By James Preston Allen, Publisher
The crowds were ebullient, if not inebriated, at the long-awaited opening of Brouwerij West in old Warehouse 9 near the San Pedro waterfront on 22nd Street and Harbor Boulevard.
Wayne Blank, known for building Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, is the visionary who sunk a small fortune into creating Crafted at the Port of L.A. at the same location.
Previously in that same week, Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by Port Executive Director Gene Seroka and others, flipped a symbolic switch with the help of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as they unveiled the city’s 1.2 megawatt solar panel initiative on top of that very same warehouse. The initiative is part of Garcetti’s 2014 Sustainable City pLAn, which set the goal of producing 400 megawatts of solar energy by 2017. The port is proposing to produce 10 megawatts of energy on port properties, including the parking lot at Cabrillo Beach.
The day after the solar panels were unveiled, the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce hosted a business luncheon at Crafted entitled, “The Future of the LA Waterfront,” presented by Councilman Joe Buscaino. Prefaced by a history lesson, the councilman’s presentation contained scant new information except that somehow the Red Car was going to be included in the, as yet to be announced, Ports O’Call waterfront redevelopment.
This sudden flurry of activity is curious in the wake of recent cries to “Save San Pedro” and “Save the L.A. Waterfront”—from what? We don’t know. From the start, the march toward the stated goals in the 2009 waterfront environmental impact report has been obvious, but slow and methodical—distant goals that include AltaSea, Warehouse 1 and other sites.
Anxiety over the timeline of future developments and the incremental process by which they are being envisioned, designed and possibly built has been at the source of ongoing criticism—mostly from the area’s neighborhood councils.
But this current flurry of activity seems to be driven more by the councilman’s unspoken desire to show some accomplishment prior to his re-election campaign in 2017.
Buscaino’s rush to get something done prior to the primary election next March has much to do with his aspirational vision of creating an L.A. Live-type attraction on the San Pedro waterfront. This, while deflecting criticism about the rise in homelessness and crime in his district, the failure to open the Harbor Division jail and increase patrol officers, or addressing underlying economic issues contributing to the lack of affordable housing. And let’s not forget the relatively high 14.7 percent unemployment rate in Council District 15 that has been largely under-reported.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are frequently touted as “economic engines” in the local/regional if not the national economies. And that some 40 percent or more of all the imports into the United States come through these ports, generating some $200 billion annually in commerce, with $1.2 billion payroll for the ILWU workers. These are impressive numbers until one begins to break them down.
How is it that in the shadow of such an immense economic enterprise we have such high unemployment, with increasingly disparaging levels of poverty, homelessness and lack of opportunities?
Even with the relatively high pay of some waterfront workers, their compensation amounts to less than one percent of the annual gross of this immense economic engine. This would be an amazing statistic in any other business.
Further exacerbating this issue is that distribution warehouses connected to our ports are so distant from the local jurisdiction of the waterfront unions and pay nowhere near union scale. This also plays into the plight of port truckers and their struggle to be recognized as “employees” rather than “independent contractors.”
What remains invisible to all, who both decry San Pedro’s decline and who boost waterfront development, is that the Harbor Area hasn’t recovered from the loss of those 30,000 harbor jobs back in the Reagan era.
So it’s great and I applaud the efforts of Crafted, Brouwerij West, AltaSea, the USS Iowa and Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance in building and creating even a few hundred jobs here. But the effort doesn’t come close to what it would take to fill the vacuum created by the historic loss of the shipyards and canneries.
In the end, the few hundred millions of investment for waterfront development is a nice shot in the arm, but not nearly enough to jumpstart a sanguine economy to the level of Playa Vista or Silicon Beach on the Westside.
The reason Garcetti is promoting the subway-to-the-sea rather than the light-rail-to-the-Los Angeles Harbor has everything to do with the billions in infrastructure and private investment going on, while San Pedro still waits like a bride at the altar for her renaissance groom to arrive.
It’s no wonder people are still asking the councilman, “How long? How long is it going to take?”