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"Ironically, the aquarium teaches respect for marine environments," says the task force’s Murphy. "But if you go there, don’t turn around and look at the ocean. They can’t fill their tanks with Long Beach water. The fish would die."
Three shipping-industry groups — the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, the Steamship Association of California and the Propeller Club — issued a formal statement saying they want the breakwater left alone. They claim the anchorage area it provides is needed so ships can refuel, repair and ride out storms. And they call the plan to create an underwater reef an accident waiting to happen. "If a ship were to hit the reef and tear out its hull, the environmental, economic and human loss would be catastrophic," wrote Propeller Club president Gerald Fisher.
But Gordon LaBedz, of the Breakwater Task Force, thinks such concerns are ill-founded.
"Captains know how to navigate ships," says LaBedz. "All they’d have to do is mark the area with buoys and chart it on maps."
And LaBedz says Long Beach doesn’t need to become an overflow parking lot for ships. "Containerized shipping put an end to that. These days, the ships are offloaded by cranes so fast, they’re in and out. They never line up anymore. The Port’s just being greedy."
To date, City Hall hasn’t warmed to the task-force plan. Phil Hester, director of Parks, Recreation and Marine, says the city hasn’t formed an official position.
Mayor Beverly O’Neill, a peninsula resident, would not comment. But mayoral Chief of Staff Randal Hernandez says sinking the breakwater would rock too many political boats: "We just can’t go out there and blow it up. Many interests are at stake."
And the head of the city’s Convention and Tourist Bureau, Linda Howell DiMario, says waves could be bad for Long Beach’s economy.
"Our future cannot depend upon day-trippers who park their van and grab a doughnut and coffee on their way to surf the big one," says DiMario. "We’ve always been forthright in marketing our beaches the way they are. We tell people that we have a safe and nonthreatening beach."
Still, the task force says it isn’t going away. Over 70 percent of Long Beach residents support sinking the breakwater, according to polls by the Surfrider Foundation. And surveys by the Belmont Shores Improvement Association and the Bluff Park Neighborhood Association reflect that bringing back waves is a popular idea.
And Morris at the Scripps Institute says the cost for re-configuration won’t be that high. He insists that port structures and the oil islands were all designed for open-ocean conditions.
"A natural beach doesn’t need our protection," says Morris. "It’s been protecting itself for millions of years. Besides, Long Beach doesn’t experience storm waves as large as most of Southern California. It sits in a protected bay. That’s why it was picked for a harbor to begin with."
No breakwater in the world has ever been torn down. But Long Beach’s Breakwater Task Force hopes to join the trend in removing once-prized public-works proj-ects — such as dams — that have outlived their usefulness.
"What the city and peninsula don’t see is that we’re really on their side," says Murphy. "Sinking the breakwater would restore the shoreline and increase tourism. People would want to visit this beach again. But it’s hard for some people to see removing something as progress. Especially those who grew up thinking progress meant pouring more concrete."