Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Environment

It's Groundhog Day, for Ben Bernanke and Punxsutawney Phil

Groundhog Day's big momen
What do Ben Bernanke and Punxsutawney Phil have in common?

Simple:  Both are forecasters, paid to see the future.

OK, maybe that's a bit too simple. As Fed chairman, Bernanke is paid not only to see the future but to shape that future. While Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog (or woodchuck, if you prefer), is paid just to tell us how much longer winter will last (and to draw tourists to Punxsutawney, Pa., but let's not be cynical on such a nice day).

So, recapping Thursday's events for the overstressed news consumer:

Punxsutawney Phil came out (OK, was lifted out by handlers) and saw his shadow, presaging six more weeks of winter. Or, in the colorful language of one of the Inner Circle of handlers:

After casting an appreciative glance to the thousands of faithful followers in attendance, Phil proclaimed, "As I look at the crowd on Gobbler's Knob, many shadows do I see. Six more weeks of winter it must be."

Naturally, there were some boo birds in the crowd.

Bernanke came to a different knob -- Capitol Hill -- (presumably on his own, though given the Republican sentiment in Congress, perhaps he too was dragged there by handlers) and told the House Budget Committee that the economic recovery is "frustratingly slow" and that there are  "significant head winds" facing consumers and the broader economy.

Not exactly "six more weeks of winter," but we get the picture.

No booing was reported, though.

By this time, Bernanke must be starting to feel another kind of kinship with Punxsutawney Phil: the movie "Groundhog Day." Just as Bill Murray's character in the movie is forced to relive Groundhog Day day after day, Bernanke must periodically go before Congress and say pretty much the same things.

As The Times reported:

Bernanke repeated that it was important for policymakers not to make spending and tax policies that would hurt the current economic recovery. And he urged lawmakers to get past the political divisions to solve the long-term debt problems.

"I realize politics is a tough game," he said, but it's important to show "cooperation and collaboration" in addressing the nation's large debts.

So, in the spirit of the day, here's a little forecast of my own: That will happen -- when hell freezes over.


Mitt Romney: The Max Headroom candidate

The delayed gratification of the Facebook IPO

Florida's Burmese pythons: Will they make a meal out of (gulp) us?

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

Florida's Burmese pythons: Will they make a meal out of (gulp) us?

Python versus alligator
Darn those illegal immigrants. Enough is enough.  They have to go.

They're wiping out Florida's bunnies!

Of course you know what I'm talking about: Burmese pythons.

As The Times reported this week:

In a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers report that the giant snakes have put a serious dent in the Everglades’ usual ecosystem, devouring the wide array of animals that live there….

The latest report is based on nocturnal field surveys. Before 2000, mammals were frequently encountered, but in the newer surveys, covering 2003 to 2011, the number of observed mammals  dropped significantly. There was a 99.3% decrease in raccoon observations; opossum observations were down 98.9%; and bobcat observations were off by 87.5%. Scientists said they failed to detect rabbits at all.

That's right.  No more Bugs, no more Thumper.


And that's not all. Florida's problem may be snakes the size of fire hoses, but California is not immune from intrepid interlopers.Albatross released

Take this story Tuesday:

A man was driving down a Los Angeles street Friday when onlookers flagged him down, alerting him to an enormous bird that had hitched a ride in the back of his pickup truck.

With its white body, dark wings and curved yellow beak, it might have been mistaken for an oversized seagull.

But the bird, it turns out, was thousands of miles from home. It was an Laysan Albatross, a seabird with a 7-foot wingspan that normally nests on remote islands and atolls in the North Pacific Ocean.

That's right. Apparently Hawaii and environs had lost their allure for Jonathan Livingston uh, Albatross. So, like thousands of other undocumented types, it apparently stowed away on a ship and headed for the Golden State.

But, just like the Obama administration's tough line on deportations, officials took a tough-love approach.

International Bird Rescue took custody of the bird after the driver handed it over to lifeguards at Cabrillo Beach. The group held the albatross for four days at its wildlife rescue center in San Pedro and gave it a clean bill of health.

On Tuesday they released the bird from a boat off San Pedro to let it set off on a flight back home to Hawaii or beyond.

Aloha, albatross!

Of course, the bird came here, in its own odd way, naturally.  The Burmese pythons that are using the Everglades as an all-you-can-eat buffet are apparently descended from pets that were either lost or released into the wild.

And personally, I don't think officials are taking the problem seriously enough. 

