Acupuncture Facelift Special
30th Anniversary Edition â€˘ December 2009
THISIssue 04 Perspective So What’s Next? By James Preston Allen, Publisher
06 Thirty–Year Retrospective By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor & Erik Kongshaug, Former Editor
06 Community Voices Locals talk of RLn By Art Kunkin, Peter Warren, Arthur Almeida, Camilla Townsend & David Greene
12 Arts, Culture and Entertainment & Subversive Out– sider Art By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
14 The Good Ol’ Days Places where the cool kids once roamed By Gretchen Williams Tostrup, Lifestyle & Cuisine Writer
16 Stories I Didn’t Tell You By James Preston Allen, Publisher
And We're Not Going Away! Publisher/Exec. Editor James Preston Allen
Contributors James Preston Allen Terelle Jerricks Erik Kongshaug Paul Rosenberg Gretchen Williams Tostrup Photographers Photos used in the cover graphic were taken by the following photographers. We apologize inadvance for any contributing photographer inadvertently left out: Ray Carofano, Victor Carvellas, Slobodan Dimitrov, Robin Doyno, Jessie Drezner, Nina Fitzgerald, Andy Harris, Terelle Jerricks, Bernard Kane, Taso Papadakis, Humberto Perez, David A. Nurse, Jr., Mary Reyna, Monica Sameniego
Assoc. Publisher Suzanne Matsumiya email@example.com
Managing Editor Terelle Jerricks Senior Editor Paul Rosenberg Design/Production Matt Highland firstname.lastname@example.org
Advertising Production Matt Highland, Suzanne Matsumiya email@example.com
Advertising Sales Matt Highland Janie Perez firstname.lastname@example.org
ON THE COVER: Graphic artist Mathew Highland created the cover graphic spoofing the seminal Beatles’ album cover (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) using staff photos, by Taso Papadakis, and various other influentials (for better or worse) throughout Random Lengths’ 30year history. Photographs of mostly local individuals were gleaned from Random Lengths’ archives. For a legend of who’s-who on the cover, see page 20. We apologize for leaving most of you out, as we couldn’t include everyone who deserves mention. —The Editors
“A newspaper is not just for reporting the news as it is, but to make people mad enough to do something about it. —Mark Twain
Random Lengths News editorial office is located at 1300 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro, CA 90731, (310) 519–1016. Address correspondence regarding news items and news tips only to Random Lengths News, P.O. Box 731, San Pedro, CA 90733-0731, or email to email@example.com. The entire contents are copyright protected. Random Lengths News is a member of Standard Rates and Data Reporting Service and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. (ISSN #0891-6627.) All contents © 2009, Random Lengths News. All rights reserved.
1300 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro, CA 90731 • 310.519.1442 www.RandomLengthsNews.com
Real People. Real News.
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30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
So What’s Next? by: James Preston Allen, Publisher
have been reflecting recently on what has happened here in the San Pedro Bay over the last thirty years, and it seems like publishing this newspaper has become more like peeling back the layers of an onion. Each year reveals another layer of this place—revealing some new secret or undiscovered truth. It didn’t start off this way. In the beginning, it seemed as though this town was too set in its ways to ever change. However, change is a given in life and cannot be avoided, even when it isn’t necessarily for the best. We have tried to document what we could and reveal what we can, and perhaps this is all a group of dedicated journalists can ever aspire to do. My hope is that along the way we have inspired a few individuals, changed the course of events and in the end, made a difference for those who care enough to speak up and be heard. One of the many issues that we have addressed over the years has been what has become known as the 100-years war with the Port of Los Angeles—now, unfortunately, stretching into its second century. But it was really much larger than just this one port––it was a whole mindset that created the industrial complex that surrounds the twin harbors of Long Beach and Los Angeles. It was the polemics of the post-industrial metropolis that disenfranchised its citizenry at the expense of ever increasing profits, regardless of the human or environmental cost. The ongoing debate between the communities that surround the twin ports and the port authorities has been well documented in the pages of this publication and brought a certain amount of scrutiny over the years. This has created a certain tension in our relationship with both POLA and POLB. You certainly can’t make everyone happy when you report the truth, particularly when some only want you to report the “good news” and deny the bad, but I believe that it is precisely this tension between the news media and the government entities that builds better democracies. Most of the time we get accused of being unfair or biased. They would just prefer that we unquestioningly regurgitate their press releases, as is often the case with some mainstream media outlets. But as we have witnessed over these last three decades, it takes a
Real People. Real News.
lot of criticism to move the slow grind of government even one inch in a new direction. I believe that this newspaper over the course of this time, along with the sacrifices of many community activists and countless hours of reporting, have moved the Ports an entire foot in a new direction—one that they are, interestingly enough, proud to claim credit for as the ‘greenest ports in America’. One of the things that I decided some time ago was to make the circulation area for this newspaper resemble the local watershed of the San Pedro Bay. Even though there are overlapping jurisdictions and political boundaries, the flow of water obeys only the laws of nature, constantly moving down hill to the ocean. This “watershed” is not the South Bay as it is often misnamed. That designation properly refers only to the South end of the Santa Monica Bay––this area is the San Pedro Bay. You can see it on any mariner’s chart or Geodetic survey map. The common misconception is that we are part of something that we are not! The greater Los Angeles Harbor area is both politically and naturally separate from the South Bay. Yet we keep getting clumped into political districts that range all the way from Torrance into Venice. The thing is, the laws of nature and the geodetic survey don’t lie. There are three primary sources or tributaries that flow into the San Pedro Bay. The most polluted is the Dominguez Channel flowing out into the Consolidated Channel, then the Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Rivers. All have become gutters of urban runoff in the past half-century. There are of course smaller tributaries to the bay like San Pedro Creek, which still runs from its source up near Averill Park and then winds its way east down the steps of the city under the streets and secretly flows into the main channel next to the Maritime Museum. All of this watershed has been and is today a significant source of millions of gallons of fresh water that goes untreated into the bay. There are three areas that the community must dedicate itself to investing in within the next three decades. The first is the resolution and design of reestablishing our historic connection to the watershed and the waterfront. The second is reconnecting our historic linkage to the greater metropolis via some form of fixed rail transit. And the last is the establishment of the second economy of the port. This last item involves a significant investment in Port-related green technologies, the creation of a Marine Science Institute and the attraction of college level institutions in both the arts and sciences. Each of these initiatives are already in play but will take continued vigilance. Success doesn’t always go to the best or the brightest idea, but to those who persist.
30th Anniversary Edition â€˘ December 2009
Thirty–Year Retrospective I believe that Random Lengths is in the great tradition of the independent journalism, absolutely essential for the existence of a humanistic and democratic society. I ask my many friends, known and unknown, to support this newspaper in every way possible as we continue our struggles against bureaucracy and barbarism. —Art Kunkin,
by: Paul Rosenberg & Erik Kongshaug
hirty years is an eternity in the news business. Thirty years ago, there was no cable news, no Internet, no text messaging “OMG Channel 533!” People were distracted the oldfashioned way: politicians lied to them, and newspapers printed the lies as fact. This is where Random Lengths came in, taking aim at those lies, one at a time. Thirty years ago, we had no idea we were overheating the planet, no idea how toxic our local air was and no idea that the Harbor Area could elect so many Democrats. It was impossible to know what to do with them all. The founders of Random Lengths might have been happy with just one…but it took a while. Still, it did happen, once, twice, and then over and over again, in part because Random Lengths came in.
Founder of LA Free Press
Today, anyone familiar with Random Lengths must agree that for all this time, Random Lengths has been true to its original mission statement that appeared in Vol. I, Issue. 1[see sidebar p. 6]. From its first quarterly appearance in winter of 1979 to its move to bi–weekly in 1981, to monthly in 1985, to its current twice-monthly format begun in 1988, Random Lengths has taken on the role of local watchdog over Port expansion, city government, land use and civil rights. Random Lengths’ analysis of larger global and political issues remains firmly attached to its local roots, so it has staunchly resisted the spin of the national corporate media. Things have changed a lot in thirty years. There are many more new ways to distract people now. But through it all, Random Lengths has defied the swiftly rising tide of disinformation and corporate plunder. It has been a fragile lifeline preserving the historic roots of the Harbor community through its determined focus on local issues. For the past thirty years, Random Lengths has provided the only consistent public forum informing the Harbor community of issues that encroach on its autonomy and integrity—and of opportunities to seize control and shape the future to fit our dreams, as hokey and Frank Capraesque as that may sound.
