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Published on August 9th, 2012 | by RLn Staff

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Remembering Our Future, Imagining our Past

By James Preston Allen, Publisher

I have been thinking lately about the number of people I run into who don’t remember what happened even a decade ago, like the battle to change the Los Angeles City Charter to create Neighborhood Councils. It literally took the threat of secession to move this great city to the premise of expanding democracy to a new level. The promise of this new charter has still not been fully realized, even by those who now have the power in their hands to change the city. Something significant has been forgotten.

Likewise, I noticed when Councilman Joe Buscaino came out to host the ground breaking for the renovation of Plaza Park on South Beacon Street a couple of months ago.  The refurbishing of this historic park and even Anne Gushe’s vision of “beautification” of this park was widely supported. But none of this would have been possible if not for the community activists along with the Natural Resources Defense Council who sued the Port of Los Angeles and won a $65 million-plus judgement. That victory turned the tide of the “100 years war” with POLA.  The Plaza Park renovation is being funded with a $5 million grant from that settlement fund.

I have not noticed a mention of the China Shipping lawsuit litigants’ names in any of the “coronation” ceremonies from the Angels Gate Lighthouse restoration to Wilmington Park. This is an error of omission. In fact, what has happened since payouts  from the settlement started being made is that activists have been made silent, both literally and historically. Recently, one such activist, Janet Gunter, who is now on a war path against Rancho LPG tanks on North Gaffey Street, was evicted from a Harbor Commission meeting for being a bit too vociferous.  Well it has been my experience that change usually doesn’t come with polite platitudes.

I have heard a great deal of derogatory comments about Ms. Gunter’s warnings about Rancho LPG but in light of the explosion this week at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, some just might want to reconsider her warnings.  If not that, the explosion of the SS Sansinena at Pier 47 back in 1976, or the GATX accident at 22nd Street and Harbor Boulevard in 1979 or even the Texaco explosion in 1992, 1996, and 1999. All would be very enlightening to those who wish to live in the land of denial near an oil terminal.  Living and working in an industrial port does have its hazards as any longshoreman will readily tell you.

To the credit of two successive Los Angeles mayors and the China Shipping lawsuit ruling, the Port has spent the past decade changing course, resulting in green technology, low emission diesel engines, cold ironing, waterfront promenade, two parks with the promise of more things to come such as the redevelopment of  the Ports O’ Call waterfront. However, for those newbies in the neighborhood and those who just can’t remember, none of this would have happened without the community’s strategic engagement, years of activism by many individuals (some who are no longer with us), and the collaboration of many community groups. It has been one of my great honors as publisher of this newspaper to have given both voice on these things for the community and to have championed those initiatives that created the most change.

The one thing that I have learned throughout these many years is that when the community speaks with one voice to the power of government they will listen and they will change. The challenge is deciding what it is we want and what we want to say!

There are those who continually go hat-in-hand to beg for this or that from government or the big corporations asking for pennies to accomplish some good deed or charitable mission. But like most Americans, I despise begging whether it’s in front of the U.S. Post Office or at the halls of government.  Tell me what you are going to work at; what you are going to accomplish and let’s work towards solving a few problems. Quit arguing the polemics  from the right and left. That sounds odd coming from one such as I who argues politics for a living. But not really when you look closely at what I and others in the “activist” community have accomplished.

The crises and the challenges of our time can only be solved when we remember what’s worked in the past and applying those solutions to our future, rather than fantasizing about the “good-ole-days” that may have never existed.  Those who are too timid to accept responsibility for the problems now will never have the courage to solve them later.

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