For example, here's what the scientists are saying:

"Whether mammal populations will remain suppressed or will rebound remains to be seen. The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in [Everglades National Park] and justifies intensive investigation into how the addition of novel apex predators affects overall ecosystem processes."

Run that by me again: "intensive investigation into how the addition of novel apex predators affects overall ecosystem processes"?

How about: "How are we going to stop these snakes from eating people?"

Because isn't that bound to happen?  A snake that's willing to make a meal out of an alligator probably wouldn't be shy about latching onto Junior, now would it?

Lots of folks in the West are freaked out these days about wolves.  Shouldn't we be equally concerned about these pythons, which aren't even native to the United States?

A few wayward seabirds turning up on the West Coast, no big deal. A snake that will eat just about anything? 

To borrow from the astronauts:  "Florida, we have a problem."


Feasting on junk info

Are college students learning?

Food stamps and the right to make unhealthy decisions

--Paul Whitefield

Photos, from top: A Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. (Credit:  Lori Oberhofer / National Park Service); a Laysan albatross is released back to the wild. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

The energy industry's disturbing influence on politics [Ted Rall cartoon]


In a disturbing display of the energy industry's influence on politics, Gov. Jerry Brown fired a top regulator for refusing to loosen environmental regulations on a risky method of oil extraction.


Photos: Ted Rall cartoons

Sarah Palin's attack on the GOP establishment

Food stamps and the right to make unhealthy decisions

--Ted Rall / For The Times

The dogs on the trail of the severed head

Bronson Canyon
As Times writer Gale Holland reported in her column Friday, the woman walking the dogs that found the severed head in the Hollywood Hills has unfortunately been subjected to various sorts of harassment.

So let me add to it here.

I'm sure that Lauren Kornberg has been through an undeservedly tough time, a traumatic time, just as Holland reports. But Kornberg, a professional dog-walker who was caring for nine dogs at the time, also is quoted as talking about the squirrels and other wildlife that at least one of the nine dogs with them usually harass, if not injure or kill.

The column reports Kornberg's narrative that one dog "broke away from the pack" (whether he got off leash or was already off leash is unclear) and found an object. "Normally when he found a mouse or a squirrel, he'd be shaking it and prancing back and forth, showing off," Kornberg said.

Then another dog went after the object, which turned out to be the head. Other dogs followed.

"Normally" the first dog is in a position to find mice and squirrels and shake them while prancing around? This is allowed to happen?

I'm not familiar with this particular area, but as a volunteer naturalist in several wilderness parks, I am familiar with the usual rules about dogs and the damage that people who ignore those rules can do.

The scent of this unfamiliar predator is enough to stress wild animals and keep them away from familiar paths where they gather food. They use more energy moving farther afield, and find fewer calories to consume, which weakens them. Obviously, animals in areas where leashed animals are allowed have found a way to cope with this.

But when dogs are allowed off leash, they also tend to also go off trail, covering more of the wildlife's food-gathering territory, further narrowing where they'll forage for food. And that's not when they're being shaken back and forth by prancing dogs.

I'm sorry for the trouble Kornberg has been through, but if my reading of her narrative is correct, I'm also sorry for the wild animals that are in the path of the dogs she walks.


Bronson Canyon murder, meet the Black Dahlia

Photos: Body parts found below Hollywood sign

Dog-walker is hounded for doing the right thing

-- Karin Klein

Photo: Uniformed LAPD officers guard the entrance to Bronson Canyon, where a massive search was launched to find body parts. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Redistricting: Watts new?

Maps-bWhat's the opposite of "I told you so"? Because whatever it is, I need to say it about the draft map proposals released Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission. Blogging on the recently concluded special election in Council District 15, I said there was just no way that Watts was ever going to be severed from the distant harbor.

But except for gaining or losing a few blocks at the far northern end, where Watts joins South Los Angeles and the central city, Council District 15 doesn't change. It can't, and it won't, because it has nowhere else to go. It's fenced in by the harbor on the south and the very strange shape of the city boundaries from there northward. Unless more territory is annexed to or detached from Los Angeles, this district will look pretty much the same in 50 years as it does today.

Never mind. The proposed map moves Watts out of the 15th and makes it part of a Council District 9, which traditionally takes in most of downtown but now would go only as far north as Olympic Boulevard.