A Dream from the Southern– most Tip of Los Angeles
We couldn’t have done it without you, our readers, of course. More often than not, you made the news we wrote about—the good news, anyway. And, you did your job as citizens by getting angry enough to change things when we told you the bad news. But the odds were always against you, so it took some doing, some gumption and some guts. And, knowing that you were up to that task is what inspired us to inspire you. How did we know that? How did we know before publishing our first issue that the conservative culture of the 1979 Harbor Area could be stood on its head? We knew it because we knew history. We knew it had been done before. We knew it because we knew people who had done it. However uncertain things might look in the moment, we knew that radical change was possible—even, perhaps, inevitable, once people realized the power they had. Real People. Real News.
Today, in the year 2009, Random Lengths has evolved into a vital, under-the-radar contributor to the nation’s groundswell of Progressive ideas. It played a key role in informing and inspiring a new generation of globally savvy activists like those who made the historic journey to shut down the World Trade Organization in Seattle a decade ago and it kept hope alive for eight long years under an un-elected president, who has damaged the country and the constitution almost beyond recognition. Random Lengths also holds unwaveringly to its first inspiration—the secret of the paper’s enduring success: to look to the past, as well as to the future. In the contents of that very first edition and in the name they chose for the paper (a pre-1940s shipping term), Random Lengths’ founders intentionally mirrored San Pedro’s very local ties to the Progressive movement of the 1930s. From the beginning, Random Lengths has stepped quite consciously in the footsteps of muckraking author Upton Sinclair and his populist paper Epic News. Sinclair funded and wrote that historic newspaper to wage his political campaign to “End Poverty in California” (EPIC); the founders of Random Lengths began with a $2,000 donation from liberal candidate Jim Stanbery, then a resident of Point Fermin. Stanbery was running to replace the powerful, conservative LA 15th District Councilmember John S. Gibson. Stanbery, a young liberal in the Kennedy mold, was a far cry from the more radical Sinclair (who was only narrowly defeated in the race for governor of California in 1934), but he forced Gibson’s only runoff race ever in 1977 and symbolized to the five original editors, the first real chance for a change from the political conservatism that dominated our district for decades. For decades more, however, the conservative climate
reigned supreme. Then, after a local change at the state level in 1998, city representation finally shifted back to moderate liberalism, even as the federal government veered to the extreme right with the stolen national election of 2000. Now, after 30 years, the legacy of those original Point Fermin activists has come full circle. Today, those same Point Fermin activists who created Random Lengths in the late ’70s are middle–aged San Pedro homeowners like generations before them. But they are “activist homeowners,” who have begun to push California’s traditionally self-centered, “not-in-my-backyard” politics of vested self-interest towards genuine social and environmental justice. Early in this decade they sought out the National Resource Defense Counsel (NRDC) and won a groundbreaking legal victory: community empowerment over the global economy through direct community mitigation of the expansion of the China Shipping container terminal at the foot of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, near Knoll Hill. These homeowner activists still look back, perhaps, to that first edition in which, in addition to articles profiling Stanbery, local labor historian and International Longshore and Warehouse Union stalwart Art Almeida (who first suggested Random Lengths’ name) wrote a piece entitled ‘’San Pedro— Waterfront Center of Post WWI Union Activity,” which reawakened memories of the Harbor Area’s radical past in the 1923 and 1934 dock strikes as well as Upton Sinclair’s famous arrest at Liberty Hill—an event invoked as a beacon of change by Random Lengths ever since. Almeida secured state landmark recognition for Liberty Hill on the event’s 75th anniversary in 1998. During the past decade, the community began reaping the benefits sown by that progressive past. Many of the sea-changing decisions of the Port Community Advisory Committee (P-CAC), which was empowered by the China Shipping ruling, were made in Liberty Auditorium and on the Liberty Plaza, in the shadow of the monument to the hill that once was, along with numerous other community meetings. Even the Port’s nearby headquarters have housed
hearings and direction–changing decision–making that no one would have dreamed possible when Random Lengths was first published.
The First Thread—Issues with the Port Immediately following the Port of Los Angeles’ December 1979 completion of its Port Master Plan, Random Lengths was born, drawing a metaphoric line in the landfill of port expansion with its lead article, “GATX Chemicals Endanger Harbor Area Residents.’’ The detailed article drew public attention to a mis-zoned chemical tank farm on Crescent Avenue. Random Lengths investigated and the Harbor Department was admonished for disregarding the tank farm’s volatile and toxic chemicals. Through this first defiance, Random Lengths established its role as a lone community gadfly on the gargantuan Port’s bureaucratic behind. The Harbor Department functions independently as LA’s unofficial “16th District,” representing the inhuman interests of the corporate giants of world trade. In response, Random Lengths has produced story after story on the abuses of area refineries and the politics of harbor pollution, privatization, and union busting. Spearheaded by activist Bea Atwood, the fight over the tank farm’s removal lasted a decade. Then, the fight over the toxic cleanup lasted another decade. Most of the following decade found the site embroiled in conflict over the nature of waterfront development—whether it would be truly community-serving, not just for local residents, but for all Californians, or whether it would be just more corporate development in another guise. But miraculously, just a few weeks after we go to press, on January 10, 2010, a 16-acre park is scheduled to be opened on the site—significantly smaller than the 20–some acres envisioned at one point in the “Bridge-toBreakwater” planning process, but a park of regional significance, none-the-less. The lesson: miracles can happen… af-
Above, is the Alameda Corridor, a 20-mile-long rail cargo expressway linking the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the transcontinental rail network east of downtown Los Angeles. Its series of bridges, underpasses, overpasses and street improvements that separated freight trains from street traffic and passenger trains, was intended to facilitate a more efficient transportation network. The operating authority brags about resulting reductions in air pollution for the basin, but the corridor has also been a source of increased local concentrations of pollutants, the full extent of which researchers have been unable to ascertain due to the withholding of data. Electrification has long been proposed as a way to maximize benefits from the corridor—even before it was built—but no steps have yet been taken.
