• Piñata Dreams

    By John Farrell

    Piñatas are the colorful creations of papier mache that are the center of celebrations for children. When broken open they reveal candy and surprises inside.

    This is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years in Mexico.

    In Piñata Dreams, the world premier play by Josefina Lopez that opened on the main stage of Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights, piñatas are the way young J.J. (played with an artless focus by Noah Logan Martinez) can focus his life on art.

    He wants to create, but his parents want a different life for him, a life of science or the law, a life with what they contend is a better future. There is much for him to experience, and his parents to experience, in a dreamscape that owes at least a little to “Alice in Wonderland,” before the shows’ end.

    Pinata Dreams is a show for children, a play full of wonder, of living piñatas, a magic stick made to break piñatas, which also connects with J.J.’s great-grandfather. There also are plenty of other creatures, all based on piñatas and alebrijes, the brightly colored Mexican sculptures of fantastical animals. Those, too, come to life in the play, which is intended to inspire children to be creative and choose their own way in life. (more…)

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  • Shop Local Discounts!

    Random Lengths News would like to remind you that spending money locally at indie businesses has a multiplier effect that big box chains do not. Some 46% of those indie shopping dollars go right back into the local economy, on local jobs, local vendors, and local charities. Make the pledge to support your local independent retailers when and wherever possible. Tell them you saw it in the Harbor Area’s best locally owned and independent newspaper. Your community will thank you.

    Pick up a copy of our Shop Local Holiday Gift Guide for these special discounts:

    $5, $10 & $15 OFF at Urban Feet and Skate • Page 3

    $5 OFF at Philie B’s • Page 6

    $5 OFF at The Grand Emporium • Page 7

    $10 OFF at the San Pedro Brewing Co. • Page 8

    $7 OFF at Buono’s Pizzeria • Page 8

    15% OFF at Sonny’s Bistro • Page 9

    FREE Session with Tanya at Range of Motion • Page 12

    Up to $3,700 OFF at Dr. Ardalan’s Dentistry • Page 13

    FREE Kids Admission Pass to Chill at The Queen Mary • Page 15


    View the digital edition here.


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  • RLn ENTERTAINMENT Calendar: Dec. 5, 2014

    Dec. 12
    Tizer Quartet
    The Tizer Quartet is schedule to perform, at 8 p.m. Dec. 12, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

    Dec. 12
    Rob Klopfenstein
    Rob Klopfenstein performs, at 7 p.m. Dec. 12, at The Whale & Ale in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 832-0363; www.WhaleAndAle.com
    Venue: The Whale & Ale
    Location: 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 13
    John Daversa Big Band