Is that good or bad? It's different, and it could be good, although I'd be interested to know what Watts residents think. I suspect that many of them might like to finally be severed from San Pedro, the harbor community that always controls the election of the 15th District council member because it's where most of the money and most of the votes reside.

Every council member from that district, going back at least to World War II, has been a San Pedro resident. And it must be extraordinarily hard for the District 15 members not to promote the interests of their neighborhood and its very distinct demographic -- families with roots in fishing, shipping, loading, unloading and moving freight, largely white with a strong Italian, Croatian and Greek ethnic identity -- as opposed to Watts, with its distinct history and largely African American and Latino immigrant demographic, as well as environmental degradation, dense public housing problems and persistent gang crime.

Of course, not every community can have its own district. Communities must be joined with others that are like them -- or very unlike them. So would Watts now instead be pushed around by wealthy and gentrified downtown?

Perhaps not. The Bunker Hill and Flower Street office towers would be excluded, as would most of the 1920s bank buildings that are now condos and apartments. A lot of the conversation is going to focus on how the northern two-thirds of downtown would now be united as part of the same 14th District that includes Boyle Heights and far-away Eagle Rock. But the 9th District, in addition to Watts, would include downtown's Staples Center, L.A. Live and, assuming it gets built, Farmers Field football stadium.

So is this now the Anschutz Entertainment Group district, and will Watts now become the afterthought of AEG, instead of remaining the afterthought of the Port of Los Angeles? Could the AEG connection be better leveraged to help fund improvements in Watts?

Don't know the answer yet. Let's watch and listen.


Watts and Not-Watts

Planned remapping of  L.A. City Council districts draws fire

INTERACTIVE MAP: Current and proposed Los Angeles City Council districts

--Robert Greene

The Supreme Court and the slaughterhouse

Could Southern California Republican congressman Elton Gallegly please step in, and make one of his last acts in Congress a humane one –- one more time?

The Supreme Court just threw out a California law, saying the state overstepped its constitutional authority when it ordered changes in how slaughterhouses euthanize pigs and cows and goats who can't walk into the slaughterhouse chute.

It’s a complicated matter, and the justices ruled unanimously on the constitutional question that state law can’t be stricter than federal law in some matters. They didn’t rule on the humane issues or food safety questions, two of the matters that prompted California’s law. The pork industry took California to court, and won.

The questions of possibly tainted meat from potentially ailing animals -– pigs, cows, goats -- getting into the food chain was one of the confluent forces in the California law; the other was about animal cruelty. The public was horrified at a humane group’s video of cows that couldn’t walk being prodded and forced into the slaughterhouse to feed the American appetite for cheap and plentiful meat.

Gallegly stepped in once before on an animal welfare issue. The Supreme Court had ruled that a law banning the sale of animal cruelty videos violated free speech rules.

That law had originated in a ban on "crush videos," showing little creatures getting stomped to death by women, which evidently feed some creepy niche sexual thrill.

Gallegly, who is retiring from Congress, became a hero to animal groups for crafting a new law, along with some of his colleagues, that met those constitutional requirements for banning those so-called crush videos.

President Obama signed the law. Justice Samuel Alito, in perhaps a rare moment of agreement with the president, had dissented in the Supreme Court animal-cruelty video case.

In his opinion, Alito quoted from a Humane Society brief in describing this cruelty porn.

Warning -– this is very rough reading, so stop right here if you can’t deal with it:

[A] kitten, secured to the ground, watches and shrieks in pain as a woman thrusts her high-heeled shoe into its body, slams her heel into the kitten's eye socket and mouth loudly fracturing its skull, and stomps repeatedly on the animal's head. The kitten hemorrhages blood, screams blindly in pain, and is ultimately left dead in a moist pile of blood-soaked hair and bone.

Alito also wrote of the "criminal conduct" in the dog-fighting videos that brought the case to the Supreme Court, saying, "The videos record the commissions of violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos."

Another law that also meets constitutional muster could address the slaughterhouse animal treatment issue. Beyond that, the Agriculture Department could be a lot more vigorous in pursuing this as a safety issue of "downer" animal meat in the public food supply.

The ultimate answer to any of these practices that occur in the course of slaughtering billions of animals, whether on family farms or by ritual killing techniques or in mega-slaughterhouses, is also perhaps the best chance of survival of our species too.

It’s a move toward a vegetarian diet. Meat protein generally consumes more land and water and energy than vegetable protein, and all of those -– land, water and energy -– are going to be scarcer and more expensive in the decades to come. 

