One morning not long ago, Gertrude Schwab stationed herself at the corner of Avalon Boulevard and Anaheim Street in Wilmington--the main crossroads in this industrial, port-side community.
She stayed there for an hour, and counted 128 trucks--more than two a minute--rumble by.
Later, Schwab took her findings to the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. "Wilmington is the heart of the harbor," Schwab told the board at its Oct. 1 meeting. "But the heart needs bypass surgery."
Wilmington residents have been complaining for years, with little result, that trucks traveling to and from the port are ruining their neighborhoods and downtown business district.
Officials at the Port of Los Angeles say that, within the next month, they will address these complaints with a report outlining both long- and short-range plans to deal with the truck problems. They may present those plans to the harbor commissioners as early as Oct. 28, said Nelson Hernandez, special assistant to port Executive Director Ezunial Burts.
But residents are skeptical of the port's intentions and do not want promises about reports and plans. Their latest target is a proposal to build a new cement facility at the port, which residents say will only bring more trucks--and therefore more noise and pollution--to Wilmington.
Schwab and others attended the Oct. 1 commission meeting to oppose the plan by Wilmington Liquid Bulk Terminals Inc. The commissioners, at the request of the port executive director, delayed voting on the plan.
"It doesn't seem like the Harbor Department prepares for all this," complained Schwab. "They make all the money, and we get all trucks."
Peter Mendoza, president of the Wilmington Home Owners, said: "It's all profit, but nowhere does the harbor say anything about the pollution they're dumping on all of us who live around the harbor. These trucks are cruising our streets because the harbor is there. They're not going downtown to shop."
The residents say they would like better police enforcement of the city's traffic code; signs on the neighborhood streets prohibiting trucks heavier than 6,000 pounds; a distinct truck route that avoids the residential and business centers of Wilmington and a voice in the way the city and the port handle these matters.
Truck Route in Year 2000
Port officials declined last week to discuss their short-range plans.
Over the long term, they say, Wilmington will get a truck route; But that probably won't take place until the year 2000.
The long-range plans, announced about a year ago, call for the Harbor Department to buy all the land between B and C streets in the southwest corner of Wilmington, from Figueroa to Avalon streets. The port, which is buying the land as it becomes available rather than condemning it, already owns 20 of the 66.7 acres there.
After the Harbor Department buys all the land, it intends to close what is now B Street, which will enable the port to expand to the north. B Street will be moved north, and rebuilt about 20 feet from C Street; a landscaped buffer will separate the two.
B Street for Trucks
Under the plan, C Street would remain a part of the residential neighborhood. The new B Street would be a four-lane highway for mixed traffic--trucks and cars--with no access to the neighborhood to the north.
The buffer will force vehicles to travel west along B Street toward the Harbor Freeway, or east toward Avalon Street. It is unclear whether this plan would permit trucks to travel north on Avalon, toward the business district.
Sid Robinson, port director of planning and research, said the details have not been worked out.
Because the truck route will take so long to complete, most Wilmington residents are more concerned with what the port is going to do immediately.
One short-term option, suggested recently by Ann D'Amato, harbor area deputy to Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, is for the port to require its tenants to sign leases that specify routes for their truckers.
D'Amato said after the Oct. 1 commission meeting that Flores' office is pushing the port to adopt the idea. Asked if she thought the port would penalize a tenant whose truckers failed to follow the route, she said yes.
Hernandez would not say what the port staff thinks of the Flores proposal. He said only that officials would "look into everything that has been suggested to us by different members of the community."
Mendoza, the president of the homeowners group, said his organization proposed having port wardens cruise the residential neighborhoods and enforce city vehicle ordinances.
Few Truckers Ticketed
But the wardens have no jurisdiction beyond the port--that is the province of the Los Angeles Police Department which, according to Mendoza, is either too busy or not interested in getting truckers off residential streets.