SAN PEDRO — A Chamber of Commerce official, speaking last week to an angry group of Rancho San Pedro residents, apologized for not telling them sooner about a chamber proposal prepared last October that calls for demolition of the city housing project and relocation of the residents.
"Let me apologize for not coming sooner," Leron Gubler, executive director of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, told the standing-room-only crowd in the Rancho San Pedro recreation hall. "I should have come to you sooner, I see now. It probably would have prevented some misperceptions."
Nearly 100 people crowded into the hall Thursday to hear about the "San Pedro 2000" proposal, which is the first draft of a recommendation the chamber will make next month to city officials about future residential and commercial development in northeast San Pedro.
Among other things, the proposal calls for demolition of the 479-unit project to make way for new commercial development on Harbor Boulevard, across from the expanding World Cruise Center. The proposal also calls for construction of low-income housing nearby--enough to accommodate all 1,500 residents of Rancho San Pedro.
Gubler was bombarded with questions from hostile residents, many of whom said they didn't trust the chamber and didn't believe enough new housing would be built with affordable rents. It was the chamber's first presentation of the proposal to residents, some of whom learned of it recently by rumor or in newspaper accounts.
"We all went to get out of here; that is a dream I have always had," said Olga Pendo, a 26-year-old mother of two who said she grew up at Rancho San Pedro. "But can we afford it? If our rent goes up, we can't afford to feed our kids."
Several residents, including Sandra Barbb, who said she had lived in the project for 20 years, told Gubler they wished the chamber would work to improve security at the project rather than find ways to redevelop it.
"My house has been burglarized five times since I've lived here," Barbb said. "I am afraid to even go to work. Spend the money on security. . . . Get us security bars on our windows."
At one point, the meeting nearly broke into chaos when several residents began screaming at Gubler about crime at the project and someone outside the hall rushed inside saying burglars had just stolen a video recorder from a nearby apartment. Allen O'Rourke, manager of Rancho San Pedro, intervened at that point, telling the residents to ask questions only about San Pedro 2000.
"You all sound like a lynching mob!" one woman resident shouted at the group.
Gubler patiently fielded questions, and his answers were translated into Spanish by a housing authority interpreter. He repeated that San Pedro 2000 was meant only to be a "working document" to inspire discussion about how to improve housing and reduce crime in northeast San Pedro.
"People are certainly talking," Gubler joked.
Gubler retreated somewhat from the chamber's original "White Paper" on the proposal, telling the residents that San Pedro 2000 is a chamber "report"--not a "plan" for the community. The first sentence of the White Paper refers to the "San Pedro 2000 plan," and in presentations to other groups in San Pedro, Gubler specifically referred to San Pedro 2000 as a plan for northeast San Pedro.
While Gubler appeared alone in his defense of San Pedro 2000, he seemed to receive some support--albeit qualified--from one resident.
"I'll get out if they give me something better and they guarantee it," said Julie Denby, a one-year resident of the project. "This place is hell on earth."