ter 30 years of struggle. In December, 1988, the Port of Los Angeles released its dutifully corporate-friendly “Plan 2020,” which assumed massive expansions but minimal responsibility for the social or environmental byproducts of the expansion. In premeditated anticipation of multi-national corporate profits until the year 2020, the plan called for the construction of Piers 300 and 400, and for creating the infrastructure for the Alameda Corridor intermodal railway. Local Point Fermin activists, headed by the late Greg Smith, again took on the Port, but at the planning stages rather than after-thefact. It was no accident that, during the month Plan 2020 was released, Random Lengths started publishing two issues per month, and for the first time, began to assess global issues more systematically, always examining them within a local context. Local issues for the community and the Port were now becoming global—involving South America, the Pacific Rim, the geopolitics of petroleum, and such ominous acronyms as NAFTA and GATT. In the mid-1980s, global information was no longer only an abstract concern for local activists, as the coal and petroleum coke facility next door to GATX became another issue. Before Kaiser was closed in the late 1990s, the Los Angeles Export Terminal (LAXT)—created through Plan 2020—had surpassed by tenfold Kaiser’s toxic payload. Beginning in 1996, through Random Lengths’ uncompromising coverage of the LAXT as a multi-national experiment in government privatization, the community forced the construction of domes to cover the coke piles and their easilyairborne particulates. LAXT soon went belly up as East Asia soon found its own coal reserves. Meanwhile, Pier 400 began to take on its tenants—more container terminals. In 2002, with much fanfare, the Alameda corridor was completed. But its promise to the community of local jobs remained an empty one, its safety and toxic mitigation were still suspect, and its dream of reducing future truck traffic had vanished behind clouds of diesel fumes. Almost immediThirty–Year Retrospective to page 8 30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
Thirty–Year Retrospective from page 7 I came to San Pedro with my family almost 30 years ago. The Los Angeles Times had hired me away from an award-winning New England newspaper. To learn about Southern California, I read the San Pedro Pilot, the LA Times, the Orange County Register and Random Lengths. A few years later, I moved from reporting about LA and Orange counties to editing the South Bay edition of the LA Times. One of my reporters was Sheryl Stolberg. She covered San Pedro, Wilmington and Harbor City for me. Now, she works for the New York Times. Her beat is the White House. My first encounter with James Allen was at a local public meeting above a store on Pacific Avenue; a few dozen folks argued about whether downtown San Pedro businesses could compete with Western Avenue and the Malls, where parking was free. I said that I preferred to shop in downtown. Some folks snickered. James had been observing all of this. But he also spoke, dispensing his caustic viewpoint and also advocating for shopping locally. You could never tell exactly whether he drew a line between covering a story and being part of it. I went up to him afterwards to talk about journalism. I had run a small weekly newspaper on Cape Cod and I knew how tricky it is to combine honest news coverage with wooing a local advertising base. Typically, James wasn’t diplomatic when he heard I worked for the Times, or that I ran the South Bay edition. “The LA Times? If it happens south of the 405 and west of the 110 freeways, they don’t cover it,” he said. Viewed from a short-term perspective that wasn’t strictly true. But Random Lengths is still here today and James is still covering the harbor communities. The Pilot is gone. The Register isn’t worth discussing. The South Bay Edition of the Times doesn’t exist; and the LA Times? We all know what has happened to the LA Times. Some of the Chandler cousins lost their family values. They divorced and needed to support second wives or new husbands. They sold their granddad’s legacy to a big corporation from Chicago. That company mismanaged the paper from 2,000 miles away and got bailed out of financial trouble by an investor whose nickname is the grave robber. Today, it is in bankruptcy. And Random Lengths? It comes out every two weeks. — Peter M. Warren, Former LA Times Editor
ately, far-sighted activists started saying that it needed to be fully electrified, a call that’s grown to a crescendo since then. The neo-liberal juggernaut of the Port’s global expansion barrelled on—increasing its imports of low-cost products from unregulated Asian labor markets, increasing its exports of— sad to say—mostly empty containers from our jobless shores. For all those years, activist Bea Atwood still had been at it, confronting the Port over the toxic legacy left at the Kaiser Terminal. The heirs to Greg Smith’s legacy—like June Burlingame Smith and Noel Park—had kept fires burning under the toes of developers in the Port’s ongoing expansion plans for Cabrillo Marina. More substantially, they had taken on the evolving plans for channel deepening and terminal expansion in the Harbor’s West Basin, seeking to mitigate toxic legacies there, this time before they occurred. With the community empowerment concerning Port affairs provided by the China Shipping settlement, our titanic Port was at least partially forced to listen: if not yet to those in steerage, at least to its domiciled passengers. But it listened far less attentively after Antonio Villaraigosa defeated James Hahn’s bid for a second term as mayor, and his new harbor commission stopped receiving direct reports from P-CAC. New Commission President Cindy Miscikowski has pledged to improve communication and consultation. And so, the struggle continues. Perhaps most significantly, years of activism fortified by a landmark 2002 California Appeals Court victory overturning the Port’s approval of the China Shipping Terminal, finally lead the Port to begin seriously addressing the problem of port-generated air pollution. The “No Net Increase” plan drafted under Mayor James Hahn laid the groundwork which was later expanded into a joint effort with Port of Long Beach, known as the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), adopted in November 2006. But this move forward did not mean the end of community activism. To the contrary, another major advance came as the result of a broad-based challenge to the approval of Trapac’s terminal expansion in December 2007, which eventually resulted in a community benefits agreement, based on the model established for expanding LAX. The “TraPac appellants” as they came to be known, have also played an important ongoing role in advocating for community-conscious policies, such as their support for the Sustainable Waterfront Development Plan (discussed further under land use below). Furthermore, even as the CAAP was being formulated by officials, a new coalition emerged to advocate on behalf of forgotten and disposed truckers dishonestly mis-classified as “independent owner-operators.” The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports included a wide array of local, regional and even national organizations—environmentalists, labor, community activists, public health advocates, people of faith and others—and was part of coastwide effort, matched by another East Coast coalition. Although still locked in battle on multiple fronts, such coastwide organizing is reminiscent of the 1934 birth struggles of the ILWU, even before it was an independent union, while the diversity of groups involved represents something totally new for the harbor area. Not surprisingly, no other publication has told the story of this emerging coalition quite the way that Random Lengths has. Waterfront development emerged as a key port-commu-
Taken on 9th between Gaffey & Grand at the height of the war in the Balkans in the 1990s. Real People. Real News.
nity issue this decade, both in San Pedro and Wilmington. This intimately tied together two different threads—issues with the port and issues with the land. So, in a coin toss, we deal with it in the latter category below.
The Second Thread—Municipal Issues Within its first few issues, the original editors of Random Lengths had to decide whether to remain a sectarian political publication or to engage more broad-ranging political discussions from a non-sectarian viewpoint. While retaining the spirit of activist journalism, they chose the latter, distancing themselves from Stanbery’s increasingly ambiguous rhetoric as a candidate and covering the 15th District Council race from an independent vantage point. From that moment on, Random Lengths would anchor its critique of government in the electoral politics of the 15th District while remaining unaffiliated. Random Lengths remained an independent voice that scrutinized the actions of the three successive councilmembers whenever they ignored community concerns and pandered instead to corporations. From Stanbery’s 1980 “Neighborhood Associations Drive,” to the emergence of the inter-community 15th District Community Coalition candidacy in 1996, to the complicated legacies of a contradictory secession attempt, compromised Charter reform, and the watered-down-but-still evolving neighborhood council system that shapes district politics today, Random Lengths has kept local news first and foremost as the honest measure of the health of local electoral democracy. Random Lengths was launched at the opening of a national primary season that swept erstwhile California Gov. Ronald Reagan into the Presidency. When Bush, The First, took over in 1988, Random Lengths, in its new bi–weekly format, began covering deeper political issues, such as the Iran-Contra scandal, the Lockerbie airline bombing, and the first Iraq war, in a manner elsewhere unavailable. While the national debate saw a democratic crisis in Clinton’s sexual pecadillos, Random Lengths, instead, probed his criminal bombing of Sudan and the geopolitics of NATO’s bombing of Kosovo. When it came time, post Sept. 11, to document and clarify the misinformation and concealed abuses that have embroiled us in the second Iraq war of Bush, The Second, Random Lengths devoted countless pages to an eclectic mix of skilled, original analyses and information that never surfaces in the mainstream press. Random Lengths’ editorial judgment has kept its independence across the decades only because it has been at all times tested and accountable to the coverage of democracy and governmental abuses as they play out in the community. In almost every case—from malathion spray, to the CIA-Crack connection, to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI); from the Savings and Loan crisis, to the Walmartdriven union-busting of the local supermarket strike, to “Homeland Security” as it is unevenly practiced when it comes to the corporately privileged Port—history has justified the paper’s investigations and conclusions. For most of the past decade, the rhetoric from the 15th District Council office has often worked in unison with Random Lengths’ community efforts; but that spirit was a long
time in coming, through years that seemed only to darken before an uncertain dawn. Whether this spirit is authentic or a sham remains to be seen. In its early issues, this paper sharply criticized conservative pro-business, Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who succeeded John S. Gibson in 1981. Yet, during her campaign and afterwards, her office maintained open lines of communication as befitted a public servant. Initially, the same was the case with Rudy Svorinich, Jr., the conservative pro-business candidate who finally beat her in 1993. By the mid-1990s, however, Random Lengths’ ongoing criticism and demands for community accountability caused Svorinich’s office to take the unprecedented measure of refusing to provide any public information press releases to the Harbor Area’s only community newspaper. At the same time, Svorinich’s office refused, as a matter of policy, to return any phone calls from Random Lengths. That actively obstructionist impasse continued until the day Svorinich was termed out of office. His subsequent defeat in a run for state office—the largest defeat of anyone running for office in recent history—was brought about to some degree by the never-ending scrutiny of Random Lengths and its longstanding efforts to document his frequent evasions of direct and open democracy. With the turn-of-the century election of Janice Hahn to the council office and her brother, James, to the mayoralty, Random Lengths’ position had once more come full-circle. Again, Random Lengths had a decision to make: whether to return to its initial position as a sectarian political publication or to continue its more broad-ranging discussion from a non-sectarian point of view. Again, true to its original mission statement, Random Lengths chose the latter. But it was also forced to sharpen its critical acumen, to adjust to the increasing complexity of participating in whatever direct democratic empowerment was in store. Random Lengths also was growing with its community to a “critique” in the fullest sense, not only criticizing abuses of power but also praising the responsible exercise of reform whenever it emerged. During Janice Hahn’s first elected service on the Elected Commission for Charter Reform, the springboard that launched her into the council office, Random Lengths began to blend two poles of engaged critique: it praised her initial efforts for a proportionally elected, legallyempowered neighborhood council system, then chastized the new charter she ultimately supported for its evasion of direct democracy, for its backroom deal to bypass the voters and create a disempowered version of the neighborhood council system that the electorate had once mandated Hahn to create. Since the new LA Charter was accepted by voters and Janice Hahn came to councilmanic power on its coat tails as a “third way” between corporate growth and proportionally elected and empowered community action, Random Lengths has been painstaking in praising forward steps on the path toward direct democracy she has come to embody politically. It has praised her wrangling with the Port and her tireless advocacy of neighborhood councils that has led them towards greater influence within their non–empowered form. And, it has exposed false claims and hidden agendas involved in Fox Channel 11’s attempts to smear her with unsupported criminals’ accusations. On the other hand, Random Lengths has retained its critical eye when the council office has seemed to deviate from that path. Random Lengths continues to remind us of that large part of the Harbor Area that the Charter’s structure systemically ignores. Especially during Hahn’s first term, the paper covered the long efforts of the politically stymied Harbor Area secessionists and more recently it has covered efforts to restrain downtown-centric power, including a proposed charter amendment cutting back city council pay scales. But more important, Random Lengths repeatedly reminds its readers that the Harbor Area’s largely Latino, mainly immigrant majority must be included in political debates, beginning with the very emergence of issues to be debated, not only within the neighborhood council system and in Los Angeles’ municipal government as a whole, but increasingly in other harbor area communities as well. Random Lengths has remained critical of the continuing inequities faced by Wilmington, Harbor Gateway and Watts in their smaller-scale economic development projects. On the other hand, during this latest decade, we have paid increased attention to Carson and Long Beach, both communities in which Latinos and other
minorities still struggle for equitable treatment on many different fronts. The decades-long investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in Long Beach’s tourist industry, while mostly Latino hotel workers continue earning poverty wages, is a classic example of such inequities, and Random Lengths has increasingly called attention to this as organizing efforts have intensified in recent years.
