Monday, July 02, 2012

Three Great Leaders Depart Coastal Neighborhood Council

Doug Epperhart, (left) John Stinson and Bruce Horton depart after giving years of service to the Coastal Neighborhood Council in San Pedro
Three Great Leaders of San Pedro Coastal Neighborhood Council Depart At The Same Time After 21 Years of Combined Service

By Diana L. Chapman

   To me, it's a shame.
   To them, it's about time.
Three Coastal Neighborhood Council members have concluded they are done with their posts, quietly departing at the end of June to do other public service and say this too quietly stamps a philosophy all three have had for years: a good council board needs change.
   Doug Epperhart, 56, the coastal board president twice since he joined a league of 95 Neighborhood Councils established in Los Angeles in 2001 to thwart further secession attempts, said coastal was the second council to exist in the sprawling metropolis.
   "We were the second neighborhood council in the city and we organized early," Epperhart said. "It was a good, thorough process. But it's time to get out and let somebody else do it. You need someone fresh."
   Epperhart has moved up to neighborhood council ranks while John Stinson, treasurer for the last seven years and Bruce Horton, the secretary for the same amount of time, both said they are moving on to pursue other interests -- both community oriented as well. Vice president Dean Pentchaff also departed after about five years on the council.
   "I've got a lot of other fish to fry," said Stinson, 65, who also heads the San Pedro Art Association ."I've been a treasurer for the last seven years and while it has had its upside, dealing with the city's bureaucracy is maddening. But we've done good things."
   Former secretary Bruce Horton,72, joked: "Why am I giving it all up, all the fame and glory? I've met so many good people. I feel like I almost grew up here. But the board needs new blood. I'm moving on and I think others should too."
   Horton says he'll return to do volunteer work for The Lone Wolf Colony in Apple Valley which provides two week stays for ambulatory adults trying to heal from injuries or illness. He was once a board member for the program.
   All three -- also commending their council member comrades -- say they have worked diligently to aid their community and have much to be proud of.
   That they have.
   Their council aligned with two other Neighborhood councils -- central and Northwest San Pedro and Harbor City -- to beat back a scheme to change single family residential zoning at a former Navy housing site on Western Avenue to multiple-zoning.
   Developer Bob Bisno wanted to force in 2,300 condominiums on the 61.5 acres, but met his match when he faced off with the councils.
   "In proposing what officials say would have been San Pedro's largest residential development ever, Bisno unwittingly galvanized potent opposition from within the community's increasingly sophisticated neighborhood councils," said a 2009 L.A. Times article.
   Bisno's "move to scale back the project to 1,950 units...did nothing to mollify the well-organized opponents," the article said. The project has since been revised  by I-Star finance which is seeking to build 1,135 units at the site.
   The former coastal members  are also proud of helping to defeat another condominium project at a defunct McCowan's grocery site on Leland Street in yet another residential neighborhood.
   One of the proudest moments, he had, Epperhart said, was helping to divert the YMCA's proposed move to take over the Cabrillo Youth Camp -- saying it would only be open to the public once a week. Still in the hands of the Boy Scouts, many San Pedro residents for years have been miffed that the port property was used exclusively and run by the Boy Scouts, often the monstrous building with a pool and camping sites sitting empty along the West Channel on Shoshonean Drive. The Boy Scout lease ends in 2013 and the debate is expected to resume.
   Epperhart, who has moved to the top amongst councils, now serves on the seven member Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him last year.
   "We're sitting on a road map of possibilities," Epperhart said. "I'm 80 percent happy with the way (the councils) turned out. You can't be 100 percent. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But even in the bad times, we were moving in the right direction."
   Why do I feel disappointed by the departure of these veterans?
   Over the years, I've witnessed what they've done.  As the treasurer, Stinson was an absolute treasure. Many of us seeking funds for help with projects in San Pedro are also volunteers and did not understand the process. Step by step, Stinson guided many to receive the funds his council awarded, including a $5,000 award to run afterschool programs at Dana Middle School.
   In another heated battle, Stinson and Horton went to bat for a neighborhood protesting the building of a new 7-11 at 1831 South Pacific Avenue. Residents there worried that they already had enough liquor stores in and didn't want any more alcohol sales. The two board members physically counted every bar and store that sold liquor. Coastal sided with the neighbors.
   Former Councilwoman Janice Hahn, however, disagreed and allowed the 7-11 development with a clause that the store could not sell liquor for the first year.
   Although they didn't succeed at everything,  my point is that these veterans -- and the hundreds sitting on these councils that work as hard as these three and others did deserve a big thank you for taking on such role.  It's not easy. It's not always fun. And the meetings often are  tedious.
   But for those who have delved into council posts trying to make what we all want -- our community to be in a better place-- I salute you.