“Too many cooks…”

“Too many cooks spoil the soup”, and that pretty much covers the problems that have been developing at the LA/Long Beach port complex. At least on the surface, that is. Anti-pollution programs share the front burner with port and highway congestion in that port community, and officials outside the maritime industry are now being forced by these unacceptable conditions, as well as by their constituents, to add further ingredients to the mix … or to the mixup.

Dozens and dozens of suggestions and bills have been offered as stopgap measures in the past few weeks, and our commentary entitled, “An Overview” (Vol. II, Art. 34), has provided summaries of SB 760, 761, 762, 763 and 764, all filed by Senator Alan Lowenthal. Under the circumstances, these bills have validity and will do much to reduce pollution and congestion. In 2004, when pollution and congestion was slightly less of a problem, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed several similar bills meant to address these issues back when approval of these bills would have brought relief and bought valuable time. The pressure now is heavier than ever and demands immediate remedial action. With pollution on her mind and her concerns directed specifically toward container-handling diesel equipment, Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, (D-Carson), is filing AB 1101 which is scheduled to be heard before the Assembly Transportation Committee on the 25th of April. “The diesel particulates through their operations causes cancer and other serious health effects, especially among children,” said Ms. Oropeza. In support of all these measures, Michael Arnold, a lobbyist for the city of Long Beach, has emphasized the importance of remedial action by reminding the parties that the region risks losing federal funds if port pollution is not reduced.

Both Senator Lowenthal’s SB 760, calling for a $ 30 container fee to be divided evenly between security measures, pollution control and congestion relief, and AB 1406, authored by Assemblywoman Betty Karnette, (D-Long Beach), proposing a $ 10 container fee for pollution safeguards, have been challenged by port officials and transportation interests who feel that higher costs resulting from these fees would tend to direct shippers to other ports. The California Trade Association, representing firms with an interest in port traffic, is on record as stating that a container fee would violate federal interstate commerce laws and international trade agreements. In a letter of opposition, the association warned that, “Costly litigation could ensue and an international trade dispute at the World Trade Organization could result, which would drain valuable funds and efforts”. Ironically, those “interests”objecting most strenuously to this legislated container fees are the very ones who see no problems with the so-called PierPass program fees of $ 20 to $ 40 per container. [No doubt the California Trade Association sent a similar letter of opposition to the PierPass program officials. And if not, why not?]

Remember what Linda Chick, the LA controller said last December when Mayor Hahn and the city council directed her to audit the port? She said that the Port of Los Angeles was “adrift” and “suffering from lack of vision”. In her report she said that the port clearly needed more strategic planning in order to improve its efficiency. “Now, it is easier to understand many of the issues plaguing the port”, she said. The “plague” is beginning to look like an internal affliction.