The Third Thread—Issues with the Land
Pedro land use plan democratically at a grass roots level. The fact that the public Cabrillo Beach was not destroyed by the Port’s expansion of its marina and has now been restored as a community center is just one direct result of their efforts. The “San Pedro Plan’’ became a campaign issue in 1981, with all candidates—including Flores—saying they were in favor of it. Despite promises by Flores and her successor, the democratically-engendered plan was never allowed to come to legal fruition. Nonetheless, the grassroots structure of the “revolution” remained in place, and each time a new issue sprang up, Random Lengths has been there to put it back into its larger con-
Publisher James Preston Allen has said, “If you want to Thirty–Year Retrospective to page 10 see a good San Pedro street fight, just hold a meeting on land use!” Inextricably bound to issues of Port expansion and of city governance, local land-use issues lie at the heart of why Random Lengths was first created. The Byzantine legal interconnections between apparently isolated battles over this or that piece of public property over the past 25 years are mind boggling. They have been further complicated by the decommissioning of military property following the Vietnam War, which included Angels Gate and White Point Parks, and properties related to the Long Beach naval station’s closure. Land-use conflicts have most recently come to a boil along the “Bridge-toBreakwater” promenade that When the federal government declared the former sites of the Nike Missile silos at White Point as surplus land, now hovers between vision it was deeded to the City of Los Angeles to serve the public interest in 1978. Though there were hopes of turning and reality, creating conflicts the unused land into a state park, those hopes were nearly dashed when the Air Force attempted to take back and redundancies among the land to build single-family homes for officers in the name of national defense. The community rose up in arms with then Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores to beat back the Air Force plans into a compromise. The Air Force downtown–redevelopment officer housing was built on 26 acres near Bogdanovich Park and ten acres at White Point Park. Wrangling over Port—and off–Port proper- what to do with the park continued for sometime with youth sports advocates and proponents of leaving the land ties. Similar conflicts have undeveloped to face off. Ultimately, the non-profit organization, the Palos Verdes Land Conservancy, was formed now emerged, too, under to maintain the natural environment and the youth sports advocates were given alternative fields for youth sports. Wilmington’s slowly rising community vision of a greenbelt, which now may be resolved with the Port’s emphasis on the bottom line. Mind–boggling though these land issues are, Random Lengths and its readers have continued to make the necessary connections, often thwarting the will of developers who had counted on peddling their influence to benefit the developers by assuring that community information remained blocked. Although the Port had written itself a brand-new master plan when Random Lengths’ first issue hit the streets in 1979, the community of San Pedro was left without a plan for itself. The same business forces that permitted the Port’s expansion plan had seen to it (through Councilmember John Gibson) that San Pedro’s General Plan had not been updated since 1962. Random Lengths began with a land–use “revolution’’ among Point Fermin neighborhood residents. They were determined to create a San
30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
Thirty-years and counting––yes folks, it’s been that long since Random Lengths began publishing San Pedro news. Random Lengths has been printing all along what I recall them saying they would. Curiously, the name Random Lengths has an appropriate heading. The name is from an old lumber schooner trade term Lumber, commencing in the building boom from the 1880s came down the Pacific Coast, after being loaded in the Pacific Northwest. Way back when this all started at the home of Carlin Soule, then president of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society and a teacher at Carson High School. It was there that I was approached by James Preston Allen and Dan Healy concerning a name for their newspaper. Of course, my question was, ‘what kind of publication are we talking about?’ Almost in unison they said, “Something like you wouldn’t find in the Newspilot.” Different strokes for different folks. This intriguing prospect did not take more than half a minute to decide. What started out as a modest endeavor in black and white has now blossomed into as class act in color. Random Lengths can at times be like a ferocious lion. That depends on the issue. Frankly, I don’t always agree with Random Lengths’ slant on positions, but of course in a democratic society, one is entitled to their opinion. Random Lengths actually should read, Random Lengths and Widths, as in different sizes of lumber were called for stowing in the hold of the boat–– stability of the craft for sea worthiness was critical. A very knowledgeable chief cargo supervisor would call for various lengths and widths as needed. The longshoremen (stevedores) would take it from where it landed and expertly band and stow the cargo. Random Lengths News has proven its value by its progressive polices. It’s letters to the editor takes on all comers, including those who accuse the newspaper of being too socialist. I would suggest that those who do say this wouldn’t know a socialist if one landed on their heads. A good byline would state that Random Lengths calls ‘em as they see ‘em. Keep it up James Preston Allen. I may not always agree with you, but at least you provoke some interesting thoughts on issues. Only in America, as long as it lasts. —Arthur Almeida, San Pedro Historian
A heated community meeting over housing at White’s Point park. Thirty–Year Retrospective from page 9
text. The survival of any open spaces or low income housing through San Pedro’s development frenzy in the 1980s and 1990s is largely due to the information and analyses Random Lengths has steadfastly provided. From the eviction of Park Western residents in 1980 to the foundation of the Angels Gate Cultural Center in 1981, to the marina and the battle over Navy housing at White Point, to the so-called “Pedro 2000” plan to eliminate the Rancho San Pedro housing project, to the struggle over Taper Avenue housing, to Recreation and Parks’ eviction attempts at Angels Gate and Hernandez’ Ranch on the basis of a “Master Plan’’ that never was, to the Port’s “eminent domain” at Knoll Hill and its first scuttling of the Pacific Avenue Corridor redevelopment project; from John S. Gibson Field, to Joan Milke Flores Park, to Svorinich’s unrequited efforts to get a park or a field or a something named after himself, the story remained the same. While much has changed for the better during Janice Hahn’s tenure, by virtue of her community advocacy and the successes of homeowner activists in the China Shipping settlement, and while the community has taken some important steps toward genuine empowerment in relation to the Port, no community–generated general plan for San Pedro yet exists to coordinate community action in opposition to the Port’s master plan. As a result, the past decade of struggles over waterfront development has seen more twists and turns than any street on the PV peninsula. While planning on the San Pedro waterfront first began during Mayor Riordan’s last year in office, there were more versions of plans and public processes over the next two–plus mayoral terms than anyone could keep track of… except for Random Lengths. However, something approaching a community–generated general plan finally did emerge in response to the Port’s Waterfront EIR—the Sustainability Plan originally supported by the Sierra Club, the TraPac Appellants, two neighborhood councils and the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. The Port’s intransigent opposition eventually prevailed upon the Chamber of Commerce to abandon its support—once again sacrificing the broad interests of local business owners for the megaprofits of outside businesses (in this instance, the cruise ship industry). When the Port’s final environmental impact report (EIR) was at last approved this past summer, plans for a controversial outer harbor cruise terminal remained part of the package and the Sustainability Plan’s truly comprehensive green development vision was not even been seriously considered by staff. Activists vowed to continue the struggle Real People. Real News.