    The John Daversa Big Band is schedule to perform, at 8 p.m. Dec. 13, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 13
    Tribute to Non-traditional Christmas Songs
    Scared Grounds is hosting a tribute to non-traditional Christmas songs, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Dec. 13.
    Think John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison” or the Pogues’  “Fairy Tale of New York,” or John Lennon’s “Merry Christmas (War is Over)” and you get the idea.
    Details: (512) 573-5222; chuff8@sbcglobal.net
    Venue: Sacred Grounds
    Location: 468 W. 6th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 13
    Markus Carlton
    Markus Carlton performs, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 13 at The Whale & Ale in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 832-0363; www.WhaleAndAle.com
    Venue: The Whale & Ale
    Location: 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 14
    Richard Smith and Aaron Till Fingerstyle Duo
    Richard Smith and Aaron Till Fingerstyle Duo will perform, at 4 p.m. Dec. 14, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 18
    Live Band Karaoke
    Live Band Karaoke takes place, starting at 8 p.m. Dec. 18, at Godmother’s Saloon in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 833-1589; www.GodMothersSaloon.com
    Venue: Godmother’s Saloon
    Location: 302 W. 7th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 18
    Enjoy karaoke, from 9 p.m. to closing Dec. 18, at Blu Restaurant and Bar in San Pedro.
    Venue: Blu Restaurant and Bar, Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Harbor Hotel
    Location: 601 S. Palos Verdes St., San Pedro
    Dec. 19
    James Kimo West Holiday Slack Key Show
    The James Kimo West Holiday Slack Key Show will take place, at 8 p.m. Dec. 19, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 19
    Rob Klopfenstein
    Rob Klopfenstein performs, at 7 p.m. Dec. 19, at The Whale & Ale in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 832-0363; www.WhaleAndAle.com
    Venue: The Whale & Ale
    Location: 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 20
    Eric Rigler & Dirk Freymuth: A Celtic Christmas
    Eric Rigler & Dirk Freymuth: A Celtic Christmas will take place, at 8 p.m. Dec. 20, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 20
    Holiday POPS Spectacular
    The Golden State Pops Orchestra’s acclaimed production “Holiday POPS Spectacular” returns this year with joyous music and high spirits, at 8 p.m. Dec. 20, at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.
    Celebrate the holiday season by joining Maestro Steven Allen Fox and the Golden State Pops Orchestra and Chorale (led by Choir Maestra Marya Basaraba) for a festive performance of timeless holiday film music and traditional favorites that will be sure to put you in the holiday mood.
    Details: PURCHASE NOW
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
    Location: 434 W. 6th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 20
    Markus Carlton
    Markus Carlton performs, at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at The Whale & Ale in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 832-0363; www.WhaleAndAle.com
    Venue: The Whale & Ale
    Location: 327 W. 7th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 28
    Peter Matuchniak & Friends
    Peter Matuchniak & Friends will perform, at 4 p.m. Dec. 28, at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.
    Details: (310) 519-1314; www.alvasshowroom.com
    Venue: Alvas Showroom
    Location: 1417 W. 8th St., San Pedro

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  • Cargoland:

    KCRW Radio Focuses on the Port and San Pedro

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    It was several weeks ago that KCRW reporter Saul Gonzalez contacted me after reading one of my editorials about the TraPac terminal at the Port of Los Angeles. I was a bit taken by surprise by the call as we rarely receive much “big” LA media recognition around here, unless it’s about a cruise ship full of sick passengers or someone jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Do you remember the giant rubber duck during the festival of Tall Ships? The rubber duck was tied up just a thousand yards from where the boatload of sick passengers docked on the main channel. One report called it Port of LA and the other San Pedro. It’s hard getting any respect around here.

    Gonzalez, however, was interested in something more. His questions followed along the line of what our reporters have been writing about for the past 35 years–the relationship between the ever-expanding $200 billion a year industrial port complex and what its impact is on the communities that surround it.

    “Finally!” I thought. “We have some intelligent media folks who are beginning to get the nexus between the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the rest of the Southland in a greater context.

    Gonzalez spent the better part of an hour interviewing me. I must admit that I felt a bit unprepared as he had only indicated some general areas of interest. But after covering port and community issues for more than three-and-half decades, who better to put current waterfront development in perspective to the history?

    So, having said so much, I was a bit surprised when the segment aired on Tuesday, December 2 only to find that all of my pearls of wisdom had been boiled down to three sentences. Well that’s radio for you and if you’d like to take a listen to what got edited in, go to http://tinyurl.com/KCRWs-SP-Search-for-respect.

    However, if you go to the website for this project at http://cargoland.kcrw.com/, there’s a lot more for those of you who have never set foot on the working side of the waterfront. There are five more longer segments on their website such as, “The Pilots: Steering ships the size of skyscrapers” and “Automation: Will Innovation Mean Fewer Jobs?.”

    These and other KCRW segments do a better job of putting the waterfront in a context that the average Los Angeles reporter, politician or citizen ever gets to experience or understand.  The segment on automation should be a wakeup call to all our friends at the ILWU.

