The governing board of an influential social service agency in northeast San Pedro has issued a stinging repudiation of a Chamber of Commerce proposal to revitalize that part of town, calling the so-called San Pedro 2000 proposal "social engineering through the bulldozer."
The San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce responded last week by accusing the agency of exhibiting "open hostility" toward the chamber, promoting "anti-business rhetoric" and attempting "to prevent the chamber from issuing a San Pedro 2000 report."
The fiery exchange of letters between the chamber and the Toberman Settlement House, a nonprofit community outreach organization affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is the most dramatic demonstration of how far relations have deteriorated between the two organizations since the chamber released a draft of the San Pedro 2000 proposal last fall.
Among other things, the tentative proposal calls for the demolition of the Rancho San Pedro low-income housing project, the development of new low-income housing nearby, an increase in residential density in the surrounding Barton Hill neighborhood and the development of a harbor-front commercial area where portions of the housing project now stand.
"We are convinced that the chamber's efforts at social engineering through the bulldozer, and the wholesale removal of low-income people, will be unfair," the Toberman board concluded in its letter to the chamber.
In concluding the chamber's response, the organization's president, John M. Barbieri, was equally forthright.
"Since our first meeting with your board, the staff of Toberman has sought to turn this into confrontation," he wrote. "So long as that attitude prevails at Toberman, I am afraid there is little chance that we can have constructive dialogue between our two organizations."
As a further indication of its displeasure with the chamber, the Toberman board also voted recently to remove Leron Gubler, executive director of the chamber, from a Toberman committee that nominates residents to the board. Toberman officials said Gubler had served on the committee for about five years.
While a dismissal notice mailed to Gubler does not mention the San Pedro 2000 proposal, a Toberman official said the board decided to remove Gubler because of his involvement in promoting the revitalization plan. Gubler has been the chamber's chief spokesman on the proposal and has visited more than a dozen community groups to garner support for it.
The chamber letter released last week did not discuss Gubler's dismissal, and Gubler would not comment, saying, "I am not going to get into petty stuff."
The Toberman board has also sent a letter to Leila Gonzalez-Correa, executive director of the city's Housing Authority, notifying her of its opposition to San Pedro 2000. The chamber's proposal, still in draft form, has not been submitted to the Housing Authority, but chamber officials have said they hope it would serve as the basis of a plan that would eventually need approval from the authority.
The final version of the chamber proposal is expected to be presented to Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents San Pedro, later this month. Flores will then decide whether to forward it to the Housing Authority and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.
In the letter to the chamber, Toberman Executive Director Howard Uller and Board of Trustees President David McKenna expressed "astonishment and consternation" with the chamber's handling of its revitalization proposal, which has been widely criticized by residents in both Rancho San Pedro and Barton Hill, one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Pedro.
Uller and McKenna castigated chamber President Barbieri in the letter, quoting him as saying during a chamber meeting that it would be "lunacy" to allow residents of Barton Hill to control planning for the community. The letter called Barbieri's comment "an insult" to the Toberman board of trustees.
"Our board of trustees has always adhered to the principle that the residents of a neighborhood should be in control of the planning that is done for the neighborhood," the letter states. "This is a position that we regard as morally, ethically and logically the soundest approach to urban planning."
Barbieri, however, said in an interview last week that the "lunacy" comment had been taken out of context by Uller, who attended the marketing committee meeting.
"That statement is inaccurate and is another attempt by their representative that attended the meeting to (misrepresent) the facts and mislead his own membership," Barbieri said.
Barbieri said he made the "lunacy" comment in response to a proposal by Uller that Toberman and the Barton Hill Neighborhood Organization, a community group that often works with Toberman, control "the entire planning process" in both residential and commercial areas of northeast San Pedro.