Way, way good news for folks in San Pedro living within breathable proximity of the abandoned, Westway tank farm, which the Port of L.A. will finally demolish. Locals hope that dirty industry on this fill-dirt pier will give way to beautification — and a home for the Southern California Marine Institute.
It's hard to imagine a more dramatic project in neglected, polluted San Pedro. Buh-bye to 136 huge storage tanks. Hello to 14 acres of land. The sad thing is, it took decades just to get here, thanks to glacial movement and narrow thinking of elected leaders like former L.A. City council members Janice Hahn and Rudy Svorinich.
Some will say it's far too little too late.
After all, San Pedro residents fought for years to convince the Port of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency/Los Angeles, to create a livable waterfront that replaces some of the hazardous industries and shoreline blight.
In “The Docks,” a book that details the war between residents, city leaders and corporations in Los Angeles Harbor, author Bill Sharpsteen describes how port-area activists were worn to the bone by years of fighting the city of Los Angeles on its less-than-pristine stewardship of the waterfront.
It's been a long haul, just to remove the blight of Westway, which fought for years over the city's push to remove its tank farm. (Ultimately, Westway was paid many millions of dollars to decamp.)
According to Sharpsteen, who takes a lot of jabs at local activists in San Pedro — as if they, and not city government, are the problem — the CRA's head planner in 1997, Rafique Kahm, “rented a helicopter and flew over San Pedro, took a bunch of pictures and he glued them all together in a big mosaic.”
Then Kahn told well-known local activist Noel Park, “Here's your problem. You're cut off from the waterfront.”
At that point, Sharpsteen says, Park “realized that San Pedro's dreary wasteland days could be ended by transforming the town's greatest asset, the waterfront, from industrial blight to gathering place and then reconnecting it to the rest of the town.”
It still hasn't happened. Getting rid of Westway is a teeny step, not the big victory many San Pedro residents pine for.
Ex-City Councilwoman Janice Hahn — not a woman given to innovative thinking on big ideas — moved like a turtle on most of this. Competing interests with a grip on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission made sure the port's big money corporations were kept happy.
The liquid bulk terminal was built along the port's Main Channel on Berths 70-72 during the 1920s, but negotiations began in 2001 to relocate Westway Terminal Corp.
Six years later, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $17 million settlement that required Westway to move off the 14-acre property, freeing up valuable space for the ongoing redevelopment of San Pedro's waterfront.
The Port of Los Angeles is calling the new project that it hopes to build on the emptied tank farm land “City Dock. No 1,” and gushes in an official description:
“Imagine a campus environment complete with direct access to the Port's Main Channel and the Pacific Ocean a short distance away, vintage maritime buildings adapted for your specific needs, neighbors that include a bustling fish market, and historic Pacific Electric Red Cars that can bring visitors to the site.”
Well, maybe not the red cars, but much of this could happen.