“Easy come, easy go”

In a city audit, issued on December 3rd, the Port of Los Angeles was declared to be “adrift” and “suffering from lack of vision”. The report said the port clearly needs more strategic planning in order to improve its efficiency. Linda Chick, the controller who authorized the audit at the direction of Mayor Hahn and the city council, said, “Now, it is easier to understand many of the issues plaguing the port”. The audit was conducted for the city by Northside Consulting Group and recommended the development of a formal master plan and strategic plan for future operations, clear management guidelines and clear priorities for community advisory councils. It also called for limiting the role of the Harbor Commission in the day-to-day management of the department.

That report was issued more than two months ago and there is still no evidence of strategic planning, improved efficiency, formal master plans, clear management or stated priorities. The operations of PierPass, Inc. are the kinds of actions that have been taken in response to the city’s recommendations, but this is exactly the type of inefficiency that prompted the Mayor to call for the audit in the first place. We cited what should have been seen as inherent shortcomings in the “peak box fee” concept in our November 12th, 16th and 22nd commentaries, and sadly, the attempts to set this operation in motion have only served to justify the criticisms issued by the auditors and the city officials. Being “adrift” with a “lack of vision” is the worst kind of a pickle for a mariner to be in and one to be avoided at all costs, and the use of this terminology leaves no doubt that this blunt assessment by the auditors and the city was meant to be taken seriously.

Once again, though, this unpopular and impractical fee program has been postponed. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a top-notch IT firm has been engaged to develop the information software that should eventually get the program operational. How’s that for being fiscally responsible? Is the ability to waste time and money the only qualification for employment in the LA-Long Beach complex? Hasn’t it occurred to port officials that the inefficient use of time and money in operations in and around the port are the very reasons the Mayor called in the auditors? As questionable as this concept was at its introduction during the chaotic months of 2004, do the authorities really expect this program to be beneficial in the predicted 2005 crunch? How does this program create the space so urgently needed? After all, the lack of space is the cause of all the woes in the complex. What if owner-operators decide that late hour operations have no appeal, and en masse, they shun the industry rather than absorb the fees (fines?)? Or, alternatively, what if every port trucker decides to avoid the penalty fees and make use of the after hours gate accommodations? Still more gates would be required, and with no offsetting fees, this would guarantee a lose-lose situation for the port complex. We did the math back on November 12th, remember? The avoidance of fees, which are supposed to pay for the additional gates, would impose added costs to port operations, and now, with the engagement of one of the most capable IT firms in the world, can’t you just imagine how the Mayor and the city council will react at these misdirected expenditures?

“Easy come, easy go”, is one way to look at it. The Mayor and the city council won’t see it that way, though.