    In the end, the 3:34 minute KCRW segment pairs my remarks against Councilman Joe Buscaino’s on the question, “Can the community of San Pedro in Los Angeles have both a thriving industrial port and retail and residential development on its waterfront?” That is indeed the crux of the long-term debate that Gonzalez has only just scratched the surface. It’s a question that only the Board of Harbor Commissioners and those willing to stand up for something greater than what’s proposed in the recent Ports O’ Call Feasibility Study can answer.

    sses All Around

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  • Ports O’ Call Feasibility Study Reveals Weaknesses All Around

    Financial weaknesses obscures deeper missing vision weakness

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The long-awaited financial feasibility study for redeveloping Ports O’ Call, released in early November, concluded that “the Developer’s Initial Concept is not financially feasible.”

    But that a scaled-down project, anchored by a smaller themed attraction, would be feasible. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who dismissed it as merely “an opinion,” at a special meeting of the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, held on Nov. 12, 2014 at Port of Los Angeles headquarters in San Pedro, quickly panned it.

    “I’m not looking for a scaled-down project,” said Buscaino, in his opening remarks. “My vision is for Ports O’ Call redevelopment project to be an opportunity to pursue an important first step in transformation of our LA Waterfront.”

    He went on to draw comparisons  to “key initiatives that have taken place in the last several months,” starting with “$1 billion that has been earmarked to green the Los Angeles River.”

    At Buscaino’s invitation, early waterfront promenade promoter John Papadakis went much further in criticizing the study, blasting it as “anemic” and “intentionally misguided.” But the developers themselves, who Papadakis also blasted, were far more measured, treating the study as a worthwhile, but inherently limited document.

    “It’s very worthy effort,” said Wayne Ratkovitch, who heads up one half of the development team known as the LA Waterfront Alliance, but there are limits, he explained. “Feasibility studies, however, cannot take into account a number of things. They can’t take into account good fortune. They can’t take into account creativity, entrepreneurship, opportunities that can’t be seen or expected. So our job is to exceed what the model says.”

    Erik Johnson, representing the other half, took a similarly balanced approach.

    “I think it was an important step that needed to be taken by the port,” Johnson said. “By the very nature of these types of things, they tend to undershoot the actual mark. I think in many ways it presents a conservative picture. But if you just take it at face value, the original phase of development is almost identical to what we had proposed. That may be all the market can bear today, but we don’t think so.”

    “Our job is to bring in something better than the standard,” Ratkovitch elaborated. “The standard is simply to look at other projects and compare this one to other projects. We want to do more than that. We have done more than that. I keep thinking about some of our past projects. The Oviatt Building [a 1928-built Art Deco treasure], in downtown Los Angeles, we had not one, but two, feasibility studies [that] told us to do food-service and building, but keep it very low. We didn’t do that. We we brought in the Rex restaurant, which was the finest restaurant in Los Angeles for 17 years.”

    And then, there was the Wiltern Theatre, which “was about to be torn down, it had no future. We had to recover equipment to put the theater back together. Now, 30 some years later, it’s still functioning as a live theater and doing very well.”

    All developers may believe they’re exceptional and can defy expectations, but Ratkovitch has the record to prove it—not just a record of financial success, but also of preserving and enhancing heritage. This is why his involvement was so widely welcomed. Johnson, on the other hand, dove into some of the details in order to make a related point, that the big-picture opportunities were being significantly underestimated.

    “If you just take at what’s modeled at face value, just the RD & E [retail, dining and entertainment] enhancements, will add $28 million in incremental revenue on that site,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t include the themed attraction component, which is $22 million, add them together that’s $53 million of economic activity that can be made on the base case… which is less than what the developer thinks is achievable.”

    But there was more that was being overlooked, Johnson argued.

    “It doesn’t include the quantification of the incremental tax revenue, property tax, sales tax, business tax. It talks about 500 jobs, but it doesn’t include the multiplier effects, the add-on jobs and the overall economic employment—property value, which is trickier to estimate. But, if you look at this as a project not just with the port, but for the City of Los Angeles, as a whole, the economic benefits are manifoldly increased from those modeled.”