to humanize and green the development during the post-EIR planning process. Additionally, there has finally been a community-based planning process for Knoll Hill, which awaits action from the Port as we go to press. Wilmington’s waterfront development had a much slower and torturous start, beginning with organizing against the expansion of the TraPac terminal and proposed erection of a wall to supposedly shield the community from its impact— as if the expansion itself, part of a decades-long process of losing land and waterfront access—were not impact enough. This organizing saw the birth of Communities for a Safe Environment, and the emergence of its founder and executive director Jesse Marquez as a passionate, knowledgeable and incredibly detailed-oriented advocate for environmental justice, whose activism has taken him to the highest levels of global deliberations on port-related policies. But it took the entire Wilmington community pulling together, plus the election of Antonio Villaraigosa to not just halt the original expansion plans, but to develop a 30-acre buffer plan in tandem with an adjacent waterfront development project, currently in the process of being built.
The Final Thread—Civil And Human Rights Issues Last and most important, were it not for Random Lengths’ willingness to stand up for the local preservation of civil rights, its original commitment to continuous coverage of Port expansion, local government and land-use might have dwindled to a series of “not-in-my-back-yard” wars waged by aging activists–turned–property–owners. Instead, it has become an intellectual model for new generations of activists. It has also become a reinvigoration of consciousness and conscience for those property owners who, seeing a locally rising economic tide, are finally gaining some real, local government power against the unchecked expansion of the Port and are beginning to take on the deeper civil rights challenge of environmental racism that the Port’s eternal expansion embodies. The headline of the Fall 1980 edition of Random Lengths read: “Violent Clash At Peck Park: Citizens Demand Investigation of Police Misconduct.” In an unprovoked sweep, the LAPD, wielding batons, attacked 85 to 100 mostly young Chicanos assembled to socialize and watch a baseball game. From that moment forward, in countless stories, Random Lengths has used its mandate as “the Free Press’’ under the
First Amendment to defend the rights of assembly, of free speech, of shelter and of work for equitable wages in the Harbor Area. Our vigilance on the importance of civil rights has taken on many forms over the years. Of course we have been vigilant in fighting against discrimination based on race, class, or gender, both in familiar forms, but also in previously less familiar ones, such as the environmental racism evident in the disproportional impacts of port pollution on communities of color, as well as the additional impacts from refineries in and around Wilmington and Carson, while not forgetting the related off–port impacts in communities of color up the 710 Freeway and Alameda Corridor and out into Riverside and San Bernadino counties. Moving from defense to offense, we’ve both covered and given voice to the emergence of environmental justice as a organizing framework for building a better world for all. From broad to narrow, our vigilance has focused on a wide range of specific struggles. At times, it has focused on struggles very close to home for us as a news-gathering source, without which everyone’s civil rights are more at risk. Examples include our coverage in defense of the Ralph M. Brown Act open meetings law—where publisher James Allen was threatened with arrest—as well as demanding the uncensored distribution of our own newspaper at SP Hospital or at City of LA public buildings. At times, our vigilance has been in support of the ILWU’s proud leadership tradition of standing in solidarity, defending the rights of others. Examples include the ILWU’s right–to–work stoppages staged in international solidarity with Australian dockers and more recently in opposition to the Iraq War. At times, our vigilance has been in support of other workers facing much harsher odds. Examples include the months-long union-busting lockout of our grocery workers, the decades–long exploitation of port truckers mis–classified as “independent owner-operators” so as to preclude them from union organizing and the long-overdue struggle to organize hotel workers in Long Beach, still working for poverty wages after the city has invested hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing the tourist industry they serve. At times, our vigilance has focused on corporate-inspired corruption, such as our long-term coverage of such corruption in Carson that contributed to the eventual election of Jim Dear on a wave of reform. At times, our coverage has focused on abuses of police power. Examples range from mass illegal arrests and police violence in Seattle at the World Trade Organization in 1999, or the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles the following year, to the May Day police riot in MacArthur Park in 2007. But they also include examples of individual violations, such as the unjustified arrest of Derrick Evans here in San Pedro that finally prompted his release, as well as the multiple arrests of witnesses to the police murder of Roketi Su’e in north Long Beach. Increasingly, over the last few years, our vigilance has focused on the struggle for equality, especially as expressed within the Long Beach gay community. In all these cases—and many others besides—Random Lengths has continued to see and analyze the significance of local events through that greater human lens of civil and human rights. Through that lens, for thirty years and counting, it has kept its soul as a “community newspaper” in the truest sense of those words.
Over the past year, hotel workers and housekeepers joined by students, community and clergy leaders have been pressuring the Hilton Long Beach to the Hyatt Long Beach, to pay a living wage and allow them to unionize. Random Lengths, from its inception has covered labor issues ranging from the cannery workers to the International Boatman’s Union, to the ILWU lockout in the 2000s.
30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
Adlai E. Stevenson:
“Freedom rings where opinions clash.” In every village, if it’s a healthy one, lives a provocateur—the one who was born to stir things up intentionally with some end in mind… focusing on the issues, not personalities. James Allen, as Publisher of the Random Lengths News, has held that role in our village for 30 years. The paper never fails to stimulate response and generate discussion about the complex issues of our port town and the entire Harbor Area. Happy Birthday Random Lengths News. The Chamber of Commerce wishes you another 30! —Camilla Townsend, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce President
Arts, Culture & Entertainment and Subversive Outsider Art by: Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
hen Random Lengths was forged, it was done so at thought. But it included a fair share of critiques along with a a time when the country swung extremely to the right. It was parade of counter–examples. in fact, a retrenchment of forces progressives thought they Film is one of those platforms that captures the totality of had done away with the ousting of President Nixon. Presimoments in time ranging from attitudes, to value systems dent Ford was virtual place-holder that left the crook off the caused by events that became the touchstones of a given realhook when he came into office. President Jimmy Carter was ity. These films also reflect a running conversation between supposed to be the new start progressives had been waiting competing visions of the world. Critiques were presented for, even dying for after the extent of government surveilwhen such films such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan: lance and repression was revealed. the Barbarian wowed audiences with his muscle clenches, Flipping through the pages of Random Lengths during the or Charles Bronson’s Death Wish franchise reflected the fear 1980s, it is clear that the progressives that were flipping the of white male impotence as the unwashed colored masses bird at authority in the 60s and 70s, didn’t simply go away, were storming the gates. but grew up, bought homes and took an interest in the neighYet, even as it critiqued what most would simply take for borhoods around them, noting that the same battles that had granted, Random Lengths highlighted alternatives others to be fought in the 60s and 70s still had to be fought on their might well overlook. It worked to link San Pedro to its prodoorstep—against the ports, gressive roots from Upton against the gas refineries and Sinclair to the Works Project coke plants, and against the Administration workers that chemical farms. built campus structures in Dana If that weren’t enough, these Middle School and San Pedro same new home owners, new High School, not forgetting to parents and hidden progressives mention the WPA murals on found that these battles had to each campus. be fought in front of their teleIn its early days, Random vision screens, movie theaters, Lengths encouraged San art galleries, and public places Pedro’s nascent arts scene, parwhere art was displayed. ticularly those who are considSo it was that collection of ered outsider artists whose work local activists who came towould not normally be seen in gether and picked up the gauntmuseums and government let with the founding of Ransponsored galleries in the 1950s dom Lengths, pushing back on WPA murals on display at Dana Middle School. and 60s. Random Lengths regureactionary forces intent on relarly featured exhibits displayed envisioning history. Alongside its coverage of community at the Greene Line Gallery on Pacific and 22nd Street and the and political struggles, Random Lengths encouraged a critiSixth Street Gallery in downtown San Pedro, ever linking cal deconstruction of reality as reflected on television and these artists to progressive precursors such as Conner Everts, film that no one seemed to question. It did this primarily by who in the 1950s founded the Exodus Group in San Pedro highlighting challenging alternatives in its arts, culture and along with Doug MacFadden. entertainment pages, through regular book, film and music To understand the context from which San Pedro’s art scene reviews, and with feature stories on important artists (from came, Everts’ was once indicted for pornography for his dislocal to national) and venues that incubated progressive play of a painting that depicted the head of a fetus peering
