AT LENGTH-San Pedro is once again waiting at the threshold of another round of redevelopment and speculation, based upon the Port of Los Angeles’ commitment to waterfront development and the “about-to-be-signed” lease on Ports O’ Call Village, newly minted as the “San Pedro Public Market.”
This anticipation can be seen from a table at any of the growing number of sidewalk cafes, as the demographics shift from boomer to millennial. This new generation of residents are seen walking their dogs with plastic bags at the ready to scoop-the-poop, stepping past homeless people sleeping in the doorways of closed storefronts. These millennials are the new urban pioneers staking claims in the urban cores across America.
In San Pedro, they are camped out in the newer downtown lofts and condos along 7th Street — drawn by the “buzz” surrounding the “cool” local art scene — that are also affordable compared to the rest of metro-Los Angeles, not forgetting to mention that it’s also close to the ocean, though that may not be the case for long.
This new generation isn’t affected by the stories of a crime-ridden, drug-addled downtown San Pedro. It also isn’t affected by the presence of a homeless community. This aspect of San Pedro’s downtown core has always been exaggerated. For at least a generation, locals have used this perception as a reason to avoid enjoying San Pedro’s arts and culture scene.
Joseph Wambaugh in his 2012 novel, Harbor Nocturne, goes into some detail explaining these native prejudices on everything and everybody residing below Pacific Avenue. His account, in many ways, reveals the struggles of retail businesses and their correlation to the high commercial vacancy rates here. This, even as rents escalate in the surrounding housing market of the business district.
Whether any of the current re-branding will change the old prejudiced perceptions as reflected in Wambaugh’s book, the thought that tourism will breathe new life into the local economy via social media is still a gamble.
The economic analyses pointing to tourism as the way forward after dramatic middle-class job losses following the collapse of the fish canneries makes it seem that it was all an inevitable conclusion of Reaganomics and free trade.
Yet, one small piece of truth about the global fishing industry slipped out in the media this past year. The AP Wire Service recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative series that exposed the use of slave labor on the fishing boats and shrimp processing plants in South East Asia.
Their award winning and, I might add, courageous investigation helped free some 600 enslaved fishermen on these pirate boats. It also traced these products all the way back to local supermarkets — among them Safeway and Albertsons. It’s almost inconceivable that this could be happening today. But then, I think of the violent intolerance of ISIS and the kidnapping of young women by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The world is much less civil than we sometimes imagine.
Still, the loss of these types of jobs from the domestic market and the increased competition from companies using cheap (or free labor) overseas has in the end transformed the economies of hundreds of communities across America. These changes in the global economy, to some extent, explains the backlash represented in the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
If we don’t find a way as a nation to create good paying jobs here, there is little chance of expanding the local retail economy, which would employ more workers and, in turn, would bring more money into more hands.
I would hasten to say that it is hard for any industry to compete against slave labor and that this might just explain why the majority of catches from our harbor are shipped overseas for processing, saving up to a dollar a pound.
How is that possible, you might ask, when we have had local fish processing in the harbor for well over a century? This might lead some to read more closely the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that the Obama administration has been negotiating, to see if there is a “slave labor” exclusion in fish processing.
If you want an explanation of the root cause of the rise in homelessness in America — look no further than the price we pay for free trade and supporting businesses who use slave labor abroad — and perhaps the price of shrimp.
(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.