    Another side that’s apparently not getting the attention it deserves is that of the ongoing concerns that have kept Ports O’ Call  alive all these years—alive and growing, according to Mike Galvin, POLA’s director of special projects, who presented the study to the committee.

    “The existing site has been experiencing very good revenue growth in the last three years,” Galvin said. “It’s up about 28 percent since 2010.”

    That is, with estimated visitors up from 800,000  to around 1.5 to 2 million annually.

    In short, it’s already a significant economic force—but an endangered one—two points driven home by Michael Ungaro, whose family owns The San Pedro Fish Market. Also, more broadly, it was supported by Stephanie Mardesich, who spoke up on behalf of “preserving the history of our community,” noting that she had been vocal “on behalf of saving Ports O’ Call” and routinely got expressions of support whenever she spoke out.

    “That does not mean I’m against the project or what Alan and his team are doing,” she said.

    But it did reflect a strong concern that historical continuity was being forgotten—one of  several  themes that long-time waterfront activists June Smith, who also commented briefly, touched upon in later comments to Random Lengths.

    Ungaro, however, gave these general concerns a razor-sharp focus:

    “We currently hold four Guinness World Records and attracted over 1 million visitors from all other Southern California in the last 12 months,” he said. “We are also a current tenant the Port of Los Angeles on the LA Waterfront. After more than five decades, our lease will be coming to an end in seven weeks.”

    That is an extremely precarious  position  for such an economic powerhouse to be in.

    “According to the study our company provides the waterfront with over 50 percent of its financial results, 70 percent of its paid visitors, and nearly 80 percent of its year-over-year growth,” Ungaro explained. “We note that all those accomplishments and those of like businesses are lumped anonymously together, while assuming that our company and our peers can provide twice as much financial result. Even after having our net space is cut by 30 percent, our rent is raised by 138 percent,” to match rental rates in the Wilshire district.

    According to the report, Ungaro said, “We are the only paid tourist attraction in California that attracts over 1 million people annually and has no long-term guarantee of location, lease or lease amount.”

    But the precarious position of Ports O’ Call’s current tenants is only one facet of a larger neglect of community well-being, as summarized by Smith, a leading community activist on waterfront development issues for more than a decade with the Port  Community Advisory Committee. Smith spoke briefly during the one-minute public comment period at the meeting, but gave Random Lengths a more extended reflection on the gap that’s opened up between the port and the community over time.

    When the Waterfront Alliance development team was chosen, “The port and the developers made it very clear that they were no longer asking for ‘input’ but only for public reaction to their plans,” Smith said. “The port sold this approach by its ‘urgency’ in finally seeing a new development.  By this time, both the PCAC and the CRA had been disbanded, and the groups that had been formed and had overseen the numerous plans and attempts at developmental designs for 12 or more years.  There was no mechanism, in effect, to properly oversee the proposed development.  Essentially, the community was back to doing business with the port in the same way as the good old days before PCAC.”

    One result, Smith noted, was that “Absent a cohesive knowledgeable community group having the ‘ear’ of the port. The port has quietly been ‘cleaning out’ businesses at POC.  The negotiations for new leases drags on and is a critical aspect of what the newly chosen developers can do at the site.  Some, like the Art Association, have simply been cut off because the port no longer thinks it worth subsidizing…. [T]heir plan all along has not been to necessarily keep the current businesses as the new development moves forward.  Not keeping successful businesses runs counter to everything professional waterfront developers have told all of us, consistently,”

    Smith specifically mentioned studies done by the Urban Land Institute, which the port has repeatedly given lip-service to and then ignored.

    Another window onto the port’s failure of vision can be gleaned from the feasibility study itself. Part of that study involves an inventory of existing nearby attractions and the potential inter-actions of customer bases. But the only considerations envisioned are pairwise overlap.

    Concerning CRAFTED, for example, the study notes, “Annual visitation is approximately 90,000 visitors. Current visitation is generally from the South Bay but due to target market and separation from the Project, there is not believed to be much overlap of visitors.”