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out of a womb, “wondering,” in the words of the artist, “if this was the kind of place it really wished to enter?” The case was ultimately dismissed, but Everts’ example underscores what progressives were up against. Another venue that served as an incubator of outsider, if not subversive art and thought, included The Golden Ass, the precursor of Sacred Grounds coffeehouse, before it was shut down for displaying “pornography” displaying a painting that depicted a nude woman with pubic hair. Then, there are the cultural heroes of this town, from Charles Bukowski to Mike Watt and the Minutemen, from all those that came before, all that came between, and all of those that will come after. Even its coverage of San Pedro’s punk scene, which featured performances at Dancing Waters (now known as the La Zona Rosa) and the ILWU Performance Hall, The pages of Random Lengths featured dissections of punk music, exploring its movement as an attempt to take music back from the major record labels that managed to scrub, clean and sterilize what was once subversive, revolutionary and alive. The offices of Random Lengths have been the site of extensive dialog as to what was culturally real and what was not, as the paper witnessed the ever evolving nature of culture. Random Lengths’ role in the vanguard of promoting San Pedro as an arts, cultural and entertainment destination is probably less well understood than the paper’s role as a vehicle of progressive politics. But it is a role that is as vital as the work that artists, gallery, bar and restaurant owners create to enrich San Pedro. The men and women who have furthered the mission of Random Lengths News have concerned with creating fertile ground for art and artists in all of its diversity to exist in the Harbor Area. In no small measure, San Pedro’s ACE district, a brainchild of Random Lengths News publisher James Allen, is an example of that effort. San Pedro has been trying to rebuild its downtown core ever since Old Beacon Street was torn down. In fits of starts and stops during the 1980s, progress was slow, starting with the remodeling of storefronts with historic façades, the tearing down of some buildings, the building of others. After having seen the fate of emerging art colonies in Pasa-
dena, Venice and the Bunker Hill of downtown Los Angeles, Random Lengths, like many San Pedro artists saw the danger of allowing the CRA to pursue redevelopment efforts without input from the community. As a result, San Pedro was able create a new model for how revitalization efforts and the formation of arts districts to follow. That maximized com-
30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
munity control from conception to funding. The struggle to make that model succeed is now joined. To discover how that struggle turns out, the best thing to do is join in—and keeping reading the progress reports and battle plans in future issues of Random Lengths.
Al Cordeiro, former owner of Dancing Waters (AKA La Zona Rosa) converted the performance hall into a country western club after flirting with punk rock shows that ended with neighbor complaints and property damage. San Pedro has long had a complicate relationship with alternative music scenes. Turn out tends to be great. Keeping the peace is something else entirely. Photo by: Sam Marcovich
The Good Ol’ Days Places Where the Cool Kids Once Roamed by: Gretchen Williams Tostrup, Lifestyle & Cuisine Writer
In honor of the 30th Anniversary edition and the reminiscence and story telling that often comes with family gathering in the holiday season, RLN is republishing one of its most popular local historical stories about life in the Harbor Area not-so-long-ago.
ake a trip down Memory Lane to a time when the mugs of root beer were inviting and refreshing, especially on jukebox was hot with the tunes of the day, and bouffants and hot afternoons in summer. pompadours bobbed with the sounds of young rock ‘n’ roll. The corner of 6th and Gaffey is the present home of Le The ping-pong tables on the Jacque en Le Box, the latest inside beach side were a popuincarnation of the drive-in lar see and be seen scene. The restaurant on that site. Post bikini and the two-piece were World War II, the original new, and the navel was the fodrive-in was a hamburger hacus of beach fashion. Bras still ven with waitresses in flippy had torpedo implications, but short skirts on roller skates. peace was on the horizon. Showing off the sled was Long before the birth of this more important than the ground-breaking newspaper, menu. the “in” crowds hung around San Pedro Drive-In’s the anchor in the lee of the Snack Shack was an intermisCabrillo Beach Museum and sion must with the irresistible ate French fries from Sam’s scent of frozen pepperoni Cabrillo Beach Coastal Park—courtesy of CMA. Café. The scent of Coppertone pizza baking, drifting in with and Sea and Ski sun tan lotion the fog. The low overhead competed with Sam’s legendary deep fryer for dominance in and grimy floors trapped the smells of snacks gone by. the summer breeze. The grill produced hamburgers of a parStyrofoam textured popcorn featured an oily mixture claimticular hue, laden with the grease of the ages. The only wise ing to be butter. Psychedelic orange and pink fountains of order was a popsicle sealed in cellophane or Sam’s mother’s pop were the perfect mixer for smuggled booze over ice. The popcorn freshly popped in red and white striped paper sacks. Drive In was a summertime happening — the passion pit of The Pirate’s Den was a favorite of the sports crowd, serving ‘Pedro’ – and the film was only of minor concern. hamburgers and cokes to hungry spectators at Daniel’s Field. The old Dancing Waters club, now La Zona Rosa, was origiLocated on Meyler, across from the tennis courts, this little nally a bowling alley. Scenes from the classic, Oscar-winning hole in the wall catered to San Pedro High Boosters. A Greek movie, Raging Bull, were filmed in the club and featured San immigrant family operated it from the mid 40s to late 50s. Pedro residents as extras in the film. There was a bowling A&W Root Beer at 14th and Gaffey capitalized on the alley on 5th Street, near Pacific Avenue, where there now is root beer float craze and ran with it. With excellent proximthe collectable car garage. The building next to the YWCA on ity to both Dana Middle School and San Pedro High, A&W 9th Street has been home to the first Ford agency in town, then was a popular stop on the way home from school. Frosty to DiCarlo’s bakery, then a bowling alley and is now Hope
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Chapel. The domed building next to A-1 Imports on 8th Street, near Mesa, was a skating rink in the 40s and 50s. The Hobby Nobby was the place to go after everything else was closed. The narrow booths were cozy for couples. It was fun to order breakfast in the middle of the night. The short order cook was known as “The Professional.” He had a fireplug physique and the grace of a ballerina. His ease and economy of motion at the grill was a joy to watch, and his fried eggs were always perfect. The omelets flowed beneath his spatula and his Denver was legendary. If heckled or harassed by drunks, The Professional’s body language alone was enough to stifle dissent. The Hobby Nobby was also known for no nonsense waitresses – one was married to a Los Angeles Police Department officer and would not hesitate to eject the unruly. LaRue Pharmacy on Pacific Ave., near 13th Street, was a tiny piece of the Midwest transplanted to downtown San Pedro. The pharmacy and soda fountain were still active into the 90s, selling medicinal alcohol and decades-old cosmetics. The marble-topped soda bar boasted original taps. Phosphates, soda pop concoctions last popular in the 30s, were made to order and served in glasses from that era. The pressed tin ceiling and octagonal tile were unchanged from early in the century. Before the LaRues, a family with generations of pharmacists, BoBo Knagenhjem, a Norwegian fellow, owned the drug store. He and Mrs. BoBo could not decide whether to settle permanently in the United States or move back to Norway. They made the trek several times. It was a joke in the Norwegian community that the Knagenhjem’s furniture spent more time traveling than many tourists. Ice cream was a popular treat in old San Pedro, with almost every drugstore boasting an ice cream and soda parlor. Mountain View ice cream, at 15th and Pacific, was a sure after school stop. Wheaton’s ice cream on 6th Street was a Saturday afternoon place to be after the movie let out at the Warner Grand Theatre. Curry’s ice cream’s first location was near Pacific and Channel. It was known for its gleaming white shop and proper paper cones. San Pedro locals have always had favorite places to hang out. Over the years, the locals have changed but the desire to get out and about endures, especially on warm summer evenings. Sundresses are timeless through silhouettes change. Tanks have made the clavicle an erogenous zone for both sexes. Cool drinks on hot nights have eternal appeal. Coppertone has an SPF now, but the familiar scent brings back the delights of summers past.
