State of the District: Harbor Area faces a bright ‘tech hub’ future amid the challenge of homelessness

By DONNA LITTLEJOHN | | Daily Breeze

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino delivers the State of the District speech at
AltaSea in the Port of Los Angeles to a sold out audience of 300. May 3, 2018. Photo
by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze/SCNG

The Harbor Area is on a fast track to become a hub of innovation and a growing new “blue” economy but continues to be challenged by growing homelessness and a housing shortage that will require more density, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said Thursday in a wide-ranging State-of-the-District speech.

Buscaino spoke in a newly re-purposed 1914 port warehouse at AltaSea, the
marine research campus that the councilman crowned “the epicenter for the
emergence of an entire new industry.”

Sold out weeks in advance, the event’s 300-member audience broke into
applause at several points during what was a sweeping, optimistic look at the
region’s future.

As commercial fishing and shipbuilding, once the port’s leading industries, fade from the scene, the councilman said, the area is ripe for a rebirth in tech
incubators and space and ocean exploration being pursued by companies like
SpaceX and Boeing that have come to the area to put down roots.

Once the nation’s “tuna fishing capital,” the Harbor Area is now poised to
become the capital of aquafarming, thanks to AltaSea’s aquaculture cluster designed to grow and harvest shellfish and edible kelp, Buscaino told the lunch crowd made up of mostly business, community and port leaders.

The Echo Voyager, an unmanned underwater submarine developed by Boeing, will join
the tenant lineup for AltaSea. Credit Boeing

Buscaino, who represents the Watts-to-San Pedro district on the Los Angeles City Council, is widely expected to seek higher office. He was a former Los Angeles Police officer before running for the council seat in 2012, temporarily filling the vacancy when Janice Hahn ran for Congress. He was re-elected to his own full term in 2013 and re-elected again in 2017 with nearly 75 percent of the vote.

The annual State-of-the-District speeches give council members a spotlight in
which accomplishments and coming plans can be touted.

The Harbor Area, he said, has seen the loss of the once-thriving shipbuilding and fishing industries that have left an economic vacuum waiting to be filled.

“The jobs that attracted immigrants from all over the world, including my
parents, disappeared quickly and we have spent the last couple of decades in
limbo,” Buscaino said. “Downtown San Pedro languished. .. Fast forward to today where seemingly overnight, we find ourselves with a new and exciting set of circumstances that promises to deliver opportunities that even our storied past can’t compete with.”

AltaSea, he said, is leading the way to create an innovation hub with
entrepreneurs who will reinvent the city’s economy.

Boeing’s Echo Voyager, an unmanned undersea vehicle, will be based in an
AltaSea warehouse, it was announced this week. The submarine — which will be used to inspect underwater infrastructure, take water samples, create 3D maps of the ocean floor and help with ocean exploration — can spend six months exploring below the sea with a 7,500-mile range.

SpaceX, meanwhile, will move into an 18-acre former Southwest Marine Terminal at Berth 240 on Terminal Island — where ships were built for World War I — on Terminal Island where production development on the Big Falcon Rocket will be conducted.

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is a Big Falcon Deal,” Buscaino said to laughter and cheers.

Homelessness, affordable housing shortages continue to challenge

“I realize that I have painted a rosy picture with my enthusiasm for our future,” Buscaino said half way into the talk as he transition to the subject of the biggest challenges, homelessness and housing, facing the district.

He urged constituents to reject “NIMBYism” and to embrace Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “A Bridge Home” incentive program that provides funding for more outreach workers, cleanups and services to council districts that agree to house 100 people in temporary shelters.

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino delivers the State of the District speech at
AltaSea in the Port of Los Angeles to a sold out audience of 300.
May 3, 2018.
Photo by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze/SCNG

“It is important to get this done because if we can’t shelter 100 people in a
district of 250,000 then we cannot seriously talk about solving homelessness,” he said, acknowledging that it could be an uphill battle.

He called on each of the communities in the 15th City Council District that he
represents — Watts, Harbor Gateway, Harbor City, Wilmington and San Pedro — to accept “some type of shelter and/or supportive housing. We must move the homeless off our sidewalks and into shelter.”

Meanwhile, the overall lack of affordable housing, he said, will force an increase in housing density throughout the Harbor Area.

“The city needs 50,000 new housing units every year for the next 10 years in
order to get in front of our housing crisis,” he said. “Otherwise, we will not escape our homeless crisis, nor will we escape the stress of living in this city.

Once we realize density is not a dirty word and once we understand all the benefits of density, then we can move towards building density where it is appropriate to do so.”

Other highlights included:

  • A new town square and waterfront construction in Wilmington are set for completion in 2018 and 2020, respectively; a “cycle track loop” connecting Wilmington’s three new $100 million parks is in the works.
  • A debut concert series will be held this summer in the revamped $117 million Ken Mallow Harbor Regional Park
  • Four development teams have submitted ideas for redeveloping Rancho San Pedro, the World War II 21-acre public housing site on Harbor Boulevard; the goal will be build vertically, increasing the current 479 units with more housing offering a mix of income-level opportunities.
  • The councilman supports “density where it makes sense in Los Angeles. … This is where downtown San Pedro can be a model for the rest of the city. Currently, there are nearly 1,000 apartment units that are planned or already being built in downtown San Pedro. Creating a more dense community ensures better neighborhood amenities, successful businesses, more restaurant options, all in a walkable environment where we see less driving.”
  • On affordable housing: “My parents had the opportunity to buy our childhood family home with humble blue-collar wages … Today in Los Angeles, the opportunity to buy a home with modest wages no longer exists because the lack of housing has created too big of a demand which has driven costs to an unsustainable level. We lack housing at all income levels.”
  • “The addition of AltaSea and SpaceX has created a new floodgate for our economy and made the Port of Los Angeles a bonafide innovation district. This district is now ground zero for both space and sea exploration.”
  • “By 2020 when the San Pedro Public Market opens and downtown San Pedro gets more dense, this area will feel more like San Diego’s Gaslamp District.”


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