The Bodysnatchers Get Alan Lowenthal, And...
(March 18, 2007) -- He looks like Alan Lowenthal. He walks like Alan Lowenthal. And on some things he still sounds like Alan Lowenthal.
But someone must have placed a bodysnatching seed pod alongside State Senator Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV) while he slept, because he woke up one day with a different brain. He's now introduced a container fee bill that would fund permanent infrastructure expansion for the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles with virtually no serious statutory protection in place to ensure pollution won't get worse for the people who elected him to office.
These are protections that Alan Lowenthal -- with his former brain -- publicly advocated in July 2006 when he told Port of LB/L.A. reps that no net increase statutory protection was necessary as part of the Ports' pro-expansion "Clean Air Action Plan"...and in November 2006 when he pledged at a CSULB conference to reintroduce the no net increase measure that he's now abandoned.
In July 2006, Sen. Lowenthal stood in the LB City Council Chamber and told the Ports of LB and L.A. that their pro-expansion "Clean Air Action Plan" should be answerable to pollution limits in his "no net increase bill." In contrast, the body-snatched Alan Lowenthal has failed to reintroduce that bill (which the LB City Council supported in three separate votes) and has instead authored an expansionist, pro-industry SB 974 (his office calls it the "Port Investment" bill) that would make state law answerable to Port plans instead of vice versa.
Senator Lowenthal had called the no net increase bill the most important legislation that he'd introduced in all his years in Sacramento. Among those who supported the legislation that industry interests opposed and Assembly Democrat leaders killed:
American Lung Association of California, California Air Pollution Control Officers Association, California League of Conservation Voters, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, City of Long Beach, City of Rancho Palos Verdes, Clean Power Campaign, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Coalition for Clean Air, Downey Chamber of Commerce, Environment California, Environmental Defense, First Congregational Church of Long Beach, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, South Coast Air Quality Management District, The Planning and Conservation League, Union of Concerned Scientists. [Source: Final substantive Assembly Committee legislative analysis SB 764, August 2006]
In July 2006, as reported by LBReport.com, Sen. Lowenthal told a panel of representatives from the Ports of LB and L.A., federal EPA, CA Air Resources Board and South Coast Air Quality Management District that the "no net increase" bill was needed to ensure enforceable results as part of the Ports' non-binding "Clean Air Action Plan." At that time, Senator Lowenthal said:
Sen. Lowenthal: We have to build in to any of our plans, if we're investing billions of dollars, accountability. Everyone must be accountable and we must have put into statute, another bill, SB 764 [no net increase] does, we must put into statute quantifiable air quality standards which must be attained by 2010 which allows for the disbursement of these public funds, but if not attained, there must be significant financial penalties.
We cannot tolerate after 2010 any increase, we must begin to demonstrate as a first step that we're beginning to bring that pollution down. We cannot simply dole out billions of dollars and not reduce the pollution.
At a November 2006 CSULB conference on the "True Cost of Goods Movement," Senator Lowenthal explained the importance of the bill and, under pressure during Q & A from a local activist, indicated that he planned to bring it back in 2007.
The bill was blocked in August 2006 by the Assembly Democrats' leadership after it had already cleared the State Senate. The legislation was also opposed by the CA and LB Area Chambers of Commerce and Port-related industry interests.
The No Net Increase bill sought to set baseline levels for certain pollutants with attainment by 2010. It was supported by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and by the City of Long Beach, the latter through a unanimous vote of the City Council.
Asked during audience Q & A at the Nov. 2006 CSULB event if he planned to bring the No Net Increase bill back in 2007, Sen. Lowenthal responded by citing reasons why the bill was important...but didn't answer the question. That prompted the questioner, LB activist Bry Myown, to rise from her chair and ask, "Are you bringing it back?..." Senator Lowenthal replied, "Of course I'm coming back [with it]" as he was interrupted by applause.
