first_imgBy Megan Bagdonas STAFF WRITER The spotlights of optimism and media attention begin shining on San Pedro today as more than a thousand Habit for Humanity volunteers join a former president to work on 16 homes for the poor. As volunteers from across the nation began to arrive over the weekend, business owners said they were pleased with the attention that Jimmy Carter and the project would bring to the port town. Carter, who spearheads the nonrofit, will be staying at the Crowne Plaza in San Pedro, which along with Doubletree Hotel in the Cabrillo Marina is hosting the visitors. He and former first lady Rosalynn Carter also are expected to have dinner tonight at the Whale & Ale. “I’m thrilled,” Silber said. But not everyone in town is equally pleased with the Habitat project, which actually started months ago. “The dust has been horrible all summer, they never watered it down. My poor wife has been constantly cleaning,” said Salvador Llamas, who lives across from the build site on Palos Verdes Street. “And in the morning at 6 a.m. come the big trucks – beep, beep, beep.” Llamas said he had to purchase a new sofa because his old one got so filthy from the dust. Others complain that they’ve had to wash their cars every three days because of the dirt kicked up from the project. Johnny Torres, who also lives across from the site, said he’s most offended by Habitat’s lack of sensitivity to people in the neighborhood. “There was no communication about what was going on, no informational meetings. They sent out a flier saying they were going to start construction, but it was in English, and everyone here speaks Spanish,” Torres said. “They must have just thought because we are poor and don’t speak English that we wouldn’t mind.” Other residents, while they acknowledge the good cause, bemoan the traffic and worry the new homes will bring more congestion into an area where it’s already difficult to find a parking spot. Then, of course, there’s the view for some of the neighbors – it’s gone. “I used to be able to see all the ships and the water and the (Vincent Thomas) bridge,” said Fidel Dominguez. “It was very good. Now it’s terrible.” “We don’t own much, but the value of our homes is now going to go down,” said Llamas, who received an information packet on the build last spring that contained glossy Jimmy Carter Work Project fliers and a Starbucks gift card. “When Jimmy Carter comes, I’ll give him some coffee,” he said. Another neighbor, however, said she’s happy about the Habitat project, primarily because the homes are being built on a former vacant lot where drugs were peddled under a tree and people dumped old mattresses and garbage and set fire to old cars. “The people who move in have already said they want to get involved in the neighborhood,” said Maria, a resident who would not give her last name. “They will be an improvement.” Plans for the project began in late 2005, when the nonprofit bought the 1.1-acre hillside lot overlooking the Port of Los Angeles. In the summer, construction crews completed the foundations and started constructing the frames for the duplexes. Habitat for Humanity is best known for completing large projects in short time periods – in India last year, Habitat built 100 homes in a mere five days – but things have been different in Los Angeles. Because of the city’s stringent building codes and permit processes, the houses have already been partially completed, leaving only superficial work for the volunteers. So instead of putting in insulation or connecting electrical lines, volunteers will mostly paint, landscape, finish roofs and sidings, and put other final touches on the homes. Habitat has more than enough volunteers to finish the job. Those who wanted to pitch in began applying more than a year ago, so locals wanting to help at the last minute are dissuaded from showing up at the sites with work gloves. “A lot of people use their vacation time to go on Habitat builds – every year they’ll follow the project,” said Habitat spokeswoman Sara Shiffman. Volunteering comes at a cost. Shiffman said participants pay $800, which includes room and board for the week. However, Hollywood stars hoping to pose with the hammer of good will are not likely to be turned away. Celebrity supporters in the past have included Snoop Dog, Ashton Kutcher, Sharon Stone, William Shatner, Jon Bon Jovi and the Beastie Boys. For those who travel thousands of miles just to be a part of an altruistic cause, no task is too menial. “This is a gathering of people who have figured out why we’re here, and I don’t mean Los Angeles. I mean here on Earth,” said Tom Gerdy, a contractor who lives in Virginia. “And that is to look out after each other. We’re here because our hearts have told us to be here.” The 16 families chosen to receive homes will also be doing some hard laboring this week. As part of their agreement, they must put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” to receive the homes at zero percent interest on a mortgage that’s only as much as the homes cost to build. “Habitat figured out what the government is still struggling to realize – that unless people invest their blood, sweat and tears into building their home, they won’t be invested in it,” Gerdy said. “These homes aren’t handouts, they’re hand-ups.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.“This is a huge event that will put San Pedro on the map nationally and regionally,” said Whale & Ale restaurant owner Andrew Silber. Habitat for Humanity estimates more than 1,200 volunteers will participate in the San Pedro event. Another project site in South Los Angeles, as well as 70 smaller projects around the city, are expected to draw [email protected] more. With the influx of benevolent visitors wielding dinner vouchers for local restaurants, business owners expect many will stick around to spend money in town. “My hope is that they will want to have a martini or a house beer and have a little fun once they’re done working,” said San Pedro Brewing Co. restaurant owner James Brown. “I just hope they don’t drink too much and miss hammering the nails the next day.” last_img read more