Declaring that San Pedro has "a firm foundation and one that we are going to build on," Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores announced Thursday that she will form a new citizens committee to draft a plan for growth in the downtown business district.
But the big hit of her annual speech to business and community leaders was the news that Unocal will contribute $300,000 to a private effort to build a baseball complex on surplus city land near the company's refinery. The announcement brought a round of applause from the crowd at Nizetich's restaurant, where Flores delivered her talk over a breakfast of eggs and ham.
A Unocal spokesman said the donation will finance one stadium with a regulation-size field in the $1.2-million complex, which backers hope will include five playing fields for harbor-area youths. The councilwoman said: "This is really a boost in the arm; $300,000 is a lot of money."
In announcing the creation of a new citizens panel to draft a "downtown specific plan" for the business district, Flores is making good on a promise she first made in last year's State of the City address. At that time, she pledged to establish two new citizens committees--one to study ways of controlling growth in residential areas, and one to look specifically at downtown.
Flores said Thursday that she wanted to wait until the first committee had completed work on an interim control ordinance before appointing the second panel. The interim control ordinance, which will curb apartment and condominium development while permanent zoning changes are being reviewed, was adopted by the City Council in December.
In addition to baseball and downtown development, Flores' talk Thursday touched on a wide range of local issues: tourism, parking, crime prevention, and the relationship between the community and the Port of Los Angeles.
On the latter topic, she touted a proposal she introduced to the City Council last week as part of an ethics-reform package. Her plan would give council members greater control over independent city commissions, such as the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, by making their decisions appealable to the council.
Port spokeswoman Julia Nagano declined comment on the proposal, referring questions to the commissioners. But Commissioner Robert Rados and commission secretary Peter Mandia, both of whom attended the councilwoman's breakfast talk Thursday, also had little to say.
"No comment," Rados said. But he added, "That's been kicked over many times. Pete, do you have anything to say about this?"
"There's some value in it," Mandia replied. Asked what value he saw, he replied: "Really, we've got to look at it. We just got it yesterday."
Flores believes the plan will go over well with harbor-area citizens who are frustrated by the port's lack of accountability to elected officials. For example, Flores spokeswoman Karen Constine pointed to a controversy last year over the port's decision to buy a coal bulk loader from the Port of Portland. Flores, along with a handful of community activists, questioned the purchase.
In addition, the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored Thursday's breakfast, specifically asked Flores to address the issue of city control over the port in her speech.
The chamber's sold-out breakfast--225 people attended and 35 people were on a waiting list this year--is traditionally a time for Flores to review her accomplishments of the past year before a generally receptive crowd. After Thursday's talk, a receiving line of well-wishers formed around the councilwoman. Many kissed her on the cheek and congratulated her on a job well-done.
It's also a time for those who want to get to know Flores to introduce themselves to her; one man, an architect, left a business card and told Flores that if the city could use his assistance, she could give him a call.
During the councilwoman's speech, the crowd showed the most enthusiasm for the so-called "field of dreams" plan--a reference to last summer's hit movie about baseball--in which board members of the Eastview Little League founded a separate, nonprofit corporation to raise money to build the five fields.
Flores said Thursday that she identified 15 acres of surplus city land for the group, called San Pedro Baseball Inc., and that the organization is now leasing the property on North Gaffey Street for $1 a year for 15 years. According to Constine, the group hopes to complete construction of at least one field by next year.
The group is planning one tee-ball field for young children, two Little League fields and two stadiums that can be used by high school and college students. The complex will be named after the councilwoman, who recently hosted a dinner with Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda in an effort to raise money for the project.
Also on the topic of sports, Flores said she will join with the San Pedro Youth Coalition in creating a special task force to survey recreation facilities in the harbor area and to suggest what might be needed in the future. The coalition has long complained that there are not enough playing fields for harbor-area children.