Because we humans feel pretty helpless to do anything to change the world by our lonesomes, I once asked Jane Goodall what was the single thing that one individual could do to make the biggest impact on the planet and the prospect of human survival, and she said, "Stop eating meat."

Until we do, isn’t it the least we can do to treat with respect and consideration these animals we kill by the billions in order to feed ourselves?


Fatter cows, sicker people

Clearing the air on mercury

Patt Morrison Asks: Alice Waters

-- Patt Morrison

 Photo: Pigs in the food chain. Credit: Reuters

Energy: Activists wring blood from a Keystone

Don't believe anybody who tells you today's decision by President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline was about protecting the environment or destroying American jobs. It was about politics, pure and simple -- and that goes not just for Obama, but the environmentalists, conservatives and fossil-fuel interests that have been using the issue to press their agendas, and are likely to keep flogging that horse through November.

Despite all the gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts over this pipeline, it would have had a tiny impact on either the economy or the environment. With all due respect to NASA scientist James Hansen, who is still one of the nation's most prescient thinkers when it comes to climate change, he was badly off-base when he claimed that if Keystone were built it would be "game over" in the fight against global warming. That's because failing to build the pipeline, which would carry oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries on Texas' Gulf Coast, won't make the tar sands go away, and probably won't even do much to slow their development.

Tar sands oil is only slightly dirtier than the crude we're already burning, and if the Canadians can't sell it easily in the U.S. they'll just ship it to China. In other words, trying to stop or even slow the consumption of dirty, carbon-intense fossil fuels by attacking their distribution sources is a waste of time, because producers will just find other distribution sources or customers. Environmental activists would have been far better off fighting for a carbon-pricing scheme rather than fighting against Keystone XL, which is a symptom of the carbon problem but not a cause.

And with all due respect to my colleague Paul Whitefield, who sees the Costa Concordia cruise-ship sinking as a reminder that pipelines such as Keystone can fail, the recent maritime disaster actually points to the opposite conclusion. Yes, pipelines do leak, but spills from pipelines tend to be small and easily contained, unlike spills from oil tankers such as the Exxon Valdez. From an environmental standpoint, it's better to get the stuff from Canada via pipeline than Venezuela via tanker.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are just as deluded about Keystone. As Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Michael Levi points out in the Washington Post, the oil industry's claims that the project would produce 250,000 jobs are a fantasy, and the notion that it would significantly reduce global oil prices is nonsensical. There would be some minor economic benefits from building the thing, but nothing game-changing.

The real story of Keystone is the scoring of political points. Congressional Republicans think they put a few on the board when they attached a rider to the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut that forced the Obama administration to either approve or reject the pipeline by Feb. 21. That wasn't enough time to complete environmental and safety reviews of the project, which cuts through sensitive water tables in Nebraska and other states. So President Obama was left with little choice but to reject it, thus giving the GOP new ammunition for its claims that Obama's extremist environmental policies are destroying American jobs. Obama, meanwhile, gets to at least shore up support among his base, who for some reason see the Keystone fight as being far more significant than it really is.

The good news is, nothing has really been resolved when it comes to Keystone. Pipeline developer TransCanada can still reapply for a permit, and no doubt it will do so when the heat from this year's election season has dissipated. As for the political fallout, Obama did the right thing for the country by waiting until all the studies of potential risks and environmental impacts are completed; whether he did the right thing for his reelection chances will be clearer later.


Burning America's future

Deepwater Horizon's missed lessons

Congress' 10 biggest enemies of the Earth

--Dan Turner

Photo: Activists at a November protest against Keystone XL in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

Keystone XL: America's Italian cruise ship?

Keystone XL protesters in Washington

Why is it that when I picture the Keystone XL pipeline, I see a half-submerged cruise ship in the Mediterranean?

Maybe it's because the wreck of the Costa Concordia off Italy's coast is a reminder that, well, stuff happens.

Which is why it's good news that the Obama administration has decided against issuing a permit for the Keystone project just yet.

Like it or not, pipelines -- like cruise ships and nuclear reactors and the things people make, or operate -- aren't foolproof. Stuff happens.

I'm against building the Keystone. But if we are going to go ahead with it, we'd better make sure we've done everything we can to make it as safe as possible.

And that means not rushing the permit process.

Sadly, President Obama's Republican opponents never miss an opportunity to make political points, even when it's their voters -– such as the ones in Nebraska -– who are also objecting to the project. As The Times reported Wednesday:

"President Obama is about to destroy tens of thousands of American jobs and sell American energy security to the Chinese," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. "The president won't stand up to his political base even to create American jobs. This is not the end of this fight."

Which is utter nonsense. The pipeline's oil would go into the global pool. U.S. refiners would probably continue the growing trend of selling their products to foreign markets. And the number of jobs created would be a relative handful -– 20,000 according to proponents, 6,000 according to the State Department and others.

All for what? So we can put at risk a precious aquifer in the nation's breadbasket?

And then there's the questionable strategy of our dependence on oil in the first place. Go read 350.org founder Bill McKibben's Op-Ed article in Wednesday's Times, "Burning America's future," for a chilling analysis of where that path will lead the planet.

If you don't have the time, here's his kicker:

It may not be aerosol cheese or cryogenics, but can't we all agree that burning every molecule of fossil fuel we can find is a spectacularly bad idea?

We're stuck with oil, and gas, and coal, and, yes, nuclear for now. But we don't have to stay stuck. 

And we certainly don't have to take giant risks for the small return that the Keystone XL pipeline would bring.

After all, the Costa Concordia wreck will probably prove to be a job creator too. 

For cleanup workers.


Graphic: No permit for pipeline

Full coverage: Keystone XL pipeline

Italy's Costa Concordia catastrophe: Why?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Protesters march against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline during a demonstration in Washington in November. Credit: Daniel Lippman / MCT


The scary stuff that sharks eat; the solutions are for the birds


A new study by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama finds that tiger sharks in the Gulf of Mexico are eating a lot more than fish and other marine life. Their diet also includes land-based birds, such as woodpeckers, tanagers, meadowlarks, catbirds, kingbirds and swallows.

The question is how these birds end up in a shark's stomach and the American Bird Conservancy thinks it might have the answer. The conservancy has been tracking studies that show that lights on oil rigs appear to confuse birds during their flights over the gulf, leading them at times to their deaths, and sometimes in large numbers.

According to the conservancy:

These avian fatal attractions occur more often on cloudy nights, and can involve hundreds or even thousands of birds that apparently confuse the platform lights with stars by which they navigate. The birds become trapped in a cone of light -- either reluctant or unable to leave it and fly into a wall of darkness.

“Some birds circle in confusion before crashing into the platform or falling from the sky, exhausted. Others land on the platform where there is no food or drinking water. Some of these birds continue on quickly, but many stay for hours or even days. When finally able to leave, they can be in a weakened state and unable to make landfall, and ultimately, are more vulnerable to predation,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for ABC.

The conservancy has what appears to be a rational path to stop this: bird-friendly lighting, which is already in place in the Netherlands. In some cases, changing the color of the lights from the usual white or red, to green (what else?) solves the problem. Other studies indicate that flashing lights rather than steady ones don't cause the visual disorientation.

It seems like a cheap enough solution for U.S. oil rigs to try.


Wilmington and the air that it breathes

Congress' 10 biggest enemies of the Earth

Mountain lions like their fast food in the forest

-- Karin Klein

Photo: A sand tiger shark at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific

Council District 15: Wilmington and the air that it breathes


Sometimes you can smell Wilmington before you see it. It might be the scent of the wells, tucked in between houses and neighborhood streets, pumping the last drops of oil from the giant Wilmington oil field, the third-largest petroleum field in the contiguous United States; it might be the odor of one of the refineries -- either the massive Valero oil plant, turning heavy crude into jet fuel and gasoline, or perhaps Valero's asphalt refinery, or maybe the Tesoro (formerly Shell) facility, or perhaps the ConocoPhillips (formerly Union Oil) refinery right there in Wilmington or its companion just across the line in Carson.

It could be flares -- the routine or emergency burn-off of excess toxic gases that make eyes itch and Conocophillips Luis Sinco breathing difficult and that have been implicated in asthma and cancer; it could be the uncovered mounds of sulfur,  the residue of impurities removed from petroleum; it could be fumes from the trucks, trains and other heavy equipment or the solvents and other chemicals wafting from the recycling centers that stretch along the Alameda Corridor or a leak in one of the many underground pipelines.

Less and less, promise officials of the Port of Los Angeles, is it diesel exhaust from heavy container ships or cruise ships, some of which already have converted to electric power while idling, or (starting Jan. 1) from trucks moving into and out of the port that fail to meet the 2007 Federal Clean Truck Emissions Standards.

