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Port Officials Told to Submit Plan for San Pedro Project

October 22, 1987|SHERYL STOLBERG | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to prod the Port of Los Angeles into building a long-overdue downtown redevelopment project in San Pedro, the city Community Redevelopment Agency has demanded that the port submit basic plans for the project by the end of November.

But, despite the wishes of San Pedro business people who are angry about four years of delays, the CRA's chairman says his agency will not threaten to use the only real weapon it has--revoking the Harbor Department's right to develop the site.

"That may be the relationship people want us to have," said CRA Chairman James Wood, "But that is a coercive relationship and that is not the relationship we have had with the Harbor Commission. . . . I feel they are a sister city agency and they should be treated as a member of the city family."

The CRA could have taken the property away from the port 10 months ago, when the port defaulted on its agreement to develop the land. The port has received three extensions--for a total of two years and four months--from the CRA. The last extension expired Dec. 15, 1986, three years after the port bought the land from the CRA.

Letter of Demands

Despite the need for repeated extensions, Port Executive Director Ezunial Burts said he sees no problem meeting the demands of the CRA, outlined in a Sept. 25 letter from the agency's administrator, John Tuite.

In the letter to Burts, Tuite cited "the need to get the project back on a realistic schedule," and insisted that within 60 days the port agree to a schedule for development and to submit basic plans.

"The agency acted in good faith when it entered into the agreement with the port, conveyed the property and approved the last three (extensions)," Tuite wrote. "However, after four years of inactivity there are those who are questioning not only the port's intentions, but its ability to successfully develop the property within the near term."

Earlier this week, Burts said he had yet to respond to the letter, but was preparing a reply in which he would ask for a meeting with CRA staff. In the meantime, Burts said, negotiations are continuing with HCT Inc., the developer the port picked for the $29.8-million, 12-story office building.

Members of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, who have been critical of the port's progress, say they are pleased with the letter but upset that the CRA will not consider revoking the port's right to develop the property. They want the port to be treated like any other developer, and said they will write the CRA chairman to tell him so.

Said Gordon Inman, chairman of the chamber's CRA Overview Committee: "If you're playing with our chips, then everybody plays by the same rules in this game, including the Harbor Department."

The chamber and others are looking to the port's development as well as other proposals within the Beacon Street Redevelopment Area to spur an economic revival of San Pedro business district.

In addition to the chamber members, area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores has expressed her dissatisfaction with the port's progress, said a spokeswoman.

"She has talked to the port director and indicated to him that she would like him to proceed as quickly as possible," said Ann D'Amato, aide to Flores.

D'Amato said Flores only reluctantly supported the last extension.

The port's involvement with the CRA began Dec. 23, 1983, when harbor commissioners paid the CRA $4.3 million for 2.6 acres of prime property in the Beacon Street Redevelopment Area, an urban renewal effort launched by the CRA in the late 1960s. The property, on Harbor Boulevard, adjoins a parcel the port had already purchased on the open market.

The harbor commissioners bought the CRA property with one idea: to prevent any development that, they said, would have ruined the panoramic waterfront view from their fifth-floor offices.

Reasons for Delay

But the deal came with a catch: the port had to select a developer and submit basic plans to the CRA by Aug. 7, 1984, and adhere to a development schedule.

Now, more than three years after that deadline passed, the port still has not reached a final agreement with the developer and has not submitted plans that satisfy the CRA.

Burts, the port executive director, attributed the delays to a number of reasons, chief among them market conditions that prevented the port from proceeding with its original plans for a 200,000-square-foot office building, twice the size of the one now proposed.

"It is not enough to simply construct an office building and have it stand empty," Burts said. "We need to make sure that we're going to be able to fill that thing. I don't want the port in the position where we're simply putting up white elephants."

Although the port was accused early on of dragging its feet to preserve the view, Burts said the view has not been a factor in the delays. He said the developers, HCT Inc., will fulfill a requirement in the port's project specifications that calls for the view not to be "screened by the development."

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