SAN PEDRO — In a move unwittingly prompted by commercial fishing interests, the Port of Los Angeles has agreed to spend millions of dollars within the next several years to improve its fire protection services.
Under a plan approved last week by the Los Angeles Harbor and Fire commissions, the port will allocate more than $10 million, perhaps as soon as 1987, for building three new fireboat stations to replace existing ones, and for purchasing a new, state-of-the-art fireboat.
Approval of the plan came after negotiations between the Harbor and Fire departments that were sparked by angry fish wholesalers concerned that a previous plan to locate a new fire station at the wholesale municipal fish market would disrupt their operations.
"We were thanked by both the Fire Department and the people from the harbor," said Tom Crehan, the attorney who represented the 12 fish market tenants. "They told us they came out with a better plan because of the extra consideration" initiated by the fishermen. 'We are tickled pink. We really are pleased."
Harbor and fire officials said the plan is expected to meet fire protection needs at the port for the next three decades. In addition, the new stations will cut the amount of time it takes fire personnel to respond to emergencies in the Fish Harbor area and will provide protection to the port's outer harbor, where the Harbor Department hopes to construct a 455-acre "energy island" landfill, the officials said.
Despite the $10-million price tag, Harbor Department planners predict a saving of more than $45 million in fire protection costs over the 30-year period, primarily by reducing by six the number of fire personnel assigned to the harbor.
The plan adopted last week will not affect the fish market.
"We think the plan is a reasonable compromise between our needs and the Fire Department's needs to provide adequate fire suppression services throughout the port," said Jack Wells, the port's chief deputy executive director. The agreement marks the first time that a comprehensive fire protection plan for the port has been developed, Wells said.
"The Fire Department feels very comfortable with the level of protection that will be offered by this plan," Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Jerry Schnitker said. "What we have basically done is come to an agreement as to the level of protection that is required to adequately protect the harbor."
The port, which last year paid the Los Angeles Fire Department $6.25 million to operate four fireboat stations in the harbor, proposed last May that a station at Cabrillo Beach and two at Terminal Island be consolidated into one new station that would be built at the northern end of the wholesale municipal fish market. That plan would have cost $3.5 million.
Port planners contended that construction of the station at the market would allow the port to demolish one station along the port's main channel and expand a nearby container cargo terminal. The new station also would provide much-needed protection to the outer harbor where the landfill island is to be built, they said.
However, before the plan could be formally presented to the Board of Harbor Commissioners, market tenants, many of whom have rented space at the market for decades, denounced it, saying it would not only eliminate a major portion of the market's dock space, but split the market area from the slip where fishermen tie up their vessels. Port planners were then directed by commissioners to reconsider the plan with the assistance of fire officials.
"It wasn't so much a matter of abandoning the former plan as such," said Harbor Commissioner Dominick Rubalcava, a former fire commissioner who worked with port and fire officials to develop the plan. "But when we opened the door to beyond just that one station, we were able to reevaluate" fire protection needs for the entire port.
Under the new plan, design work will begin immediately on a new fireboat station adjacent to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum along the port's main channel. The $4-million station will replace a nearby station and allow the port to move ahead with its plan to expand operations at the Seaside Container Terminal.
The plan also calls for a new fireboat station to be built at Cabrillo Beach, where construction is under way on the new Los Angeles Marina and other recreational facilities. The station, which will cost an estimated $1 million, will replace an existing fireboat facility that port officials say is badly in need of renovation, and will ensure adequate fire protection for the thousands of pleasure boaters expected to occupy the new marina.