Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Vision That Just Makes Logical Sense: the Port of Los Angeles Is Responsible for the High Numbers of Children with Asthma in and Around the Watery Domain; Should Not The Ports Give Back By Caring for Children? Why Was A Proposed Youth Aquatics Center Scratched from the Port’s Future Plans?
By Diana L. Chapman

It seemed an ocean-dunk away from making enormous tidal waves of good sense.

Reports, after endless reports, say children living around ports, especially the Los Angeles Harbor, suffer a much larger number of asthma cases than in other regional locations across the nation.

Port activities, diesel trucks unloading their wares, making thousands of trips here weekly, and many of the ship’s emissions alone, contribute to the environmental pollutions that hurt the health of our kids.

So when I met Bill Schopp, who is both the director of the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club and co-founder of the non-profit Cabrillo Beach Youth Sailing Club--and he explained to me his dream -- I was on board – immediately -- as we all should be.

He wants to build a Youth Aquatic Complex in San Pedro– which would house the many possibilities for children in the port from sailing to kayaking to fishing and possibly even Chinese Dragon boat rowing – to teach youth about their chances of ocean prowess – both physically,
educationally and perhaps even – vocationally.

The idea launches the concept of a wave of activities for youths and streams them under the umbrella of one organization, such as the sailing club’s non-profit – and other groups would be allowed to use non-profit status if they too were involved in educational marine activities at the site.

I also worry, because I don’t want another non-profit in town that eats another location that the rest of the public can’t get to, such as the Cabrillo Youth Camp, run by Boy Scouts – which has been a sore spot in this community for years.

And I was dismayed when I took my son up to Bogdanovich Park on a pupil free day with his two soccer playing friends. They wanted to play a pick-up game, but they were ousted from the field because only the AYSO can use it, park officials told me. What a waste! An entire
day of kids out of school and one empty field just doesn’t make sense. Why do we have a "public park" then?

So I asked Bill how are you going to prevent that from happening?

"The beauty of this concept is that each group will be responsible for their own program," Bill explained. "I think of this complex more like a shopping mall of youth activities under one roof. The way to keep the doors open to all kids would be to have each group sign a contract to insure an open door policy and fund raising requirements for each group to insure scholarship potential for underprivileged kids.

It all made a perfect paradise of sense. It could be tied to the local schools where elementary students to high school students could have a shot at sailing or studying marine life in the proposed labs at the facility. In short conversations with educators, I can immediately tell they like it – already – and would be thrilled to have such an opportunity.

The idea was so powerful– that I set sail with the concept, taking it to Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn when I had a meeting with her about another subject. Immediately, Janice told me she endorsed the idea and would take it to Los Angeles Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz to see if she could garner her favor.

Soon after, I heard from city staff that both believed it was an excellent choice for the community and that the port should fund it. What happened next dismayed me.

Bill’s proposal had – initially suggested for a vacant lot – fringed by 22nd Street to the north and bounded by Miner to the east, was dropped from the port’s master plan last month. It had been in the port master plan for several years, but was scratched by the Port Commission despite the angst and pleas of the Cabrillo Beach Youth Sailing Club board members who have been promoting young kids to sail for the past seven years.

What happened? I called the city staff asking. They are checking and planning to get back to me.

What a bitter scurvy to taste after years of work, first in filing a non-profit to teach youth sailing – and then of course, losing the opportunity. By now, the USC Rowing Team, the 65 foot long fishing vessel, the Sea Angler, Sea Scouts – and possibly the Chinese dragon rowing boats, have showed interest in joining such a complex. In addition, kayaks and other sea related activities would be included.

I get aggravated because this makes so much logical sense to pursue, it’s ridiculous that the commission dumped it. So many ports all over the nation already do such things – and even though Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the United States – not to mention one of the biggest ports in the world -- it seems to be one of the least progressive in terms of helping the community. I find this same scenario over and over again with the city of Los Angeles.

"Every major port in the world has one except LA," Bill said, "specifically, San Diego, Newport, Long Beach, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore and Chicago."

In Los Angeles, it seems you need someone like a Bill Schopp to pull teeth through city politics and fight for things we should already have. Not only should this be a perfect fit, it’s a natural fit. It's something city officials should have already accomplished -- actually long ago. There are kids here who might just want to work the many occupations that exist at the port, then perhaps the port can help itself out and introduce them to it.

That being said, Bill, of course, thank God, has not given up. He tends to be a quieter, more humble guy, working behind the scenes – but also a man who knows what sailing for him did as a kid. He wasn’t good at many sports, and as he sadly explains, he crossed so many off his list, he was beginning to wonder what to do. But at the time, as a kid hanging out at the docks near the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club, members there encouraged him to join as a junior member and start sailing.

That’s when he found his sport and it lead him to, let’s just say not such a shabby career today from Cal Maritime graduate to terminal operations management and the director of a yacht club. He’s driven to help other youth like himself who were shopping around trying to determine where they fit in the big scheme of things.

Because that original avenue was shut off, he has filed for mitigation funds from the China Shipping settlement asking for $4.7 at the initial location to $5.7 million elsewhere to build the aquatic complex. The cost depends on the location.

If his first choice fails again, his second choice would be the remodeling of a part of 22nd Street Landing, at a cost of $5.2 million, but asking for $4.4 million from the mitigation funds. A large area of the building is vacant – and has been vacant for several years – where the area could be converted for a laboratory and an outdoor section as a 3,000 square foot boat house which could exist for kayaks and potentially the USC rowing equipment -- and possibly the Chinese Dragon boats.

His last resort would be the Scout Camp that the Boy Scouts have had a lease on for years along Cabrillo Beach – much to the chagrin of many residents – as it has not ever been opened up to the public for year round usage. While that would cost about $5.25 million to convert, he fears that is not a particularly good area for beginning sailors as it’s midway in Hurricane Gulch, where burly, gusting winds challenge the best of sailors.

Having sailed the gulch many a times on a 24 footer – and not a eight foot long Optimist which the youngsters would be on – I am inclined to agree. There were times I was just terrified in the gulch.

It’s unfortunate that Bill even had to go after mitigation funds. The port should have clearly done this years ago already – and there are so many good groups out there going for that money such as the Maritime Museum and the plan to overhaul and clean up Cabrillo Beach – with a small boat houses to encourage residents to come back and use the beach.

No matter what – if Bill gets his way which I hope he does –the facility would include a 3,000 square foot boat house, docks for all the boats that are participating in the center, an umbrella for all the different organizations to work under, restrooms, showers, and areas for classes to undertake lab studies.

I urge our councilwoman and our port director to make this so. It should be a perfect wave for the community – and not only that – in the end – it will help the Port of Los Angeles recruit knowledgeable students to work their facilities.

Because I’m sad to say, everyday I find more and more students who live in San Pedro, who have never been on the ocean, sat in a boat or seen a sea lion up close. Now that’s a tragedy.

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