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, 35 miles to the south. And now it is eyeing one of the Port of Long Beach's biggest banana shippers.
But Long Beach and Los Angeles port officials say they are not losing sleep over the move by the 50-year-old Port Hueneme 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.
No 'Serious Damage'
"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 full 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.
The single 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 U.S. 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 now ships about 100,000 cars a year through the port.
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.
'Big Fish in Small Pond'
"We are now considered a small operator in the scope of Los Angeles and Long Beach," said John Musser, the firm's vice president of operations. "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.
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 of land.
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 of land in nearby Oxnard to build facilities to inspect and test new cars that are unloaded at Port Hueneme. Each firm was assisted by port and city officials to find the properties and secure proper 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, local elected officials and business groups, working with the Southern California Assn. of Governments, have completed a preliminary study on improving roads between Port Hueneme and the Ventura Freeway.
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. Highway 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- industrial-zoned areas of the Oxnard Plain, would take most of the truck traffic off city streets, according to the report.
"We're now trying to find out how much these improvements would cost and where the money will come from," said Gill Hicks, a SCAG planner who prepared the report after several months of meetings with a committee of local, county and state officials.
Federal Funds Available