San Pedro Gentrification? Two Perspectives, One Community

RESISTANCE WATCH-The hipster real estate blog Curbed LA recently announced that San Pedro had fulfilled its destiny by winning the 2017 Curbed Cup. According to Curbed LA, the Curbed Cup is a celebration of neighborhood pride and that this Harbor Area neighborhood “knocked out Burbank to claim the title of Neighborhood of the Year.” 

I chuckled at the announcement. It is not as if these “contests” hold any real weight, like the Oscars or the Golden Globes or anything. At best, they’re just gimmicks to draw audiences into a phony competition. But a competition for what purpose? To find the town with the most passionate hometown pride? Passion and pride in all things Pedro is not something we are in short supply of, obviously. 

As much as our blue-blood San Pedro citizens like to complain about being the forgotten part of Los Angeles, we definitely are proud to be the biggest little town in the entire city. 

One local complainer responded to the Curbed Cup by writing, “Here, here! Congrats to one of the Southland’s scrappiest little hoods. May you continue to produce good bands, good beer and good property values.” 

The San Pedro Harbor Area remains one of the most affordable areas in the entire city even as rents have increased 30 to 50 percent in the past 10 years. 

Yet the premise of gentrification, which Curbed LA is actually promoting, is a long sought-after goal by those who own property here and the dreaded consequences of development to long-time residents who have and will be displaced. Basically, gentrification is making this last affordable seaside town unaffordable for many who call San Pedro home. 

The conflict over the development of Ports O’ Call Village is a prime example of the double-edged sword that is gentrification. On the one hand, we have the long-promised completion of the Waterfront Promenade. It was started under Mayor Jim Hahn and heavily pushed by John Papadakis, former owner of the Greek eatery of the same name, as the cure-all for the neglect of the city and the Port of Los Angeles. 

“San Pedro is still a very rough and tough, scarcely developed, locals-only waterfront,” Papadakis said. “[It is] a historic California seaside, void of commercial economic opportunity, the only one of its kind in the State… a seaside slum.” 

Well it’s not exactly the “only one of its kind.” Take a look at the West Oakland neighborhood just beyond Jack London Square. But we get the point that the Port of Los Angeles’ 20-year delay in finishing the promenade has missed at least two development cycles that would have greatly benefited San Pedro’s economy. Yet, the “locals-only” allegation flies in the face of what can be seen on any given weekend with the out-of-town traffic coming into Ports O’ Call. 

There are a multitude of visitors to our waterfront. They have made the San Pedro Fish Market one of the biggest independent restaurants in the nation and the signature Ports O’ Call Restaurant a success for generations, serving tens of thousands. The port estimates that the Fish Market serves about 1.1 million visitors per year. But these “visitors” may just not be the demographic “diversity” that some people are looking to attract. 

So, in the effort to remake this historic, if not antiquated waterfront great again, the Port of Los Angeles has spent the past decade cooking up plans. First with a series of public presentations, then with the 2009 environmental impact report and then with a request for proposals, which resulted in the development team Jerico and Ratkovich being chosen and given an unheard of 75-year lease. That lease option was signed this past March and yet the Jerico-Ratkovich team have yet taken possession, or as of this date, publicly revealed the plans or announced the funding source for the proposed $100 million development. 

What has leaked out about the “new” plans has shocked many people who have followed this long drawn out process and who now accuse the POLA and the developers of betrayal of the public trust.

What has changed since the first public presentations and the 2009 EIR hearings is that all of Ports O’ Call village is now scheduled to be demolished first, before anything new is built, displacing some 20 businesses (employing some 250 workers) that were promised a place in the new village. This would leave the golden promise of waterfront development vacant for up to two years or more. This could drive most of those Ports O’ Call businesses out of town or out of business, leaving the San Pedro Fish Market as the lone destination. 

Clearly, in light of the past and now seemingly forgotten promises made by both the developers (which were recorded) and the port, there will be more harm than benefit to the local economy. This is due to their incompetence, surreptitious negotiations or intentional malice towards certain businesses (possibly all three). At best, this approach of ignoring the past commitments to a “phased development plan” with relocation options is just sheer stupidity. At worst it might be considered criminal negligence. 

The smaller tenants at the village have sued over their evictions and lost in court, but are considering further legal actions while attempting to negotiate relocation fees. The fate of the historic Ports O’ Call Restaurant, contrary to certain other news reports and rumors, is still pending negotiations between the port, Jerico-Ratkovich and possibly Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

The restaurant is continuing to book events into the end of 2018 and does not plan on closing anytime soon. However, it is doubtful that the community support for the signature restaurant will simply dry up and go away or that the owners of Ports O’ Call Restaurant will fold up their tent and go away without a fight. At this point, the lawyers have advised everyone not to speak on the record about any of it and this has left the community and patrons angry and reliant upon rumors and silence from the port. 

Even the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, whose mission it is to promote business and increase job opportunities, has remained silent on the issue. The chamber has not been receiving any substantial reports from any of their board members, who are either representatives of the port or Jerico. As of Jan. 9, Augie Bezmalinovich, the port’s community mouthpiece, said that it was “in litigation” and thusly, could not comment when asked directly about the status of Ports O’ Call restaurant. Yet, neither the port nor the developers or Ports O’ Call Restaurant as of this date have filed any legal action. He said this while he was sitting next to one of the Jerico Development partners in the recent Chamber Economic Development meeting. 

In the end, San Pedro may be proud of the Curbed Cup award, but what we’ve gotten is kicked-to-the-curb by LA on our great waterfront promenade redevelopment. This development they are working on may not retain its history or its vibrant independent locally owned businesses. 

Like I’ve said before, when gentrification comes to Pedro, people aren’t going to like it no matter how good it looks on paper. 

And of course, none of this addresses the growing population of homeless people, who from their vantage point, just above the bluff on Beacon Street, can see all this earth being moved around. They are sensing some impending doom as Councilman Joe Buscaino has no comprehensive plan to either deal with this crisis or save the jobs of 250 workers who may just find themselves gentrified-out of their homes and living on the award-winning streets of Pedroville.


(James Preston Allen is the founding publisher and executive editor of RLnews which is piece was originally published. He has been involved in community affairs for more than 40 years in the Los Angeles Harbor Area.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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