WILMINGTON — Under pressure from area residents, Los Angeles Harbor Department officials have announced long-range plans to ease truck congestion near homes and devote a large chunk of waterfront land to public use.
At a meeting last week attended by officials from three Los Angeles city agencies, port executives also agreed to promote commercial development in Wilmington as they continue to purchase property in the area.
The port's plans, which still must be approved by Harbor Department commissioners, came during a meeting of a task force formed last fall to combat community problems. Port officials, as well as members of the city's Planning Department and Redevelopment Agency, serve on the task force.
Could Take Years
Although specifics remain to be worked out and many of the plans could take years to implement, the proposals represent a victory for Wilmington residents, who have complained for years that the port has not done its share to solve problems it has helped create.
Besides heavy truck congestion caused by marine cargo terminal activity, residents say they are plagued by unsightly junkyards, industrial pollution and a hodgepodge of land uses that has allowed businesses to be built next to homes.
At the same time residents have voiced their concerns, the port has aggressively been buying property in the community for expansion. During the past four years, it has acquired more than 30 acres in Wilmington and eventually plans to purchase about 200 acres, according to Sid Robinson, the port's chief planner.
Plans Not Yet Firm
Ezunial Burts, the port's executive director, said in an interview that the plans are still in the preliminary stage and could change. Moreover, Burts said the timing of some of the plans depends on when certain parcels of land are acquired.
Nevertheless, he called the plans a "step in the right direction" for both Wilmington and the port, and said his staff will present the plans to harbor commissioners for discussion in the next few weeks.
"We are at the point right now where we are better able to define what the port needs, and make sure those needs mesh with those of the community," Burts said. "That is what we are trying to do."
Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the harbor area and formed the task force last September, said she was encouraged by the port's actions, and predicted they could eventually mitigate the negative effects that port operations have had on the area over the years. Specifically, she referred to plans for more waterfront access for residents.
"I'm beginning to get the feeling that it is not going to take 30 years to get something done," the councilwoman said.
Abel Suarez, who has lived in the community for 24 years and serves on the task force, said he was pleased with the proposals. "They are not going to be done overnight, but they are a very good start," said Suarez, who works as a crane operator at a Wilmington marine cargo terminal.
'Real Problems' Cited
But Peter Mendoza, president of the Wilmington Homeowners Assn., criticized the port's plans for not going far enough. "It's my opinion that the port may do these nice things on the fringes of Wilmington, but they will still fail to address the real problems, such as the truck traffic that permeates throughout all of the area," Mendoza said.
One of the port's plans calls for the the rebuilding of C Street in the community's southwest corner, where trucks entering and exiting the Harbor Freeway create a cacophony for those living nearby. The port is buying land between B and C streets to provide a better access road to the waterfront for industry.
A new collector road just for residents also would be built, separated from the port by a landscaped, 20-foot-wide buffer zone.
Another plan calls for the port to allocate land on Avalon Boulevard between B and C streets for commercial projects such as restaurants and retail shops. The port has yet to purchase land in the area.
40 Acres for Recreation
Additionally, the port has tentatively agreed to work with the city Planning Department to eventually set aside about 40 acres near the Cerritos Channel for recreational uses. The land is adjacent to the 1,500-slip marina and is dotted with oil wells that would have to be removed.
In an apparent change of heart, the port has also decided to help pay for a consultant to study ways to increase waterfront access for residents at the foot of Avalon Boulevard. In the past, the port has insisted that hazardous cargo facilities and rail lines make the area unsuitable for recreational or commercial uses.
At the suggestion of Flores, redevelopment agency officials agreed at the meeting to study the feasibility of creating a redevelopment zone in Wilmington's northwest corner, an area once dominated by petroleum coke storage piles.
The councilwoman said that if a controversial waste-to-energy plant proposed for the area is built, money raised through increased property taxes could be used to improve the area.