Saturday, February 17, 2007

Column by Doug Epperhart

A Tale of Two Meetings

To those of you used to seeing Andrea Adleman's smiling face, my mug might be a shock. After nearly four years of writing this column, she's decided to move on. So, here I am.

I've lived in San Pedro nearly 15 years. Before that, I lived in Long Beach and before that, Illinois. I "married into" San Pedro. My late wife grew up here and my children are natives, so I guess they outrank me.

I work at home, running a business publishing newsletters. In fact, volunteering to produce my neighborhood association newsletter is how I got pulled into the world of civic engagement.

In 2001, I helped establish the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council and have served as president for most its existence. Please remember that whatever I write in these columns is my opinion. I'm not speaking on behalf of Coastal or any other neighborhood council.

A Tale of Two Meetings

I know Ponte Vista is everybody's favorite subject, so I have to begin this job by writing about it. Here's the story of two meetings that might explain some of what has happened.

The job of neighborhood councils is to advise the mayor and City Council about local issues. The three councils (Harbor City, Coastal and Northwest San Pedro), whose territory includes Western Avenue, advised they wanted R-1 (single-family) zoning to be maintained at the 61-acre Ponte Vista site.

Early on, many of us realized that adding 2,300 condos on Western Avenue was not a good idea. We figured that since developer Bob Bisno established the "ceiling," we would establish the "floor." R-1 sets that number at around 500 houses. Zoning is the "DNA" of development. It determines what a project "grows up" to be.

Apparently, Councilwoman Janice Hahn didn't like the councils' advice, so she decided to set up an advisory group to provide other recommendations. Since a specific plan for Ponte Vista will be created to address zoning and other issues, I assumed the group would give us a mechanism for compromise.

About a year ago, leaders of the three Western Avenue neighborhood councils sat down with Hahn to talk about the advisory group. At that time, we agreed there would be an assessment period to gather information about all of the projects in the area.

Following that, focus groups would convene and provide input. Planners will tell you that a good focus group process yields the most honest and neutral data. With this knowledge in hand, the advisory group could begin its work.

Before leaving this meeting, we were told Hahn's staff would be calling to let us know when we would be interviewing facilitators. Instead of that call, we got the brush-off.

Instead of a planning process, we got a political process. Hahn picked groups rather than people. The result is that many of the individuals at her advisory group table represent a particular and, in some cases, narrow viewpoint.

It hasn't helped that the group's 14 members were neither given a clear focus nor that they've spent nearly five months being subjected to Bisno's unrelenting sales pitch.

Finally, it seems somebody got fed up enough to call a closed-door meeting and straighten things out. Hahn told her advisory crew she wanted to know how many units they'd give Bisno and what "community benefits" they wanted from Bisno.

She also told them she wanted it wrapped up by July so she could get everything through the City Council by the end of December.

I don't know why Hahn is driving the bus for Bisno, but her rush seems to have motivated the advisory group. My concern is that they need to engage in a way that affords people an opportunity to provide thoughtful comment.

They need to go back to the drawing board and do this right. Focus groups are the best way to garner opinions. As I told one advisory group member, "You should not give the community the number of units; the community should give you the number."

School board candidate forum next Saturday

Candidates running in the March 6 LAUSD school board election -- Jesus Escandon, Neal Kleiner, Roye Love Sr., and Richard Vladovic -- will answer your questions at a forum on Feb. 24 at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro. The fun starts at 2 p.m.

This event is hosted by the Coastal, Central and Northwest San Pedro neighborhood councils, San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. For more information, call 310-832-7272.

Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council board. He writes a bi-weekly column for More San Pedro. He can be reached at

This was Doug's first column for the More San Pedro insert of the Daily Breeze.

The currently proposed Ponte Vista at San Pedro is such a large development proposal that it should have every opportunity to have the most public input possible for the overall benefit of all of the communities that will be impacted by such a large development.

I agree with Doug's conclusions regarding the need for focus groups. Mr. Bisno would have you know that his organization conducted any number of focus groups. There should be more independent focus groups, in my opinion. The stakes are too high to not allow for the largest number of people to weigh in on what will eventually change the area for generations to come.

Doug and I share the "honor" of being dubbed "ranting elitists" (as described by Bob Bisno in an earlier guest column in More San Pedro)and perhaps I might create a button with "Ranting Elitist" on it. It may become more popular than my "R-1" buttons that I made.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'll take one of those buttons.