    Concerning the Maritime Museum, it says, “The museum visitation is approximately 80,000 annual visitors. While a redeveloped POC may benefit the Museum, the limited attendance volume and typical visitor profile (youth/school groups) moderates retail spend potential.”

    Comments are similarly narrow regarding the USS Iowa, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the World Cruise Center, and others. There is no hint of thinking about holistic synergies between all the different elements, which was a key animating concept in the early stages of waterfront development planning, and which the port alone is in a position to nurture and guide.

    Smith provided a broad overview of what this would entail.

    “A well conceived coordinated plan should include: a) a completely integrated transportation and parking plan; b) the retention of currently successful businesses; c) addition of businesses that are unique to the Harbor history and culture, including: the fishing industry; the armed services; the labor movement; the Japanese community and all the immigrant cultures who formed the Harbor Area and their colorful contributions in the arts, foods and music.”

    Going even deeper than Mardesich, Smith continued.

    “I, frankly, am deeply dismayed that the historical elements that were possible only a few years ago have almost been totally obliterated,” Smith said. “Only the Japanese community seems to have continued to raise funds to assure the awareness of their successful but painful history in the Harbor. We have watched many of the old successful immigrant based businesses fold, restaurants like Ante’s and Canetti’s, bakeries such as Ramona’s and the Norwegian Bakery, businesses such as Williams’.”

    The preservation of such businesses in a rich historical and cultural mix was one of the primary lessons that waterfront activists learned from attending international waterfront conferences in the early 2000s. And, while the obvious common sense of such preservation remains clear to individuals in the community, it seems to have no institutional representation or  power to shape the future.

    “This is of the highest priority to the Harbor Department in non-cargo-related areas,” said POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka  in kicking off the discussion of Ports O’ Call redevelopment.

    But if it’s to succeed, POLA also needs to prioritize rebuilding a framework in which the community can fully participate in shaping its future, with enduring ties to its past.

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  • RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS: Dec. 4, 2014

    Dec. 6
    San Pedro Urban Greening Project 
    Participate in the San Pedro Urban Greening Project Design Workshop #3, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6, at the Warner Grand Theatre.
    Details: (818) 424-6582; Click here
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
    Location: 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 6
    Rules to Remember
    The Long Beach Police Department encourages the community to comply with all during the annual Belmont Shore Christmas Parade, at 6 p.m. Dec. 6, on 2nd Street.
    These advisements include:

    • Allow plenty of time to find legal parking and consider using public transportation, which is affordable and allows you to avoid traffic congestion.
    • Sidewalk areas and center medians cannot  be reserved with personal property until 5:00 p.m.
    • Long Beach Municipal and California Penal Code sections regarding under-age drinking and/or possession of alcohol will be enforced
    • Street vendors selling items without a business license are subject to citation or arrest and may have their property confiscated
    • No dispensing of Silly String
    • Parade goers are reminded to immediately report any suspicious activity to the nearest police officer or by calling 9-1-1.

    Affected street closures and times are as follows:

    • Livingston Avenue will be closed from Ocean Boulevard to Second Street at 2 p.m. for staging parade participants
    • At 4 p.m., all north/south streets from Quincy to Claremont Avenues will be closed up to the immediate alleyways that run parallel to 2nd Street on both the south and north sides
    • Second Street will be closed from Livingston Drive to Bay Shore Avenue at 5 p.m.
    • All roads will reopen by 11 p.m.

