Port of LA faces planning challenges in light of coronavirus pandemic – Daily News

on Apr17
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The coronavirus pandemic could crush a few development and summer event plans on San Pedro’s waterfront.

It already has delayed the groundbreaking for the signature piece of the new waterfront redevelopment, the San Pedro Public Market. And it’s unclear if construction, set to begin in earnest this summer, will move forward on schedule.

A proposal to create a new Outer Harbor cruise terminal in San Pedro? That could be on hold too, as the cruise industry, for now, languishes.

The big summer events, such as Cars and Stripes Forever and L.A. Fleet Week, could also be wiped out, with large-crowd bans expected to linger even after stay-at-home orders are lifted.

The cold realities of cargo revenue drops and quarantines further hit home Thursday, April 17, when the Board of Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners sat through more than a two-hour budget presentation that bore some potentially bad news.

It was the first look at the port’s proposed 2020-21 spending plan, coming in at $284.7 million in operating expenses.

But the process is fluid, with numbers potentially changing while budget planning continues.

“Today’s presentation was the proposed budget for commissioner feedback and review,” said Rachel Campbell, media relations manager for the port. Due to “economic uncertainty,” she said, the numbers may change.

But it’s clear that — after several record-breaking years, followed by a not-as-successful 2019 — there already is a less optimistic look for 2020-21 and, because of that, the port will dip into its reserves in the coming year for capital improvements, said Marla Bleavins, the port’s chief financial officer and deputy executive director.

While port revenue and financials are surely part of the equation — especially with cargo numbers slipping nearly 31% in the first quarter of 2020 — much of the uncertainty and potential scheduling delays swirl around the coronavirus pandemic that has put the state in a virtual lockdown, with only essential businesses operating. Questions continue over when some of those orders can or will be lifted and whether there might still be restrictions on large crowds.

“Precarious” and “challenging” were among the words used to describe the landscape at Thursday’s live-streamed meeting. Bleavins called the process going forward “managing through uncertainty.”

The calendar year opened with the lingering trade war, causing cargo from China to continue falling. Now, the effects of COVID-19 have upended the financial and social outlook in the course of just a few weeks.

“This trend makes budgeting very different and challenging,” Bleavins told board members.

Between now and June, when the commission is set to OK the budget, port officials will be faced with making decisions about postponements or possible delays of some projects, such as the new cruise terminal, and events that have become a highlight on the local waterfront. Cars and Stripes Forever, held on the Friday before the Fourth of July, draws an estimated 20,000 people for a car show, live music and dancing.

L.A. Fleet Week, set to enter its fifth year in San Pedro on Labor Day weekend, typically draws about 200,000 throughout the course of the event.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti this week said large-scale gatherings such as sporting events and concerts could remain canceled for the rest of 2020.

Jonathan Williams, who heads up planning for LA Fleet Week, said Thursday that discussions are continuing about how or whether to stage a Fleet Week event this year.

“We’re watching it day by day,” Williams said, adding that a decision one way or the other likely will have to be made by June.

While the waterfront development, including the San Pedro Public Market, continues to move forward, a groundbreaking anticipated for March or April was postponed.

The delay could be for “several months, if not more,” said Tony Gioiello, chief harbor engineer and deputy executive director.

The good news is that those projects now under construction, including the new town square and a section of the waterfront promenade, will continue as planned, he said.

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