A fly-in-the-ointment

While the Business, Housing and Transportation Agency and the California EPA were conducting a series of meetings and workshops to develop a preliminary “goods movement action plan” for Governor Schwarzenegger, studies were already underway on three major projects for the LA/Long Beach port community. The projects, however, are not just “major”… they’re colossal. The $ 175 million rail yard proposed at the Long Beach/Wilmington line is the small one, and you can be sure that the preliminary estimate for this job is far, far from what the true cost will be. The Long Beach 710 Freeway expansion and the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement, however, are multi-billion dollar programs that will prove to be too much for the communities to swallow.

No proponent has yet to factor in the time element involved in the “goods movement action plan”, and cooler heads are waving caution flags. The senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Julie Masters, who knows something about regulations and statutes, reminded those attending the Los Angeles workshops that expansion goals could not be met unless a number of new regulations are passed. The time lawmakers will spend debating the pros and cons of the required regulations will prove to be the “fly-in-the-ointment” for port enthusiasts, but a “blessing-in-disguise” for the entire state. Here’s what it looks like from an outsider’s vantage point, and any California resident (taxpayer/consumer) living any distance from the port complex is an “outsider”.

A state report in September listed $ 14.4 billion in potential “goods movement” projects statewide, and up to $ 8.5 billion more in order to mitigate the negative effects … for starters. Those are dollars and negative effects calculated with today’s mindset, by the way. In any event, who pays? The planners themselves won’t. Nor will those in the State House or in other positions of public service. The Chinese manufacturers won’t either, that’s for sure. They won’t even pay their own people a living wage. What about the shipping lines? The guys who said, “Dredge, or else!” No help from that quarter. And you can forget about the members of the Merchant Shipping Association because their spokesman already said they have no intention of paying for any projects that don’t benefit them directly, such as highway expansion. How about the truckers … if they’re still available?

All joking aside, it’s beginning to look as though this indefinite amount of funding can only be raised by means of indefinite amounts of new container fees. The principle is a simple one. It’s like spreading the cost of insurance throughout a group of insured so that those most likely to benefit will pay no more than those who benefit not at all. In other words, those in Northern California will be required to pay for projects designed to benefit those in Southern California. And, of course, those in Northern Iowa and Northern Kentucky and Northern Michigan and Northern Colorado, etc., etc., all those who receive no benefit from the projects, will also have to pay in this unfair scheme of things. Opposition will be coming out of the woodwork. You can count on it.

The time it would take and the lack of funding will eventually force planners to see that only the ports in San Francisco, San Diego, Mare Island and Port Hueneme, to name just a few, are positioned to handle projected growth. Otherwise, Canada and Mexico will do some upstaging.