To clearly convey the context of this, LBReport.com posts audio of the exchange along with a transcript. To hear the audio in MP3 form, click here. Our transcript [unofficial, prepared by us] follows below:
Sen. Lowenthal: [previously noted that his container fee bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by the Governor while his No Net Increase bill passed the Senate but not the Assembly; audio begins in mid-sentence]...I think that these things go together. personally. There is a relationship between, if you're going to, raising resources to fix a problem and making sure that we have clearly defined standards with consequences, that is, you bring it down to a certain level, that's what No Net Increase said, and if you don't reach that level, there are consequences. And that's really what we're talking about. We cannot just have vague goals. We have to set standards and there has to be consequences to those standards. If you reach those goals, you can continue to develop. If you don't reach those goals, you cannot develop and you will not, or there'll be financial penalties. I agree completely that without standards built into statute, people can just violate those and say 'see, nice try, we'll come back next year' and there are no consequences to not reaching those standards. And that's what No Net Increase did. It said for the first time, hopefully in statute, real standards with real consequences...
Ms. Myown: Are you bringing it back? [cross-talk] ...
Sen. Lowenthal [cross-talk] : ...and I'm coming back with it.
Ms. Myown: ...[cross talk] for discussion...
Sen. Lowenthal: Of course I'm coming back [with it]...[audience cheers, applause]
On February 23, an apparently bodysnatched Senator Lowenthal failed to reintroduce a "no net increase" bill by the deadline for introducing new legislation. To our knowledge, LBReport.com remains the only LB news outlet to have reported this.
On Feb. 28, the bodysnatched Senator Lowenthal told a LB goods movement conference ("Faster Freight, Cleaner Air") that he'd revised his container fee bill to accommodate changes sought by Governor Schwarzenegger's office. He surely did. SB 974 is a congestion of loopholes and rubbery references to non-binding clean air "plans" easily evaded by the Ports, wrapped around guaranteed money for Port expansion.
Meanwhile, bodysnatching seed pods are being readied for the March 20 City Council meeting, when Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal (who'll preside in the absence of vacationing Mayor Bob Foster) and Councilman Patrick O'Donnell (who chairs the Council's State Legislation Committee) will propose that the Council endorse SB 974.
SB 974 would use revenue from a cargo container fee to expand port-related infrastructure capacity, leaving significant clean air oversight to the CA Air Resource Board, the state agency that quietly entered into a statewide "Memorandum of Understanding" with CA's major railroads that undercuts tougher local clean air rules from SCAQMD.
Sen. Lowenthal's bill relegates SCAQMD to a consultative role in bureaucratically preparing a "list of projects that reduce air pollution" which "shall be consistent with" an April 2006 Emission reduction Plan and "designed to reduce air pollution...in order to reach federal air quality attainment standards and to meet the ERP's goals for 2010, 2015, and 2020."
The bill would require CARB only to "consult" with SCAQMD...along with the a stacked deck comprised of the Gateway Council of Governments (in which the Ports of LB and both L.A. are members) and separately with the Ports of LB and L.A. It would also require CARB to work with SCAQMD as well as the Ports of LB and L.A. "to ensure that projects within the San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan are completed or implemented" and would allow CARB to provide funding to the district or the ports to achieve the "goals" of the ports' "Clean Air Action Plan."
This oily language provides LB residents with little real protection...but arguably could be used to justify mammoth projects like the proposed "Southern California International Gateway" (SCIG) container transfer facility, which would negatively impact West Long Beach while proponents claim it would bring the region cleaner air.
A Council majority needs to say "no" to this, diplomatically referring the "Port Investment" bill to a Council committee for further hearings. The issues raised by this bill are too important to be rubberstamped without carefully examining the implications for the City of LB from this bill as presently written.
SCAQMD staff didn't recommend supporting the bill in its present form. On March 9, it advised and an SCAQMD committee agreed that the SCAQMD board should seek amendments to the bill...while just supporting the legislation in principle.
