- James Preston Allen
By James Preston Allen, Publisher of RLn
The Port of Los Angeles has finally made good on evicting Ports O’ Call Restaurant from the site it has called home for 57 years. Work crews could be seen pulling out restaurant equipment and furniture on the morning of July 17. Ports O’ Call Restaurant proprietor, Jayme Wilson, and other staff were collected their personal belongings. They were stunned by the action as they had been directed by the Judge to workout an exit plan. This was the Port’s answer: Get out!
Just this past Friday on July 13th, the bar at Ports O’ Call Restaurant was packed with happy hour visitors and dinner guests drawn by the rumor buzzing around that this was the “last night it was going to be open.” Two of the Wilson brothers, Wyatt and Wes, were working feverishly behind the bar helping the regular bartender keep pace with the drink orders coming in at record clip from the patio while serving the others sitting along bar.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn was sitting at the captains table in the corner with Rolling Hills Estates Mayor, Susan Brooks, and some of Hahn’s staff and loyal supporters. She sipped a Grey Goose martini and said, “Can you imagine where all of these people are going to go if this place shuts down?” She looks around and comments, “I think I know half of the people here tonight.”
Friday night is the night recording artists Andy Hill and Renee Safier performed at Ports O’ Call. On this Friday night, however, Andy and Renee were booked at a private residence in Rolling Hills Estates to perform a Woodstock tribute at a L.A. Philharmonic fundraiser.
The music at Ports O’ Call Restaurant was still loud and still jumping, and the crowd was buzzing and buzzed. Lessor venues struggle to attract this many customers in a week and on this night, it seemed like everyone was there to make a statement before the whisper campaign of closing came true.
If this is what going out of business looks like, then they should go out of business every week.
In the back office Jayme Wilson, the patriarch of the family business, was more subdued about it and said, “We’re just going to do what the judge asked us to do, work something out with the port.” Ports O’ Call Restaurant management released a statement in anticipation of the events on July 17, before they knew the eviction was going to be carried out this day:
In the spirit of cooperation and the Judge’s suggestion of a transition to closing, we submitted to the Port a phased closing plan that would have us close on September 30th. This date will allow all the weddings, quinceaneras and other special family celebrations that we were unable to relocate to celebrate.
Various buildings would closed starting in two weeks.We would celebrate the 57 year traditions of the restaurant and community awards we have received. We look forward to opening in the new development. We are hoping the Harbor Commission approves at the special meeting on Tuesday. We plan to have a big community celebration on September 30th.
Obviously, by the actions of the POLA on this very same day they weren’t in any mood to negotiate or complying with a judge’s directive, as the lockout started well before the Harbor Commission meeting at 8:30 a.m. Sheriff’s officers even threatened this reporter with removal from the yet unfenced property stating that the eviction process and work was “in progress”. Clearly officer Taylor and his squad were just following orders and were hesitant about arresting a journalist. All of this happened even before the Harbor Commission was briefed on items 8-14 in closed session specifically related to City of Los Angeles vs. San Pedro Waterfront LLC dba Ports O’ Call Restaurant et al.
Even still, it’s not entirely clear whether the Port of Los Angeles and the Jerico/Ratkovich development team are actually going to be on schedule to build the “new San Pedro Market Place. ” All that can be said at this point is that the port is hell bent on delivering the project site to the developers as per the contract by the revised phasing demolition plan by deadline of early next year. Whether anything will actually be built is still a question everyone is asking since the developers still have not secured the funding nor found an anchor tenant, even though both the San Pedro Fish Market and Ports O’ Call Restaurant have a proven track records of success.
Though the Fish Market was promised “a spot” in the new project, it will only occupy 25 percent of its current size. The Fish Market has subsequently chosen to open five other locations around the harbor area in anticipation of this change.
Of the other eight businesses still operating on the site only Ports O’ Call Restaurant has a Letter of Intent from the developers. At this point, this only means they will have to close for up to three years, the time by which the San Pedro Market will be completed. The Port of Los Angeles, which has denied culpability in the reordering of the development phasing, has made it inevitable that this historic restaurant will not survive as it is, where it is.
What may be a cause for the reason to shift the project is the toxic soil hot spots in the project area.
A 2013 toxic soils report, citing the location of the San Pedro Fish Market as a hotspot for soil remediation due to the fact that the old Union Oil fuel dock was located near there has played an unseen hand in the reordered phasing.
A port official not authorize to speak on the matter, said, “We did not recommend a sequencing” related to the toxic soils, but it may have been a consideration with the engineering department or real estate divisions.
Mike Galvin, the head of the ports Real Estate Division said that “ there were many factors that went into the [re]phasing of the project, that was only one of many.”
Time will tell if the Harbor Commission will approve a new plan that came out of a bankruptcy hearing filed by Ports O’ Call Restaurant a few weeks back. Jayme Wilson was initially prepared to appeal any decision to close the restaurant all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But time has finally run out.
When Mike Galvin, the head of the ports real estate division was asked directly about the eviction currently taking place, he responded, “it’s still under litigation” and walked into closed session.
More on Ports O’ Call Restaurant Eviction and San Pedro Public Market: