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Berth 55 Being Forced To Close Due To Port Of Long Beach Plans For New Fireboat Station

Forty-Year-Old Restaurant And Other Businesses Have Been On Month-To-Month Lease Since 2008

By Sean Belk - Staff Writer

May 22, 2012 – A near 40-year-old seafood restaurant and fish market, known as “Berth 55,” connected to a sport fishing operation will soon be history due to the port’s plans to build a new fireboat station at the site, the Business Journal has learned.

The landing, called Queen’s Wharf located at 555 Pico Ave. off the 1-710 Freeway, is occupied by about half a dozen commercial boat operators, who sublease space from Long Beach Sport Fishing, which leases the property from the Port of Long Beach. The site also has a tackle shop. The restaurant and fish market is known for selling Live crab and lobster.

But after the port put the tenants on a month-to-month lease in 2008, a letter was sent out about two weeks ago notifying the master leaseholders that the port would not be renewing their lease. The operation of about 10 small businesses now has six months, or 180 days, to move out, effective May 25, according to port spokesperson John Pope. He said the port is not providing relocation assistance.

Pope said the fireboat project still has to go through an environmental review process and be approved by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners.

The port had conducted a study in the last few years that concluded the small landing was the only viable location for the new, permanent fireboat house and station, Pope said. The port’s Fireboat Station No. 20 has to be relocated due to it being underneath the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which is being demolished and replaced by a new bridge.

Subsequently, the port is planning the construction of two new 105-foot-long advanced “next generation” fireboats being designed to counter threats of natural and manmade hazards, according to port staff. The fireboats are to be delivered in 2014.

The tenants, however, said the sport fishing operation and restaurant still provide a valuable service in the port. “We’d love to stick around,” said Lawrence Maehara, manager and son of Rebeca Maehara, who took over the seafood restaurant about 24 years ago. “We’ve been here forever . . . We’re the last place where you can go get live crab and hang out on the water in Long Beach, and that’s affordable for the families in Long Beach.”

Michael Redlew, general manager of the sport fishing docks, said sport fishermen built the buildings in the 1970s. The businesses employ about 50 people and have been supported by the community and the port’s workforce. He said the landing provides the “only existing sport fishing operation in the port,” with about seven boat operators, including party vessels and professional commercial fishing boats.

Although the recession took it’s toll, cutting the businesses by almost half and making it harder to make rent, Redlew said the operation is just starting to come around. However, without a long-term lease, the operators haven’t been able to invest in facilities. “We’re not really sure when we became expendable,” he said.

After sending a letter this month to the port and Long Beach Councilmembers Robert Garcia and Suja Lowenthal, requesting a meeting to sort out negotiations, Redlew said he has yet to receive a response.

“We have hopes for our location, ideas to offer, and willingness to maintain a positive relationship with the Port throughout this process,” the letter stated. “Our history and responsibility to the Port at our location speak for themselves and we ask that you consider this before you move forward without us.”

As a longshoreman, Redlew said the Berth 55 Seafood & Fish Market is also one of the last remaining places for port workers to go for a short lunch. “I don’t think anybody’s put much thought into the fact that if you go there at lunchtime, there’s a line out the door at that place and the parking lot is full,” he said. “That’s something to be considered besides the sport fishing aspect of the deal.”

In addition, Redlew questioned whether the landing would be the right fit for fireboats since they often cause heavy wakes due to the speed required for assisting in fires and emergencies, and may be a problem for nearby barges and other docks. “I just don’t see how they’re going to operate a fireboat from that position,” he said.

Redlew added that the port has a responsibility to maintain the public’s access to the waterfront as a trust to the state and should provide an alternative solution. “You can’t just eliminate the public’s access to the waterfront,” he said. “We want to work with them to come up with a solution to preserve sport fishing in the port . . . and preserve the fish market and the restaurant . . . and we’d like stay at our location if possible.”