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Hueneme Seeking Bigger Slice of Pacific Rim Trade

October 01, 1987|SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writer

Port Hueneme, the only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco, has begun a $26-million expansion designed to double its business by 1990 and triple it by 2010.

In the last year, the port has also lured two prestigious customers, Mercedes-Benz of North America and BMW of North America, from the Port of Los Angeles, 65 miles to the south.

The new business will make millions of dollars and create jobs for Ventura County, according to local elected officials and business groups.

Los Angeles and Long Beach port officials say they won't lose sleep over the move by Port Hueneme, which is 50 years old this month, to take a bigger bite of the growing Pacific Rim trade. Together the Los Angeles County ports comprise one of the largest and most profitable import-and-export facilities in the world--last year moving about 115 million metric tons of goods worth nearly $60 billion.

Port Hueneme's business amounts to 500,000 metric tons a year, and its goal is 1.5 million tons by 2010.

"Their available facilities are insufficient to do us any serious damage," James McJunket, Port of Long Beach executive director, said of the Ventura County port. "Still, no one wants to lose a good account."

Ventura officials also acknowledge that for the port to reach its potential, additional tens of millions of dollars in state and federal money will be required to improve roads linking Port Hueneme with the Ventura Freeway, officials say.

The largest obstacle to growth is the limited availability of land at the commercial port facility, which covers 60.8 acres. The remaining 1,600 acres of Port Hueneme is owned and operated by the Navy. By comparison, the Port of Los Angeles has about 7,500 acres of land and water.

Although Port Hueneme does not have enough land to load and unload large container shipments--which make up the biggest share of business at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports--it has become attractive to customers shipping bulk cargo such as cars, bananas, citrus, offshore oil supplies and lumber.

Mercedes and BMW together will ship about 45,000 cars annually through Port Hueneme by 1989, company officials said. Mazda Motors of America ships about 100,000 cars a year through the port. The port of Los Angeles received 524,000 imported cars in the year ending June 30, officials there said.

The Dole Fresh Fruit Co., the country's largest importer of bananas, is typical of the kind of firm interested in moving to Port Hueneme, port officials say.

"We are now considered a small operator in scope of Los Angeles and Long Beach," John Musser, the firm's vice president of operations, said. "When you are dealing with a smaller port, you become a relatively big customer, and as a practical matter, as far as service, it is better to be a big fish in a small pond."

Dole, which imports about 20 million bananas a week through the Port of Long Beach, is negotiating with Port Hueneme officials about moving its operation, Musser said.

Banana Processing Center

As an enticement to move from Long Beach, where Dole has done business for 20 years, Port Hueneme officials have offered to design and build a $2-million, state-of-the-art banana shipment-processing center on nine acres. Dole officials are considering the offer, Musser said.

Port Hueneme Executive Director Anthony J. Taormina, who took over management of the port in 1984, said he is in no rush for a decision from Dole. These deals take time, as well as patience, he said.

Mercedes and BMW each bought about 20 acres in nearby Oxnard to build facilities to inspect and test cars that are unloaded at the port. Each firm was assisted by port and city officials to find the properties and secure city permits.

"The Mercedes deal took about two years from the time they approached us to the day we shook hands," said Taormina, who also negotiated the BMW agreement. "We've been working on Dole for about a year, so I figure we're about halfway there."

Meanwhile, elected officials and business groups, working with the Southern California Assn. of Governments, also known as SCAG, have completed a preliminary study on improving roads between Port Hueneme and the Ventura Freeway.

Complaints About Traffic

Most of the goods shipped in and out of the port are transported by trucks passing through the cities of Port Hueneme and Oxnard. Residents along the truck routes have long complained about the traffic.

In a report scheduled for release later this month, officials involved in the study will recommend that a new portion of U.S. 1, some of it freeway, be built between Hueneme Road and the Ventura Freeway along what is now Rice Avenue. The proposed route, through primarily agricultural and industrially zoned areas of the Oxnard Plain, would take most of the truck traffic off city streets, according to the report.

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