Photo by: Paul Kaloper
30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
When I was elected President of the San Pedro Democratic Club and went about setting our agenda for the year, I looked to Random Lengths. Random Lengths has been the progressive voice for the Harbor area for a generation. They know our community and the issues that affect us. On the front page was an article about a group called the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports and their efforts to create a Clean Trucks Program. The Coalition brings together labor and environmentalists, and community groups, to tackle the pollution coming from the port’s diesel trucks and the poor conditions the drivers of those trucks face. It is the kind of issue that directly addresses our Democratic values of environmental stewardship and economic justice and it affects the lives of us in the Harbor on a daily basis. We’ve had some great successes as a coalition and some setbacks, but through it all Random Lengths has been there, covering the story and its developments and its struggles. That kind of coverage is not limited to port trucking, but includes nearly all the issues that affect us here in the Harbor, whether locally, in our region, or as a nation. Random Lengths is there, covering the stories you won’t find in the Daily Breeze, or even the LA Times. Random Lengths provides a perspective and a voice that is seldom found in corporate media, but is essential to being an informed citizen of the Harbor community. We would have a much less vibrant San Pedro Democratic Club and a much less vibrant Harbor community if it were not for Random Lengths News. —David Greene President, San Pedro Democratic Club
The Stories I Never Told You by: James Preston Allen, Publisher
here is always more to the news that doesn’t get printed than what does. Sometimes it’s for space considerations, or possibly certain facts could not be verified by press time and then there is the human factor. This article has to do with none of the above, because the few instances that I will now share with you weren’t revealed all at once, but were divulged over a period of time––partly in confidence and partly by accident. I will explain.
The Brown Act and the Threat of Arrest Back in 1999 when James Hahn was City Attorney and Richard Riordan was Mayor, I heard that the Angels Gate Park Advisory Board (PAB) had been holding closed door meetings on publicly owned park property. These meetings were by invitation only, mostly by the then–park director, Phil Orland. As often is the case, I became curious as to just how a public entity could hold private meetings in a public building without someone complaining. I remembered reading about a little understood California State law called the Ralph M. Brown Act, Open Meeting Law (section 54952 of the CA Government Code). As the next PAB meeting approached, I talked to one of the lawyers connected to the California First Amendment Coalition for his advice, asking if a PAB meeting fell under the provisions of this Open Meetings law. Indeed it did, as do all commissions, committees, boards or other bodies of a local agency that are created by a formal action of a public legislative body. So I showed up at the Angels Gate PAB meeting and sat down before the meeting started. The conversation was quite convivial at first, as I knew most of the people in the room. Orland wanting to get the meeting started, stood up and asked me to leave, since I was not invited. I don’t recall if the lone park ranger was already in the room or whether he arrived just in time for Orland to formally excuse me from the room, but when I refused, he threatened to have me arrested! For what, I’m not sure––trespassing on public property or for resisting a park director’s orders? It was quite an awkward moment for me because I knew many of the citizens who were there––some for many years, and it was clear that none of them were going to object if I didn’t protest, which I did. As the ranger advanced toward me, I looked Orland directly in the eyes and announced, “Your park ranger probably knows a lot more about the open container laws in public parks than he does about the Brown Act Open Meeting Law of the State of California.” The ranger was reaching for his handcuffs when I finished with, “I doubt this officer wants to risk his job by arresting the wrong person here as you are the one who is clearly breaking the law!” The officer stopped and looked to Orland for direction and he hesitated. “Orland,” I continued, “ I’m the last person you want to have arrested in San Pedro at your park.” To my amazement, no one stepped up to side with me nor seemed to recognize the point I was trying to make, which was that this committee Real People. Real News.
or any committee doing the public’s business cannot and should not do so behind closed doors except in a few specific situations, this not being one of them. At this point there was a trifle of verbal sand kicking and mumbling, but no clear consensus emerged as to what to do with me. The meeting was adjourned before it began and I went free. I did write up a brief report of this action in the very next edition of Random Lengths, and then wrote a letter of complaint to Rick Sessinghaus of the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners. That letter was then copied to an attorney for the City, Mark L. Brown, (no relations to Ralph Brown) who handled Open Meeting Laws for the City of LA. On March 11, 1999, I received his memorandum to the Commissioners, which began: Recently, Mr. James Preston Allen, publisher of Random Lengths, sent you a letter (copied to this Office) raising the issue of whether Park Advisory Boards (PABs) are subject to the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act. On February 12,1999 … letter stated that the PABs “may have been created by action of the… commission. After some discussion in his letter as to the directive to municipal attorneys from the California Attorney General of what constitutes a “formal action” under Section 54952(b) in the creating of boards that fall under the Brown Act, the City’s attorney concluded that, “While arguably [creating the PABs] might possibly have happened administratively even if the Commission had taken no formal actions, it did not in fact occur without Commission intervention and follow up. Since the matter is not free from doubt, it is our advice that the PABs should be considered to be subject to the provisions of the Brown Act.” Brown, the attorney, then outlined a brief description of what constitutes an open public meeting with the final admonishment, “Violations of the Brown Act can result in the actions of the PAB being set aside by a court, the PAB being required to pay court costs and attorneys fees, and criminal prosecution of the violators.” This, of course, was sweet news to my ears as it now set the standard by which all local public meetings must be held and by inference any Community Advisory Committee created by the City Council or one of its commissions. This was actually a huge victory and I don’t think that I really made much of it at the time. I was likely distracted by the next breaking news story and the fact that some legal opinions
don’t rise to the level of being good headlines. But the story doesn’t end here. Time passed and Jim Hahn was elected mayor of Los Angeles. One day over coffee with my friends, during a discussion of some other subject, the former wife of mayor Hahn slips in, “ You know I don’t think I ever told you this but do you remember your issue with the Park Advisory Boards? Well, the Mayor held a mandatory conference down at the New Otani Hotel for all the park directors on Brown Act compliance.” I wonder why I didn’t get the press release on that one?
The Battle with Rudy Svorinich Jr. and the First Gulf War January 1991, started off with a bang or literally a boom. On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait after which, George Bush Sr. drew the famous “line in the sand.” But it took awhile to get our story straight, in order to march off to war—particularly after it was revealed that our Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, had seemingly given tacit approval to Saddam a week before the invasion, telling him, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts.” So there
was lot of jockeying up to the 1990 elections. Then came the holidays. But once they were over, the tension rapidly ratcheted up, and the first Gulf War soon exploded on the scene. The TV images raged across the screen and the famous Yellow Ribbon campaign was wrapped around every tree in America. The headlines screamed “WAR IN IRAQ!” but as usual, I was unimpressed with the gung–ho exuberance for blood and death. In the media, there was a complete vacuum of analysis on why we were there, U.S. history with the Iraqi regime, and how the U.S. had funded Saddam’s war against Iran, which ended badly when he used biological warfare to gas the Kurds. The headline in this paper challenged this absence of history with an article entitled, “The Hidden History of WAR & PEACE in the Middle East,” which ran with this great graphic image, pictured above, by Palos Verdes local, Matt Wuerker, who is now a nationally recognized editorial cartoonist. Well, you’d have thought that we’d printed a four-letter profanity on our front page. In fact, the profanity was, to the common sensibility, the five-letter word PEACE in conjunction with the word WAR. The right–wingers and pro–war types nearly came unglued. They were outraged that a newspaper, this newspaper or anybody could come out publicly against the war. We received nasty phone calls, threats and then someone decided to attack our advertisers by calling them up and accusing us of the old red baiting question, “Do you know that this newspaper is
