LA Port officials look to cement program that provides community amenities

Los Angeles harbor commissioners, anticipating the city’s upcoming mayoral election that will bring likely changes to the panel’s makeup, opened a discussion this week that is sure to be closely followed by the community:

How to ensure a popular funding program that has led to waterfront developments for both the San Pedro and Wilmington communities continues.

The Public Access Investment Plan was launched by the Port of Los Angeles in 2015 and allocates 10% of the port’s operating revenue funds each year for visitor-access improvements.

The program was instituted as a way to address longstanding grievances in the communities of San Pedro and Wilmington, where residents frequently complained their neighborhoods were adversely impacted by the industrial operations at the nation’s busiest ports.

But the plan is slated to expire in 2025.

The winner of the Tuesday, Nov. 8, mayoral election — either U.S. Rep. Karen Bass or billionaire businessman Rick Caruso — will appoint his or her own commissioners over the coming months, creating urgency on the current five-member panel to make sure the program will continue.

“It’s amazing to see everything that’s been going on when a lot of people didn’t think we’d get this far,” Commissioner Anthony Pirozzi said after a presentation on all that’s been done to date.

Since it was instituted, the plan has spent about $260 million on projects such as the Harbor Boulevard and Seventh Street realignment ($15.3 million); the West Harbor Promenade and Town Square ($58.2 million) development; and Harbor Boulevard improvements at Miner Street ($8.9 million).

Projects now in progress or being designed include:

West Harbor Promenade, Phase II.
San Pedro Waterfront connectivity plan.
Harbor Boulevard Parkway improvements.
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Life Support System.
Wilmington Waterfront Promenade (completion set for mid-2023).
Wilmington Youth Sailing Center.
Avalon Promenade and Gateway, Phase I.
Avalon Promenade and Gateway, Phase II.

The program is a commitment the Port of Los Angeles made to the community, members of which submit recommendations every few years for upcoming projects the port should consider, according to Mike Galvin, director of Waterfront and Commercial Real Estate Development for the port, who gave a presentation to the harbor commission on Thursday, Nov. 3.

Commissioners then opened a discussion, likely to continue, over how best to ensure that the program becomes part of the port’s ongoing “DNA,” as Galvin described it.

“We need a new guideline that takes us to the next step,” Pirozzi said.

The next board should, the current commissioners said, have a set of guidelines for continuing the program, even though a new panel will have the authority to approve annual spending plans.

“We are looking down the barrel of what most likely will be a recession in this next year,” said board President Jaime Lee.

A way forward, she said, would be to establish a “smart plan” that could be adjusted on an annual budgetary basis.

Commissioner Diane Middleton said she’d consider the 10% expenditure to be “a floor.”

“I see it as increasing,” she said, “not decreasing.”

Commissioners also indicated they’d like to see the program continue in perpetuity.

At a budget meeting in April, in fact, commissioners pressed to make the program permanent. Leaders of the San Pedro and Wilmington neighborhood councils agreed.

“We’re working through this,” Middleton said at the end of the discussion. “We’ve given (staff) some concrete ideas.”

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Some projects, once the infrastructure is in place, are also partly being constructed with private funding, Galvin said. That will be the case with West Harbor, San Pedro’s long-anticipated waterfront makeover, which will formally break ground on Saturday, Nov. 12, with a daylong public festival. The infrastructure is provided by the port, including the promenade, but the rest of the development is being financed by the private developers.

Potential future projects for San Pedro already on the books include Harbor Boulevard and Signal Street improvements, and much-needed parking improvements and expansion elsewhere; and relocating the USS Iowa to the Southern Pacific Slip adjacent to the West Harbor development.

In Wilmington, potential projects now listed are adding gateway signage and Waterfront Park restrooms, remodeling Banning’s Landing, beautifying C Street, and installing high speed Wi-Fi.

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