AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat Kings“If he was successful, then the region’s economy would have been at the mercy of Southern Pacific and that would have been disastrous,” Marquez said. While Huntington tried to get his Santa Monica port recognized as the official harbor for the Los Angeles region, efforts were already under way to bulk up the port in San Pedro. U.S. Sen. Stephen M. White, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles Times Publisher Harrison Gray Otis believed the port should be a city-operated enterprise and pushed efforts to build a “Port of Los Angeles” in San Pedro Bay. “Those men saw potential for the mud flats in San Pedro,” Marquez said. “They believed the harbor could be developed by lots of digging and dredging.” To a lesser extent, interests in Redondo Beach and Playa del Rey had tried to enter the fray, but those efforts quickly fell by the wayside, setting the scene for an epic battle that became known as the “Free Harbor Contest.” San Pedro Bay had been struggling as a port for nearly a half-century, but the mud flats surrounding the inland harbor failed to excite railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. So rather than run his Southern Pacific Railroad down to San Pedro, Huntington bought more than 200 acres in Santa Monica in the hope of bolstering his vision for a “Port Los Angeles.” He built a wharf that extended 4,720 feet into the Pacific Ocean, attracting more than 300 cargo ships during its first year in 1893. “He wanted people to think his port was close to Los Angeles, when in fact it wasn’t,” said Ernest Marquez of West Hills, who chronicled Huntington’s efforts in his 1975 book “Port Los Angeles: A Phenomenon of the Railroad Era.” Congress established the River and Harbor Act of 1896, which created a commission to decide whether federal funds should go to Santa Monica or San Pedro. Three years later, Congress put its money on San Pedro and breakwater construction began a short time afterward. “There was no way a harbor of this magnitude could have been developed in Santa Monica because there are too many cliffs on the beach, and it was wide open to the ocean,” Marquez said. “San Pedro was favored because the harbor went inland and protected ships from the open seas.” The city of Los Angeles then annexed a 16-mile strip of land to connect to the port in 1906. The communities of San Pedro and Wilmington were annexed three years later. The city’s newfound ownership of the port gave rise to a new harbor commission, a three-member panel appointed in 1907 by then-Mayor A.C. Harper. The 100th anniversary of the harbor commission’s creation will be marked during a celebration at 4 p.m. Sunday. The bash will include historical displays, refreshments, boat shows and a performance by Taiwan’s Evergreen Symphony Orchestra. A fireworks display is set for 7 p.m. The first commissioners – George H. Stewart, Frederick William Braun and T.E. Gibbon – regularly met in downtown Los Angeles and made “big news” during the rare occasions they traveled about 20 miles south to San Pedro, according to Geraldine Knatz, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles. The panel didn’t have a budget and its members often had to pay for expenses out of their own pockets, she said. “When the voters approved the annexation and bond improvements for port improvements, the money went to the Board of Public Works, not the harbor commissioners,” Knatz said. “It got so bad that all the commissioners resigned in disgust by 1913.” The first harbor commission faced many of the struggles that persist today, such as building new infrastructure and bolstering regional economic development, Knatz said. “When you read through the meeting minutes from 100 years ago, you learn that nothing really changes,” Knatz said. “There will never be enough money, you’ll be lobbied by different interest groups, and you’ll always have to deal with residents who live near the port. It’s always going to be hard.” The port has come a long way since those early years, with the arrival of cargo container ships in 1937, the advent of towering gantry cranes during the late 1960s and, more recently, an environmental push aimed at reducing diesel emissions from ships and trucks. About 15.8 million cargo units passed through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach last year, accounting for more than 40 percent of the nation’s imports. That number is expected to double by 2020 and nearly triple by 2030, according to local economist John Husing. Additionally, some 500,000 people in Southern California are employed directly and indirectly by port-related businesses, Husing said last month. “The port is a vital part of our national economy, but it is just as important locally, providing good jobs for generations of local residents,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose 15th District includes the port. To remain competitive, the port must continue to grow while also keeping the environment in mind, Husing said. Several shipping companies operating at the Port of Los Angeles are studying expansion options that call for environmentally friendly accommodations, such as AMP technology that allows container ships to “plug in” to a generator and operate on electrical power while docked, rather than idling on their diesel engines. China Shipping was the first company to use the technology at the Port of Los Angeles, resulting in the elimination of 300 tons of pollution-forming nitrogen oxides since 2004, according to port officials. “Growing green is imperative if any kind of expansion is going to happen,” Knatz said. “It’s always difficult to be out front on these issues, but we can’t afford to be a follower.” Indeed, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach approved a clean air plan in 2006 aimed at reducing emissions by 50 percent over the next five years. The ports are poised in 2008 to roll out the plan’s first provisions, including a so-called Clean Trucks Program that calls for replacing or retrofitting about 16,000 diesel-spewing big rigs with cleaner-burning vehicles by 2012. “The time has come for us to truly commit to cleaning up our air and limiting emissions from the port,” Hahn said. “It is my hope that working together, we can finally have both a productive and efficient port, but also clean and healthy communities.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!