communist?” This could have come straight out of the Richard Nixon playbook on how to beat a liberal. I didn’t know what it was back then, whether business owners weren’t as sophisticated as they are today, or if most of them came from a generation where being called a communist was about as derogatory an accusation as one could make. But a significant number took the bait, pulled their ads, and damaged this newspaper. We didn’t back down. There were some sensible businesses, labor leaders, union members, and activists who saw this scam for what it was, and literally came to the rescue. Luckily the Gulf War didn’t last as long as the current ones, but it was this incident that forged many of the strongest and longest alliances we have with both the labor movement and the political activists of the Harbor Area who recognized the value of having a newspaper that won’t sell out its principles. Well, Bush Number One was voted out of office and Bill Clinton was elected President and soon that war was old news. There was also a change in the Council District 15 district with the election of a neophyte politician, Rudy Svorinich Jr. This was a significant break in the history of this district, which had seen an unbroken chain of conservative representation from the days of John Gibson through his successor and former aide, Joan Milke-Flores. The odd thing was that the 15th District always had a majority Democratic Party registration, but as one old wag once advised me, “They may be Democrats, but they are conservative Democrats.” This wasn’t the town that I saw, the town that was the home to Local 13 of the ILWU or the other waterfront unions. What I saw was a disconnect between local politics and national liberal issues. This probably came to pass because of the 40-year dominance of the very rightwing Copley-owned News Pilot/Daily Breeze which once won the ignoble honor of being tagged the worst newspaper in California. So, Svorinich was elected as Councilman and he immediately gets into trouble for taking political donations over the counter at his council office––petty graft by any other name. Two of his top aides resigned and Rudy was admonished, maybe even fined, by the Ethics Commission. A few months later, one of his trusted campaign buddies told me this startling piece of information, “You know, when Rudy worked in the office of Assemblyman Gerald Felando back during the Gulf War, he was using the Assembly office phone to call all of your advertisers telling them you were a communist.” Well things certainly began to come into clearer focus now, and as we began to scrutinize the actions of Svorinich the Councilman, we began to get blow back from his chief henchman Col. Barry Glickman (retired USAF). As our criticism grew, he cut off all City Council press releases to us, banned anyone from his council offices from talking to our reporters or returning our phone calls. Then he directed City staff not to allow the distribution of our newspapers in any City facility. By the time Svorinich ran out of terms of office, (thanks to term limits) he had decided to run for the 54th Assembly seat as a Republican. Unfortunately for Svorinich, his opponent was the well known and very effective Long Beach City Councilman Alan Lowenthal. This was going
30th Anniversary Edition • December 2009
to be a contest of wills that would determine the fate of San Pedro and the greater Harbor Area for years to come. In the end, Lowenthal, with the active endorsement of Random Lengths won one of the biggest victories in the Assembly District since the time of Vincent Thomas––beating Svorinich in every single San Pedro precinct except Svorinich’s home precinct and the very conservative South Shores area. Now I have to admit, I found some personal satisfaction in helping defeat Svorinich. But this wasn’t so much a personal vendetta or a settling of scores. This was about my commitThe Stories I Never Told You to page 18
The Stories I Never Told You from page 17
ment to act when I see this town, this district promote a Nixon wannabe to higher office. This of course hasn’t come without a price. There are still some who are urging him to run for office again, and more who continue to criticize me and this newspaper for Svorinich’s assembly race defeat. Even to the extent that one day, while standing in line at the post office on Beacon Street, Mr. Svorinich Sr. got in-my face about his son. This ultimately got so loud and boisterous that we were both asked to leave the building. Things don’t always end well, particularly in politics.
Pat Chambers, the Most Arrested Union Activist in California One day, many years ago, an old guy came into my office when we were located across the street from Godmothers Saloon on 7th Street. I hear some people complain about our downtown today and I just shake my head thinking that they just don’t remember the “bad ol’ days,” when there were two welfare hotels, an empty half-block hole in the ground from an unfinished CRA redevelopment project that should never have been started and all the bars. Well most folks didn’t go into those places. So this old guy kind of hobbled into my office and demanded to speak with me. “You see, I have this oral history,” he said. “I’ve been asked by Temple University to write down my life history and I need you to type it up from these notes.” He holds up a bunch of yellow blue-lined legal pages in a folder that looked like he scribbled on them. At the time I thought to myself, “Why do I deserve this?” I told him “No,” this really isn’t what we do here and that there are probably a half dozen typing services that could help him. “Have you tried the Yellow Pages?” I suggested. “But I don’t trust anybody else to do it,” he complained. He persisted. I tried to dodge this one and finally told him to come back when we were less busy. And he did. Pixley Cotton strike leader Pat “My name is Pat Chambers,” he said, “I’m retired and Chambers in 1933 during the live here in San Pedro, I’m 87 years old and worked as a bitter struggle with the farmers union organizer most of my life.” of the San Joaquin Valley. Photo courtesy of San Jose State UniWell, I thought this could be any one of a hundred old union versity. guys that I’ve run into over the years. What made him so important that Temple University wants his history? “OK”, I
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said, “It’ll cost you fifty bucks and it will take a few days. I’ll call you if we have any questions.” So we typed it up and Mr. Chambers came back. I recall that he showed up with the guy from the University. They read it and pay for it, and I was done. I never saw Pat Chambers again. If you haven’t noticed, we have a penchant at our office of not throwing old files out. We have boxes and cartons of things that have been collected over the years, but years later, maybe even a decade after this incident, after we had moved our offices three times, and carried all this stuff with us, I got a book in the mail. The book was part of a trilogy by Kevin Starr, the California State Historian. Starr is an excellent writer and I tend to like history books that tell stories about California or pieces of little known history that bring to light unknown episodes. So I was reading his chapter on the Great Depression and the labor struggles of the 1930s when I came across the name Pat Chambers. Starr is writing about the cotton strikes and cabbage pickers strike and all of the various unions that tried to organize long before the United Farm Workers. Remember these were the days when the police and the company goons (hired vigilante types) routinely busted heads and arrested striking workers. Well, in this one section of this chapter Starr went on about how the workers kept getting arrested and jails were full of strikers. The strike continued for some 30 days or more, but one union organizer, Pat Chambers, held the record for being the most arrested union organizer. He reportedly had been arrested 45 times within 30 days, which meant that he was jailed more than once a day. He was a paid organizer and part of the American Communist Party, which at that time was the only organization that had enough money to bail out their members. This was the same Pat Chambers, the nice old man who retired in San Pedro. I found the old file and reread it. I began to think about some of the other old union folks that I’ve come across in this town. Well, now when people want to tell me about how conservative San Pedro is or was, I just think about all of the old radicals who have lived here, worked here or maybe even died here. There is something of them that is still left behind that makes this place very different and not so very conservative. You really have to believe in something to get arrested 45 times in 30 days. I’m not so sure that the dockworkers of today understand this kind of commitment, but then again, not too many other people do either.
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I have said it before many times over the past 30 years, but I’ll say it again just to remind you: Without your participation in this newspaper, both in reading it and contributing to it, this franchise of the First Amendment could not exist. This newspaper belongs as much to each of you as it does to those whom you trust to produce it. For this, you have our continued gratitude. We have included some of the more notable amongst you, in our cover image as a means of expressing thanks for this enduring connection. Live long and prosper, Courage —James Preston Allen, Publisher & Executive Editor
COVER LEGEND • from left to right front row: 1. Mathew Highland, 2. Terelle Jerricks, 3. Suzanne Matsumiya, 4. James Preston Allen, 5. Paul Rosenberg, 6. Slobodan Dimitrov, 7. Lyn Jensen, 8. Gretchen Williams, 9. Jerry Butera, 10. Bob Beck, 11. Fred C. Allen, Sr., 12. Andy Singer, 13. Tom Politeo, 14. Erik Kongshaug, 15. Bruce B. Brugman, 16. Charles Bukowski, 17. Councilwoman Janice Hahn, 18. David O’Day, 19. Ron Linden, 20. Ray Carofano, 21. President Barack Obama, 22. Camilla Townsend, 23. Greg Smith, 24. Goldie Otter, 25. Bob Long, 26. Former Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, 27. June Burlingame Smith, 28. Bill Samaras, 29. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, 30. Amy Goodman, 31. Senator Alan Lowenthal, 32. Former President George W. Bush, 33. Ken Malloy, 34. Ante Perkov, 35. Andrew Silber, 36. Gordon Wagner, 37. Idalia P. Chestnut, 38. Kira Watt, 39. Mike Watt, 40. Noel Park, 41. Former President Bill Clinton, 42. Freddie the Hat, 43. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, 44. Jesse Marquez, 45. Leslie Jones, 46. Mona Sutton, 47. Jayme Wilson, 48. Hugh McColl, 49. John Olguin, 50. Muriel Olguin, 51. Art Almeida, 52. Bea Atwood Hunt, 53. Mark Twain, 54. James Stanberry, 55. David Arian, 56. Carey McWilliams, 57. Harry Bridges, 58. Upton Sinclair, 59. Uncle Glam, 60. Helen Travis, 61. Former Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr.
Real People. Real News.
30th Anniversary Edition â€˘ December 2009
Real People. Real News.
30th Anniversary Edition â€˘ December 2009