(First of a two-part series)
Based on Richard Bard's personal letters and papers, Powell March Greenland explains why Bard's dream took a troubling 14 years to realize.
By 1927, it was about which city would possess a deep-water port. In fact, not only did the opposition money to fight a harbor at Hueneme come from Buenaventura movers/shakers, oil interests and Los Angeles Harbor supporters, but their most effective move was to engage George Nicholson — a former L.A. port engineer.
Back in Washington, D.C., Nicholson conducted a vicious whisper campaign — painting Bard as a liar and a real estate scam artist — to such critical decision-makers as the Public Works Administration's Harold Ickes.
Greenland characterized Nicholson as "a hit man hired to shoot down the Hueneme harbor project with a slush fund of $10,000 ($177,537.31 in today's dollars) and a cadre of connections."
"Even as late as December 1938," writes Greenland, "the vindictive opposition in Ventura was still attempting to block harbor construction at Hueneme." Yet, on Jan. 4, 1939, with $1,750,000 in harbor bonds subscribed, construction was possible without the PWA grant that was, as Bard predicted, unceremoniously rescinded.
Greenland also explains why a port at Hueneme is being governed by an entity known as the Oxnard Harbor District.
I always thought it was because all the commissioners hailed from Oxnard. Actually, Oxnard is where all the votes are. In fact, there hasn't been a Hueneme commissioner since Dr. Bob Turner was appointed (not elected) in May 1992. (In the interest of full disclosure: I am married to Port Hueneme Mayor Jonathan Sharkey.)
Would you be surprised to learn that the Port of Hueneme is the only West Coast port not owned outright by the host city; not part of a joint powers authority; and not entitled to one or more permanent board seats? So how did this occur?
I doubt that Richard Bard intended Hueneme, whose residents are directly impacted by the port, to be denied a voice. In fact, Bard's very first board (April 28, 1937) consisted of a Hueneme banker named E.O. Green, an Oxnard businessman (Eugene H. Agee) and a Somis rancher (Fred M. Aggen).
Additionally, when the above-named commissioners proposed naming the still uncompleted harbor "Port Bard," the Bard family politely declined. It seemed to them "less fitting and, in the long run, less desirable than the old established, historical name that has been used since the days of Cabrillo."
Ironically, Bard's generosity in underwriting preliminary expenses amounting to $350,000 by the summer of 1932 was used against him. A cynical Roy Pinkerton, who led the media attacks on Bard's character in the editorial pages of the Ventura County Star, was convinced Bard was only in it for the money.
Greenland, however, evidences Bard as motivated, "first, by a sincere belief in the obligation of philanthropy for people in his financial position ... and second, the practical understanding that nothing would ever be accomplished without his personal financial initiative" — including gifting his land.
What if (1) Bard had decided to donate the harbor property earlier than 1935? He might have pre-empted the assassination attempts on his character.
What if (2) Buenaventura agreed to annex Bard's harbor property (still contingent on locating the harbor at Hueneme)? We'd be talking about the Ventura Harbor District today.
Despite honing several incarnations of his proposed port over 14 years, the visionary missed the import of incorporating Hueneme as a city. Perhaps he reasoned that selecting officers, organizing a municipal government and adopting a name might slow down his progress.
According to Greenland, it was Bard's own naiveté that cost him years. Convinced that siting a port inland at Hueneme instead of unprotected Buenaventura seemed so obvious to Bard, he never anticipated the cunning obstructionism of his foes.
Port Hueneme, though, wouldn't be incorporated until 1948, a year after the Navy finalized its lease agreement with the Oxnard Harbor District for property surrendered during World War II.
Finally, the OHD may have indulged in a bit of wishful thinking when stating that Bard's harbor property in Hueneme — first annexed by the city of Oxnard and subsequently released to the OHD — "should never be part of any incorporated city." The port is within city limits despite what's being claimed on OHD's website.
Bard, in his July 6, 1940, harbor dedication speech, observed, "We have a commission composed of men (and women) whom we can all trust, who were not swayed by political considerations and whose only interest is the welfare of the district, the county and the backcountry."
I don't suppose it is any secret that the city of Port Hueneme and the harbor district are not getting along.
The major point of contention? The city says the district owes it $8 million. The district claims it owes nothing.
Hopefully, these present-day guardians of Bard's legacy won't further trouble his dream.
Beverly Kelley, of Port Hueneme, writes a biweekly column for The Star. Email her at email@example.com.
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