board at its May 12 stakeholder meeting.

I do not believe that the alternative phasing plan proposed here would result in significant cost increases or schedule delays to the SPPM construction plans. They are basically the same demolition and construction costs whether during the first or second construction phase, with an inflation adjustment for doing the work one year later. During the second construction phase there will be more work done concurrently elsewhere than at the restaurant site, so the developer’s completion dates should not be put at significant risk. Moreover, as reported by Paul Rosenberg in Random Lengths News’ March 22 edition, Phillip Sanfield, the port director of media relations, is on record as stating that there would not be significant cost or schedule impacts for delaying promenade construction between the Crusty Crab Restaurant and the Fish Market to a second construction phase.

It’s now up to the developer and the port to reconsider the current phasing plan to address the community’s concerns about in its impact on Ports O’Call Restaurant’s future. The goal would be to revise the phasing plan so that it would not require a three year hiatus in restaurant operations that would threaten its survival. The key actions that the developer would have to take would be: (1) keep the Fish Market in its current location for two years instead of one, and (2) relocate the restaurant to the SPPM at the completion of the first construction phase instead of the second phase. These changes also need to be agreed to by the port as they affect promenade construction requirements and delivery dates. I believe there is sufficient time to analyze, evaluate and negotiate the required changes in project phasing well before the port issues a promenade request for proposals now planned for late 2018.

By their resolutions, the neighborhood councils have implicitly expressed confidence in the ability and willingness of both port leadership, supported by an able and competent staff, and the developer, as a demonstration of good will, to revise the phasing plan to ensure that this valued community asset survives. This is the challenge now facing the developer, the executive director of the port, and by extension the Board of Harbor Commissioners, since it has approval authority over a promenade contract award. It is also a challenge for both Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council. They have important roles to play in responding to the concerns being raised by the three San Pedro neighborhood councils.


Carlos M. Garcia is a retired government accountability office senior analyst who monitored the C-17 program at Boeing in Long Beach over a number of years, analyzing the cost and schedule of the program during development and early production. He is a lifelong San Pedro resident and a member of a neighborhood council.

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