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Enterprise Zone Plan for Harbor Advances

September 17, 1987|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to revive the fishing industry in San Pedro and economically depressed areas in Wilmington, Los Angeles city officials are moving forward with a proposal to have parts of the two communities designated as a state enterprise zone.

The City Council voted last week to hire a consultant to prepare a preliminary application to the state Department of Commerce, which is expected to select about half a dozen finalists in December. Three of the sites eventually will be chosen as enterprise zones, based on economic need.

The state enterprise zone program targets blighted areas with high unemployment for special tax breaks and other incentives in the hope of attracting new business. There are four enterprise zones in the City of Los Angeles but none in the South Bay.

Businesses in the three new zones that take advantage of the incentives will be required to hire people who live in or near the enterprise zone, city officials said.

Canneries Shut Down

The San Pedro fishing industry has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, most notably the closure of several canneries on Terminal Island and the layoffs of thousands of cannery workers. Unable to compete with foreign fisheries, the local fishing fleet has dwindled from about 170 boats in the 1950s to fewer than 30 today.

The fishing industry is "no longer talking about growth, expansion or diversification, but mere survival," said John Barbieri, former president of the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. Barbieri, representatives of the fishing industry and other members of a special task force on the problems of local fishermen recommended last year that the city pursue the enterprise zone designation.

Frank Iacono, president of the 25-member Fisherman's Cooperative Assn. in San Pedro, which recently bought and reopened a cannery closed by Star-Kist, said fishermen support any effort to bring new fishing-related business to the harbor.

"The more sales we can get, the better it is," Iacono said. "That way we could expand our business."

Firm Hired

The City Council voted to allocate $72,810 to hire Economics Research Associates to prepare the preliminary application and a subsequent formal application if the area is selected as a finalist. The company, which has prepared successful applications for other sites in the state, must submit the preliminary application before Oct. 28. If selected as an enterprise zone, the area probably would be eligible for incentives by early 1989, city officials said.

Robert Mullens, who oversees enterprise zone applications for the city's Community Development Department, said the city has not yet determined the boundaries of the proposed zone. He said, however, that it will include business areas in Wilmington as well as berths used by commercial fishermen.

"It is the long-term decline, relocation and layoffs at many businesses in the harbor area--including Todd Shipyard, the canneries and the fishing industry--that led to the depressed conditions within the community," Mullens said.

Lois Denzin, executive director of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said the group has "a lot of questions" about what an enterprise zone designation would mean for local businesses, but she said the chamber welcomes any effort to pump new life into Wilmington's business district.

Parts Don't Qualify

The city has had difficulty coming up with boundaries for the proposed zone because parts of Wilmington do not meet the state's definition of low-income areas, said Bernie Evans, chief deputy to harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. Evans said the city is carefully eliminating tracts that do not qualify and is trying to carve out a coherent zone that encompasses depressed areas but does not meander haphazardly in and out of neighborhoods.

"The industrial areas of east Wilmington could really benefit from the legislation," Evans said. "With the growing port area, there is some concern that Wilmington could recover without an enterprise zone, but we feel it is necessary to attract investment and upgrade Wilmington. In an enterprise zone, a landlord would be able to attract a tenant with light industry rather than the junkyard he now attracts."

Mullens, of the city's development department, said the Wilmington-San Pedro area was designated as a potential enterprise zone about five years ago when the city identified five areas with high unemployment and depressed economic conditions. The four other areas--Watts, the Central City, the East Side and Pacoima--have already received enterprise zone designations.

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