PORT OFFICIALS VOW TO TAKE A “FRESH LOOK” AT BERTH 55 PLANSBy Sean Belk
Port of Long Beach (PoLB) officials responded to Monday’s latest public appeal by the Save Berth 55 campaign—the third in 11 days—by vowing to revisit their plans to evict three longtime businesses from the small landing to make way for a public safety complex.
“We take the comments we’ve heard today very seriously,” said PoLB Executive Director Christopher Lytle after eight members of Save Berth 55 addressed Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Long Beach Harbor Commission. “We think we’ve done a pretty good job at looking at the different sites … We will be absolutely thorough. We’ll go back and take a fresh look at it.”
Save Berth 55 first pleaded its case at a public forum conducted Aug. 30 at Queen’s Wharf restaurant on the longtime harbor-front hangout, then at the Sept. 4 Long Beach City Council meeting. On Monday, eight of its members spoke during the public comments portion of the Harbor Commission meeting, where they asked commissioners to agendize an item on the matter for an upcoming meeting.
Harbor Commissioner Nick Sramek seemed to accede to the suggestion, telling Save Berth 55 representatives that an item on the matter may soon be agendized to come up with a resolution or at least to know “where we’re going with it.”
PORT OFFICIALS HAVE BEEN WORKING on their current plan since 2008, when the businesses on Berth 55—Queen’s Wharf restaurant, Long Beach Sportfishing and Berth 55 fish market—were put on a month-to-month lease. In April of this year, the businesses were given 180 days to close up shop, a deadline due to expire next month.
Originally, Berth 55 had been ordered cleared for the construction of a fireboat station that is being relocated due to the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project. In recent months, Port officials announced the landing would be transformed into a public safety complex that may include a police vessel and Port-related contractors. Throughout, Port officials have maintained that Berth 55 is the best site for the new construction, although the project has not undergone environmental reviews or received permits.
On Monday, however, Lytle said he expected PoLB staff to meet with the Berth 55 business owners by the end of this week to go over the project. He was unclear about exactly who would be allowed to attend.
“I just want to assure everyone, including our board members, we take it very seriously … this is not a flippant decision on our part,” Lytle added. “We want to make sure we look at this thing thoroughly.”
During the Harbor Commission meeting, Lawrence Maehara, whose mother, Rebeca Maehara, holds the master lease on the property, dropped off a petition he said was signed by 4,686 people opposed to the Port’s plans.
“We never, ever wanted to leave Berth 55,” Maehara told commissioners. ”We wanted to stay. We
wanted to continue doing business in the Port of Long Beach … Berth 55 is irreplaceable. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s not something you can pick up and put somewhere else. Berth 55 is special. It’s the soul of the Port.”
Some of business owners argued that closing Berth 55 would put dozens of employees out of work. Mike Redlew,
general manager of Long Beach Sportfishing, said the Port’s plans have changed since the Harbor Commission approved its environmental impact report (EIR) on the Gerald Desmond Bridge project in 2010.
“The very reason Berth 55 has been told to vacate has changed several times over the past
three months,” Redlew said. “Even the final EIR for the Bridge project states that Berth 55, also known as Queen’s Wharf, would not be impacted.”
Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines, who said he has frequented Berth 55 as a longshoreman and a dive instructor, assured that Port staff would do everything they can to come up with a resolution. “I’m very familiar
with what an important part of the Port Berth 55 represents,” he said. “The Port hears you and we’re going to do everything we can to find a solution for everyone.”
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