    Dec. 6
    Long Beach, Green Terminal Island Plan
    The public is invited to attend the first community workshop to discuss the Livable West Long Beach Plan and Green Terminal Island, at 10 a.m. at Silverado Park in Long Beach.
    Long Beach has begun two key planning efforts that will have a major impact on enhancing the quality of life in West Long Beach. The Livable West Long Beach Plan will establish a comprehensive strategy to ensure that existing improvement measures found in plans such as the I-710 Community Livability Plan and the Mobility Element, are funded and implemented throughout the west corridor of the City.  The Green TI Plan will define the community’s vision for converting the TI Freeway into a local serving road with an associated greenbelt.
    Details:  www.lbds.info/westlongbeachplan
    Venue: Silverado Park
    Location: 1545 W. 31st St., Long Beach
    Dec. 6
    Carson Used Motor Oil, Filter Collection Event
    Carson will be hosting a used motor oil and oil filter collection event to allow residents to get rid of used motor oil that cannot otherwise be disposed of in regular trash, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 6, at Carson City Hall.
    Details: (310) 847-3520
    Venue: Carson City Hall
    Location: 701 E. Carson St, Carson
    Dec. 6
    Health Insurance Enrollment Event

    The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services will host a health insurance enrollment event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 6, at The Center Long Beach.
    Certified Enrollment Counselors will assist community members with Medi-Cal and Covered California applications during the current enrollment period. Language assistance is available in Spanish and Khmer.
    Details: (562) 570-7979; www.longbeach.gov/health/fss,
    Venue: The Center Long Beach
    Location: 2017 E. 4th St., Long Beach

    Dec. 8
    NWSPNC Stakeholder Meeting
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council Board and Stakeholder Meeting will take place, at 6 p.m. Dec. 8, at Peck Park
    Details: (310) 548-7580
    Location: 560 N. Western Ave., San Pedro

    Dec. 11
    Free Water Education Classes
    The South Bay Environmental Services Center is hosting a free water education class, Dec. 11, on the third floor of the Donald L. Dear building at the West Basin Headquarters in Carson.
    Details: Click here
    Venue: West Basin Headquarters
    Location: 17140 S. Avalon Blvd., Carson

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  • RLn NEWS: Dec. 12, 2014

     LB City Council Votes
    LONG BEACH — On Dec. 2, the Long Beach City Council voted 8-0, to ask the city manager to provide a report within 60 day on the cost of installing a looping system for the hearing impaired in public facilities.
    A looping system, also called an audio-frequency induction loop, consists of a loop of wire cable around a designated area, usually a room or a building, which generates a magnetic field picked up by a hearing aid. All hearing aids equipped with telecoils work with looping systems, allowing those with hearing aids to hear what is being said into a microphone in the “looped” location, free of distracting noise from the surrounding environment.

    Two More Directors Hired at Port of Long Beach
    LONG BEACH — On Dec. 2, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners announced new directors for the Harbor Department’s Construction Management and Information Management divisions.
    Suzanne Plezia, who has been acting director of Construction Management since January, is now the permanent director, overseeing construction of port projects.
    Nyariana Maiko, who since 2010 has been associate vice president of the Program Management Office for Molina Healthcare of Long Beach, will be the new director of Information Management.
    The two women are filling slots vacated by directors who retired this year.
    Plezia, who joined the Port of Long Beach as an intern in 1996, rose through the ranks at the port, working in the Design, Program Management, and Construction Management divisions, developing a depth and variety of experience. In 2012, she guided the procurement process for the Desmond Bridge Replacement contract. She was also promoted to deputy chief harbor engineer that year. Her promotion to director is effective immediately. Plezia earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of California Irvine.
    Before Molina Healthcare, Maiko worked in management of information technology and program management for a number of companies including Toyota Financial Services and Nissan North America. She has about 30 years of progressively more complex work experience in information technology and information management, business and strategic technology leadership. Maiko earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a specialization in quantitative methods and computer science from the University of St. Catherine-University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minn., and a master’s in computer and information science from the University of Minnesota. She is scheduled to start at the port on Jan. 5, 2015.

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  • San Pedro’s Search for Respect and Waterfront Development

    Read More
  • My Brother, Kenny, and I

    A story about autism and acceptance

    By John J. Muto, Los Angeles Harbor College Student

    When I became a freshman at San Pedro High School, Kenny and I attended the same school for the first time in a long while. Kenny was a senior and he was autistic.

