The state Coastal Commission has agreed to pay for a study that residents hope will lead to the development of tourist and recreational facilities along the heavily industrial waterfront of Wilmington.
Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents Wilmington, and the city's Harbor Department asked for the grant after a task force set up by Flores pointed to the port as the source of many of the community's gripes.
"There are so many people who live here in Wilmington who don't even know the waterfront," said Abel Suarez, a Wilmington crane operator who served on the task force. "This study will be a big boost for the community. Residents would go down there if we had something to offer them."
Steve Scholl, who handles grants for the Coastal Commission, said the agency decided to give $35,000 for the study despite a recommendation from its staff to provide just $8,000. The staff had suggested that the remaining $27,000 be awarded for a study in Sonoma County, but Scholl said the commissioners felt Wilmington was particularly needy and deserved the entire grant.
No Benefits From Port
"Wilmington is one of the few communities in California that is near the water but really has no connection to it," said Scholl. "It might as well be somewhere else. It has none of the benefits of being near the port, but it gets all of the burdens."
Nelson Hernandez, Flores' Wilmington deputy, and Sid Robinson, the port's director of planning and research, traveled to a recent commission meeting in San Francisco to persuade the panel to award the entire grant. Robinson said port officials believe that it is particularly important that the study be financed by a source outside the city or harbor.
"It is important that the results of the study have some credibility and that the results are not tainted by some party," Robinson said. "We wanted somebody from the outside to come in and look at the situation and give some independent observations and a different perspective."
Suarez agreed. "We needed somebody who doesn't have anything to do with the town or the port. An unbiased person can give the true facts about things."
Aid to Research
At a meeting several months ago, the Board of Harbor Commissioners agreed to assist in the study by matching the Coastal Commission grant with "in-kind" services. Robinson said the city and Harbor Department will provide the consultant with research, statistics and other information about the port and Wilmington, but he emphasized that port employees will not analyze the material or help the consultant draft conclusions.
Among other things, Hernandez said the consultant will review recommendations about port-related problems in the community that were made last summer by the task force set up by Flores. In addition to calling for an independent study of the situation, the task force recommended that the port provide more waterfront recreational areas in Wilmington, help upgrade commercial areas near the harbor and work to divert industrial traffic away from the community.
Eleanor Montano, a former honorary mayor of Wilmington who served on the task force, said residents would like restaurants and a small commercial development along the waterfront similar to the Ports o' Call village in San Pedro. Wilmington residents have often pointed to Harbor Department-sponsored developments in San Pedro such as Ports o' Call and the new Cabrillo marina and recreational complex as examples of what could have been in Wilmington.
"We need places where you can just go and sit down and have a nice dinner while you watch the boats go by," Montano said. "I know that we are limited as far as land is concerned, but we need something. There just isn't any place to go unless you go to San Pedro or into Los Angeles."
Added Suarez: "Finally people in Wilmington are opening their eyes, and are seeing that you don't get anything done if nobody is pushing for it. They are seeing things happening in San Pedro, and they want it here, too."
Currently, the Harbor Department has designated about 40 acres of land and water along the Cerritos Channel in Wilmington for recreational use, and it has promised that another 40 acres nearby will be set aside once oil wells there have been depleted. There are now 11 small, private marinas along the channel, but residents complain that they are too far away from residential and business areas and do not provide public access to the water. It could be decades, moreover, before the oil wells are dry and the recreational area there can be expanded, port officials acknowledge.
"The marinas are kind of isolated from everything else," Hernandez said. "We are looking to get something developed near Avalon Boulevard (near downtown Wilmington) so that the port is more tied to the community."
Flores, who said she wants to designate downtown Wilmington near Avalon Boulevard as a city revitalization area, said a recreational or tourist development in that area would help pump new life into the depressed business district.
Hernandez said the grant money will not be available until next month. In the meantime, he said, the city will begin the legal process of advertising for a consultant.
"We really think it is the beginning of something very positive for the community," he said. "It is long overdue."