Toyota company officials confirmed Wednesday that a ship carrying about 4,300 new vehicles will be diverted from Long Beach to San Diego, where it is expected to dock Sunday and provide an unexpected bonanza of jobs for local longshoremen.
Deborah Sanchez, spokeswoman for Toyota's U.S. sales and distribution headquarters in Torrance, said the diversion was necessary because the car manufacturer's facility at the Port of Long Beach is already crowded with thousands of vehicles that will be delivered to dealers from Los Angeles to San Diego for summer sales.
Word about the ship's pending arrival leaked out earlier in the week, but cautious port officials at first refused to acknowledge the ship's diversion. The San Diego Unified Port District has embarked on a plan to bring modern auto ships to San Diego Harbor, where they could be unloaded and the cars shipped to dealers.
Taken to Long Beach by Truck
The Toyota-filled ship is expected to dock at the 24th Street Pier in National City. Tim Chavez, president of the Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's International Union, Local 29, said the cars will be driven off the ship and transported to Long Beach by truck.
Sanchez said this will be the first time that Toyota has used the Port of San Diego. The company's Southern California unloading facility is at the Port of Long Beach. The diversion also comes at a time when Port District officials are negotiating with a Bay Area company that wants to lease 38 acres at the 24th Street Pier to operate an import car-processing facility.
Bill Stonehouse, director of trade development for the San Diego Unified Port District, said it will be the first time that a modern auto ship, from which cars can be driven off instead of unloaded by crane, has docked in San Diego. J. R. (Chayo) Colmenero, secretary-treasurer for Local 29, said the last auto ship to dock in San Diego arrived "10 or 15 years ago."
Colmenero estimated that the union's entire membership--78 workers--will have an opportunity to work on the ship. Members ordinarily make $19.80 an hour. In addition, as many as 50 "casuals" -- non-union members who are given dock jobs through the union hiring hall--may also be used to unload the ship. About a dozen longshoremen from Long Beach are also expected to arrive Sunday to help local union members drive the vehicles off the ship. Colmenero said it will probably take the dockworkers a full day to unload the ship.
Sanchez attributed the glut of vehicles at Toyota's Long Beach facility to heavy consumer demand in Southern California. "Our sales are in an upswing. The Los Angeles region, which includes San Diego, needs more (vehicles). This region has the
lowest inventory nationally . . . and accounted for 16.6% of all Toyota sales in the United States last year. . . . We just can't process them fast enough," Sanchez said.
She added that the cars unloaded in San Diego will be trucked to Long Beach for final processing. This usually entails adding options ordered by customers and dealers.
Meanwhile, Stonehouse said that San Diego port officials are still talking with the Pasha Group from Corte Madera in Marin County. Pasha wants to rent terminal space in National City and enter into agreements with auto manufacturers to ship cars to San Diego. The company would then process the cars locally.