When the state Coastal Commission voted in May to approve a $1.66-billion, 1,030-mile oil pipeline from Los Angeles to Midland, Tex., it ordered project builders to provide help for San Pedro's struggling fishing industry.
The plan was to offset the expected damage from the pipeline and a related, island-based tanker terminal on the commercial and sport-fishing industries in Los Angeles Harbor. One early proposal called for pipeline builders to create for fishermen a much-needed, $1-million unloading station to remove fish from commercial vessels and flash-freeze them for transport to the market.
The Long Beach-based Pacific Texas Pipeline Co. was agreeable.
"We'll do whatever is asked of us," a company spokesman said in an interview.
But now, as a date nears to select a project, the fishing industry and Mayor Tom Bradley's office are locked in a bitter dispute over just how the help should be used.
Coastal Commission Director Peter Douglas, who is responsible for working out an agreement among developers and city officials, has faced continued lobbying by fishing industry representatives to address the chronic problems of San Pedro's dwindling commercial fleet, including inefficient unloading and freezing facilities, rising insurance rates and costly diesel-fuel bills.
Aid of $1 million or more would go a long way toward keeping the 27-boat fleet financially afloat, said Frank Iacono, general manager of the Fishermen's Cooperative Assn.
'We Need Help'
"We're an industry that's just trying to survive," Iacono said in an interview last week. "We need help."
But Deputy Mayor Tom Houston has waged a four-month campaign to pursue other plans for the pipeline windfall. Houston said his goal is to have pipeline builders pay for a $2.1-million marine research laboratory at San Pedro's old Cabrillo Museum, a two-story, oceanfront structure that has been largely vacant since the new Cabrillo Museum opened next door at the harbor's west breakwater in 1981.
Houston's plan, designed to aid research into troubled Santa Monica Bay, has drawn support from scientists but opposition from fishermen and a number of Los Angeles officials, including Harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. Critics of the plan have accused Houston of selling out the fishing industry to further Bradley's slowly accelerating gubernatorial campaign.
Bradley, who has made recent gains in statewide political polls, has drawn repeated attacks from Gov. George Deukmejian for allowing Santa Monica Bay to become so heavily polluted. One city official, who asked not to be named, said plans for the research facility are a way to answer that criticism.
"Tom Houston is trying very earnestly, honestly and forthrightly to say Tom Bradley is doing something about . . . Santa Monica Bay," the official said. Houston, who said he has heard that charge, angrily denounced it.
"It's an irresponsible charge . . . irresponsible and cynical," he said in an interview. "It's totally ridiculous, and I resent the hell out of it."
The issue is expected to be resolved by early October, after Douglas completes a series of talks with Los Angeles officials, pipeline builders and representatives of state agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game, according to Suzanne Rogalin, an analyst for the Coastal Commission.
"We're seriously weighing all the options before us," Rogalin said.
The fight has unsettled relations between the mayor's office and San Pedro's Fishing Industry Task Force, a group established earlier this year to identify commercial fishing problems and to look for solutions.
The task force, coordinated through Bradley's Economic Development Office, has given top priority to construction of the $1-million fish unloading station, to be built next to the fleet's docking area at Berth 73, according to Brad Crowe, who directs the office. In recent months, Crowe said, his office has tentatively lined up a federal assistance grant that could pay for that project.
The grant could come through later this fall, Crowe said.
But fishermen have no guarantee the money will be coming, Iacono said. In addition, he said, fishermen have other problems that the task force has ranked far above a marine research facility.
"We're having an awfully big problem with insurance," Iacono said. "At one time we were paying $700 per man for personal-injury insurance. Now some of these boats are paying $5,000 to $10,000 per man . . . per year. . . . So a lot of our boats are fishing without insurance."
Fishermen would like to see a pool of money set aside for self-insurance, he said. If fishermen could set aside $500,000 or $1 million to cover possible claims, insurance companies might be willing to pick up a portion of the necessary coverage at reduced rates, he said.