    The disorders associated with autism are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

    Last year, the National Institute of Health merged all autism disorders
    into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    People with autism sometimes have communication problems which stems from tiny delays in the perception of speech, or from imprecise pairing of spoken words and gestures. In Kenny’s case, this resulted in him speaking fast–so fast that people had difficulty understanding him.

    In high school, I had friends. I was on the school’s baseball team. I had a social life. I was embarrassed to be seen with him. So I avoided him, despite my mom’s instruction to say “hi” whenever I saw him.

    I never spoke to him while we were at school. We were brothers and attended the same school, but our lives and our worlds were separate. Yet, I watched him. Whether it was during our late morning 20 minute nutrition break or our early afternoon lunch break, Kenny sat alone and no one said a word to him. Not even me, his own brother.

    I felt convicted. When the school year ended, I thought a lot about his lonely lunch periods. There were a lot of nights I lied awake thinking about how terrible a brother I was to Kenny.

    One night, tired from wrestling with my conscience, I resolved to be a better brother to Kenny. I began to spend my nutrition and lunch periods with him and began visiting him in his class which housed other special needs students.

    As my relationship with Kenny deepened, my desire to befriend the other special needs students in his class deepened too.

    I wanted to be their friend. I wanted to get to know all of them and hang out with them every chance I had. I treated them like I treated my friends. I wanted them to know that they are normal; they have autism but they are still regular human beings, like the rest of us.

    Once I got to know all of them, I recognized that, like everyone else, they act and enjoy the same things that regular teenagers do. This was not for service hours for school or for having everyone think I was a nice person. This was for Kenny, who had never had a friend.

    Several years ago, my mom and I decided to combine my passion for baseball with our desire to create a supportive community for families and their autistic members. We called it the “Challenge League Game.”

    Every mid-April, we invite autistic students from throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and San Pedro community to play a game of baseball with San Pedro and Mary Star high school student players and former players from the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

    The major leaguers usually acts as the pitcher for the game, but perhaps what’s more importantly gained is that high school students, autistic or not, gets to talk and interact with each other over the game of baseball.

    Aside from the experience of playing baseball and making new friends, the students going up to bat get to hear the names announced by an announcer over loudspeakers and then go home with a “Challenge League Game” t-shirt.

    This past year, former Dodger player, Maury Wills, donated $1,500 to the Challenge League baseball event.

    My mother and I want to make jerseys for the autism kids that play in the game. We want their names to be on the back of the jersey.

    This coming April, will be our seventh year hosting the Challenge.

    Spending time with autistic students has changed my life. I love baseball, but I have no aspiration of becoming a baseball player in the major leagues. I do, however, aspire to join the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Community Relations Department.

    Major League Baseball is a major supporter of Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization that sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, governments, and the public.

    Through Autism Speaks, I hope to combine my two greatest passions: baseball and serving the autism community.

    I want to raise awareness for autism disorder during the season and provide special opportunities for families and individuals affected by autism.  I want people that are affected by autism to participate in various baseball activities, including throwing out the first pitch, announcing “Play Ball!” and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

    If I am able to get my dream job of working for the Dodgers; I would like to eventually have the autism baseball game be at Dodgers Stadium instead of having it at a recreation park like we always do.  I would also like to have some of the Dodgers’ players go out to the community and socialize with autism kids all over the Los Angeles area.  The impact they would have on these kids are unspeakable.

    There are a lot of non-profit autism organizations all over the world that are raising millions of dollars trying to find a cure for autism. But something that I think that can be more beneficial for people who have autism right now is to engage them. Be a friend to them , and get to know them.

    Strong and enduring friendships within the autistic community are rare. Kids who are not autistic take for granted the ability to form friendships and enjoying life with others on their own.

    I’ve learned from spending time with Kenny and volunteering in special needs classes the power of a simple hello and act the act of remembering names in the autistic community. It’s a great feeling when a connection is made.

    So I ask you, the next time you see someone that has autism, will you make a difference in their life?

    If you’d like to learn more about the “Challenge League Game,” call (310) 874-1189.

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