Friday, February 13, 2009

OPINION: Time to Start Over at Ponte Vista

By Doug Epperhart

After three years, what can anyone possibly say about Ponte Vista that hasn’t already been said?

At least I had a new audience when I sat down to rehash the proposed development and its history with Jim Oswald, a consultant hired by Ponte Vista to help them figure out if the project can be salvaged.

By now, everyone’s aware that Robert Bisno, a developer based in Century City, bought the old Navy housing site on Western Ave. His project originally called for 2,300 condos. Eventually, he dropped it to 1,950.

Opposition by the Northwest San Pedro, Harbor City, and Coastal San Pedro neighborhood councils and residents associations led to the formation of RNeighborhoodsAre1, a group established to preserve the property’s single-family zoning.

On the other side were Bisno, his “outreach” team and several dozen “advisory board” members representing the pro-development stance.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn appointed a 13-member advisory committee to consider the project and make recommendations. After nine months of back and forth, the group voted in favor of single-family (R-1) zoning. Many attribute this to Bisno’s unwillingness to bend on the subject of density at Ponte Vista.

As the two sides worked to win the hearts and minds of San Pedro, the city planning department held hearings and received thousands of pro and con letters, postcards, emails and petitions. Finally, late last year, the official word was “no” to Ponte Vista. The planners recommended that Bisno’s application to build his project be denied. They suggested that the planning commission tell the developer to start over.

In December, Robert Bisno stepped aside and his lender, Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), took over. Subsequently, they got the city planning commission to delay their hearing until April.

In the meanwhile, they’re trying to let us know they’re not Bisno.

To that end, they hired Oswald, whose job is to talk to community leaders and report back to CSFB. They want to know if the current condo project can be revised to the point where San Pedro and its neighbors would support it.

I don’t know who was or will be interviewed. I know their comments will run the gamut from “Hell, no!” to “Hell, yes!” to “I don’t care” to “I don’t know.” Assuming Oswald can make some sense of it all, there will be a public meeting in March to present some ideas for a more acceptable project.

What did I tell Oswald? First, I don’t think the current plan can be saved. CSFB should withdraw its application for Ponte Vista and start over. I also don’t think any 60 of us “community leaders” can speak for anyone else. Over the past three years, I’ve heard dozens of ideas about what could be built at Ponte Vista. I suspect most everyone’s first choice for this site is “nothing.”

We’ve never been given the opportunity to talk about what the community will accept. Instead, Bisno subjected us to a sales campaign where our choices could only be yes or no. If CSFB is serious, they will start over and engage with the people of San Pedro and its environs.

It’s time for us to work together, but that can only be done if we have the time and trust needed to create a project that will benefit the community and developer.
Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council governing board. He can be reached at

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