Berth 55 Is Staying Put After Port Finds Other Locations Suitable for Security Complex

Photo by Sarah Bennett

After more than a year and a half of outcry from Westside residents, the restaurant, fish market and other businesses located at Berth 55 in the Port of Long Beach will not be displaced, Port officials announced late Wednesday.

An analysis conducted by the Board of Harbor Commissioners has determined that there are other sites within the Port suitable on which to build the fire and security complex that was originally planned to take over Berth 55. Port officials say the support campus is needed as part of a $106M proposed security program spurred by the massive infrastructure changes being brought by construction of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge and Middle Harbor.

berth55aliveThe fireboat station originally proposed to be placed at Berth 55 is a replacement for Fire Station No. 20, which was displaced by the Gerald Desmond Bridge project, and will also serve as a base for Long Beach Police Department officers working on the Westside and in the Port.

“Our study found that we can meet the Port’s security and fire-protection infrastructure needs without asking the Berth 55 businesses to relocate,” said Al Moro, Acting Executive Director for the Harbor Department. “And we’ve already established temporary facilities for fire and police operations displaced by the new bridge construction.”

In 2012, the Port of Long Beach notified Larry Maehara, owner of Berth 55 Fish Market and Seafood Deli and sole leaseholder of Berth 55, that all the businesses at Berth 55 would need to vacate by October to make way for a security complex. 

Public resistance to the plan was loud and clear: “Keep 55 Alive.” Maehara collected more than 3000 signatures before a community meeting in August where former Port of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Lytle and Fire Chief Mike DuRee answered questions and addressed concerns. In September 2012, the Berth 55 tenants were given an indefinite reprieve from eviction, allowed to stay until an Environmental Impact Report for the new complex could be drafted.

In August 2013, the Board of Harbor Commissioners received a needs assessment for the Port’s massive security plan, which included the proposed complex that was to be placed at Berth 55. After reviewing the report, Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines expressed concern about the fact that Berth 55 was originally presented as the only available location for the proposed fire station and security campus. Among other concerns, the wake zone speed limit, he argued, is not conducive to emergency response activities. 

“Since we haven’t built it or broken ground, what I would like to see is that the Board be presented with any other information on potential sites,” Dines said at the meeting. “I believe there could be four, five or six different locations that we could relocate to that would be a better fit. Right now is the right time to bring this up, I really believe we really need to continue and study more alternative sites for Fire Station 20.”

The study was completed recently and though it has not gone before the Board for discussion, it includes other locations that have been determined to be more suitable for the complex. Officials say those locations will still need to undergo environmental review and until then, no final decision will be made on where the new facilities will be placed.

Port spokesperson Lee Peterson says the news was released before the study went to the Board because the businesses at Berth 55 were eager to know the outcome of the site studies. 

“We wanted to ensure the message was out as soon as possible that our engineers will be looking at other spots and we will not be needing to displace these businesses,” Peterson said. 

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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