And every now and then, fighting its way past the noxious odors, it is the scent of the sea.

Wilmas muralWilmington is one of the large Los Angeles neighborhoods, or rather collection of neighborhoods, that make up the 15th Council District, where LAPD officer Joe Buscaino (born and raised in San Pedro) and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani (a resident of Harbor Gateway but with a Gardena postal address) are facing off in a Jan. 17 runoff. Unlike the parts of the district that have the words "harbor" in their names but aren't actually on or even all that near the harbor -- Harbor City and Harbor Gateway -- Wilmington is directly on the inner harbor and suffers the consequences and occasionally reaps the benefits of its location.

It's named after the largest city in Delaware, which had been the birthplace and childhood home of California transplant Phineas Banning. Banning arrived in the 1850s as a dockworker and soon began driving stagecoaches from the waterfront to Los Angeles, 20 miles north. He and his business partners incorporated Wilmington as a city, and it grew as a sort of twin to neighboring San Pedro.

He began building Southern California's first railroad -- from his new city on the harbor to Los Angeles -- at just about the time the Central Pacific was linking Northern California to the rest of the nation. The rail line and a Southern Pacific connection north made the port and Wilmington essential real estate. Only later did the rails reach San Pedro.

The cities of Wilmington and San Pedro were consolidated into Los Angeles in 1909 after L.A. offered a library, a school and other amenities. Federal money built a breakwater, and the former muddy harbor was built into the one of the world's largest and busiest ports. The oil field was discovered and developed in 1932.

But for all the heavy industry in the area, there are parts of Wilmington that are barely developed, with no sidewalks, streets virtually unpaved, unlighted alleys. Elected officials in far-off City Hall -- even representatives of the 15th District, who invariably have been residents of better-connected San Pedro -- have found it convenient to view Wilmington as a freight yard or transportation corridor rather than a community of families living among the industrial goliaths.

Poverty is commonplace, directly affecting at least a quarter of the residents. About a third of local jobs involve transportation, warehousing and goods movement. The harsh economy means job loss -- and additional pressure to ignore environmental standards to keep people employed and food on the tables.

Evolving housing policies have made over the Dana Strand Village federal public housing project, which once sheltered World War II-era workers and later became a dreary complex beset by drug sales and violence. After a bulldozing and a redesign, Harbor View Place Garden Apartments and another New Dana complex are tidy and relatively comfortable and safe.

Neglect has helped drive gang violence, and although it persists, the once-common clashes between the East Wilmas and West Wilmas have quieted and allowed the area to nurture, and become a center of, art, murals, poetry, journalism (see the extraordinary Wilmington Wire) and other expressions of the area's multi-generational local culture.

Amid the heavy industry and chemicals, Wilmington has also become a center of a reinvigorated fight Wally Skalij 2010 for cleanup and for environmental justice. Residents gave the city a high profile in 2010 as they protested against Valero's and Tesoro's support for Proposition 23, which would have pushed back California's landmark AB 32 anti-global-warming mandates. Still, the air can be so bad that schools have installed filters in classrooms as part of a settlement in an environmental suit over port expansion.

The Port of Los Angeles, which is overseen by Los Angeles' Board of Harbor Commissioners, has been in the forefront of both the pollution and (when prodded) the cleanup effort. And after residents protested plans for a high wall to cut them off from the waterfront -- and keep the refinery fumes in but shut the cleansing sea breezes out -- the port instead built a park that buffers the community from the harbor while still embracing it. The park opened last year.

But Wilmington residents say they still get too little in return from the shipping and freight companies that make the area their backyard, and the refineries that make it their furnace. Community activists say San Pedro gets the attention. As far as Wilmington has come, a glance at voting and political fundraising stats show that it has a long way to go before being able to demand the attention from an elected official that San Pedro now gets.

Writing on the Los Angeles Times' Mapping L.A. comments page for Wilmington, commenter Carol said:

I grew up in Wilmington. I still have two sons living there but I really can't say it is beautiful. It looked better when I was growing up. Once you have moved outside the area you see what is Beautiful.

Click on the map above to get a closer view and to be connected to Wilmington demographics, crime and school data.


Watts and Not-Watts

Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

Harbor City, the city not on the harbor

-- Robert Greene

Photos: Top, the ConocoPhillips refinery looms over Wilmington homes. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times. Center, a parking lot mural. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times. Bottom, a No-on-23 demonstration in Wilmington in October 2010. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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