Sat, Jun

Cultural Erasure

RANDOM LENGTH NEWS - From Beacon Street to Star-Kist.  It would seem like we are once again in a rush into an uncertain future.

Whether it’s the housing shortage, the homeless crisis or the supply chain calamity.  Suddenly everyone wants to tear down something just to fix what’s been broken for decades.

The current notice that came from the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 4 reads, “Recirculated Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Star-Kist Cannery Facility Project at 1050 Ways Street on Terminal Island. The proposed Project involves demolition of the former Star-Kist cannery facilities on an approximately 14-acre site on Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles.” When you get through the port-speak challenge, what you discover is that they want to erase the last remaining vestige of one of the historic industries of this community — the Star-Kist tuna cannery.   

We’ve seen this kind of thing before with the urban renewal project that destroyed old Beacon Street back in the 1970s.  And even though it was done with the best of intentions, it is now looked upon as one of this town’s biggest mistakes. People still mourn “old Beacon Street,” but at the time there were just a few who saw the potential of saving it.

For the following four decades, Harbor Area community leaders have been scratching their heads trying to bring back the “glory days” of a vibrant local economy with at least three different iterations of revitalization under various names and entities. Yet all of them have missed the core ingredient to success — bringing back the 30,000 harbor related jobs lost to the free trade policies of the Reagan/Bush/Clinton era.  Yes, lifting tariffs on trade with China and passing NAFTA all resulted in exporting manufacturing jobs and importing economic decline at home.

Many of our current social and economic problems are a direct result of these misguided policies. Currently, people are focused on inflation not realizing that the shipping monopolies that are clogging the supply chain are one of the main causes of rising prices.  For instance, a single container shipped from China to Los Angeles a couple years ago once cost only $1,200; it now costs as much as $20,000 to $30,000. Some have gone so far as to call these foreign owned companies “pirates.”  And this comes with the recent report from the port that while container counts are the highest they’ve ever been, exports have dropped to nearly 12% of the total cargo handled. They now export more empty containers than full ones.

This imbalance of trade is currently being addressed, finally, in the U.S. Congress with the Ocean Shipping Reform Act  co-authored by Rep. John Garmendi and Rep. Dusty Johnson.

This rare bipartisan legislation of 2021 (H.R.4996), would:

  • Establish reciprocal trade to promote U.S. exports as part of the Federal Maritime Commission’s (FMC) mission. 

  • Require ocean carriers to adhere to minimum service standards that meet the public interest, reflecting best practices in the global shipping industry.

  • Require ocean carriers or marine terminal operators to certify that any late fees — known in maritime parlance as “detention and demurrage” charges — comply with federal regulations or face penalties.

  • Shift burden of proof regarding the reasonableness of “detention or demurrage” charges from the invoiced party to the ocean carrier.

  • Prohibit ocean carriers from declining opportunities for U.S. exports unreasonably, as determined by the FMC in new required federal rulemaking.

  • Require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and twenty-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States.

What, you may ask, does all of this have to do with preserving the aging Star-Kist Tuna cannery or preserving any of the many historic structures in the port or in town?  It’s the potential for creating new jobs.  With the port hell-bent on making room for more containers they lose sight, without even issuing a Request For Proposals, as  to who just might need a facility like this for domestic manufacture and export.  The difference being that Star-Kist reimagined for canning any product would employ thousands and a chassis repair or parking lot for containers less than a hundred.

And yet this doesn’t even go to the real issue of erasure of culture and history, which is at the root of the race into the unknown future.  Think of the memories, if not the 200 jobs lost with the demolition of Ports O’ Call restaurant.  What about the DiCarlo bakery being replaced by a generic Target store?  Think of what will be lost with the demolition of Dancing Waters nightclub or the edifice of the old La Rue’s pharmacy.  What’s being erased and with what is being replaced? It’s more than an economic equation. It’s about what makes a place culturally unique, with its own history, memories and narratives of what went before.

Don’t talk to me about nostalgia in a place so close to Los Angeles that tears down everything of the past while searching to reinvent itself for the future.  This is the “modernist” moral of Los Angeles that everything can be judged by current land values or ROI (return on investment) calculations. However, I object to the idea that everything can be whittled down to an economic equation.  Yes, there are some things more important than money. And seeing as how the Port of Los Angeles is having one of its most profitable years ever, we should take a moment to stop and consider Star-Kist and what it actually means to this harbor community. And whether there aren’t some higher and better uses for it other than demolition.

(James Preston Allen, founding publisher of the Los Angeles Harbor Areas Leading Independent Newspaper 1979- to present, is a journalist, visionary, artist and activist. Over the years Allen has championed many causes through his newspaper using his wit, common sense writing and community organizing to challenge some of the most entrenched political adversaries, powerful government agencies and corporations. This story was first published in Random Lengths News.)


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