Giving away the City of LB's endorsement would make it harder for LB's voice on the SCAQMD governing board, Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, to press credibly for toughening amendments. Why should others take her concerns about the bill seriously if her Council colleagues vote to approve the bill as is?
We do believe it's essential for the City Council to convey to Sen. Lowenthal the need to reintroduce "no net increase" verbiage, either within his new legislation or via a joined (tied) separate bill. It's a safety net, a statutory protection, a legal assurance that when the Port uses public money to grow, the net result won't be increased pollution. There is absolutely no such statutory guarantee now.
Three times, the LB City Council has voted to support "no net increase" legislation that invites Port growth but not if it worsens net pollution levels beyond an established baseline (the last bill said 2001). That crucial protection for LB residents and many beyond belongs in a state statute, not relegated to a bureaucratic, breakable "plan."
In frustration, some have said the public should simply trust Sen. Lowenthal no matter what he does. We dissent. People like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin wanted Americans to think for themselves, not defer reasoning to royalty. Alan Lowenthal (before his body snatching) was heroic in fighting for his no net increase bill..but he also did a number of things we disagreed with. Here are just some of them:
- In 1994, Councilman Lowenthal voted against letting the public vote on a ballot measure [written by LBReport.com's now publisher] that would have made minimum per capita police levels a budgeted taxpayer right, instead of trusting an easily evaded 1994 City Hall "Strategic Plan" that listed recommended police increases. Councilman Lowenthal voted in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998 for budgets that failed to deliver those recommended police increases for taxpayers. His actions then are part of the reason LB has too few officers today.
- In 1995, 2nd district Councilman Lowenthal was a de facto cheerleader for what was then called the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, built by floating taxpayer backed bonds. Taxpayers were told the Aquarium wouldn't likely require public money to pay its bond debt, although Councilman Lowenthal publicly fretted about an apparent lack of oversight and accountability in having a private foundation run the public asset. But after complaining, he went on to vote for the deal and later used a photo of himself alongside Mayor O'Neill at the Aquarium for his 1998 Assembly run. He then skated away while LB taxpayers were left holding the bag for the bond debt (while the private foundation deleted "Long Beach" from the Aquarium's official name.) His action then is one of the reasons LB's Tidelands fund is now tapped annually in part to pay Aquarium bondholders with money that could otherwise be used to clean and improve LB's beaches.
- Councilman Lowenthal complained that a City Hall-backed "Queensway Bay" plan lacked a "wow" factor...but he still voted to enable the development. After Assemblyman Lowenthal ascended to Sacramento, he avoided taking a position on a Queensway Bay tidelands trust land swap that then-Mayor O'Neill and then-City Manager Taboada relentlessly pursued to facilitate the development. It took veteran environmentalist Don May, who tirelessly led California Earth Corps, to challenge the tidelands trust swap in court...and an appeals court ruled that what the State Lands Commission (an agency that the legislature could ultimately control) did wasn't done right and must now be redone.
- CA residents are today effectively subsidizing (and thus arguably encouraging) the use of polluting bunker fuel by ships at area ports as a result of legislation sought by port and shipping interests and supported by then-Assemblyman Lowenthal. The 2003 bill reinstated (and extended for ten years) an exemption from CA sales and use tax on bunker fuel purchased by ships in CA for use outside state waters, leaving ships only required to pay sales tax on the high-polluting fuel consumed in CA waters. (Shipping interests argued that without the tax break, large ships which can travel thousands of miles between bunkering stops would arrange their bunkering decisions to buy the fuel outside CA...but still wanted CA to enact the exemption.) The industry-sought tax break will continue through 2013 unless the state legislature reexamines the issue...which Sen. Lowenthal has thus far not moved to do.
We have an entire email box full of angry mail -- directed at us -- for supporting then-Assemblyman, now Senator Lowenthal despite these and other votes. Our response is always the same: we disagreed with Alan Lowenthal's votes on many things, but we believe those votes are eclipsed by the enormous benefits he brought by insisting on covering the formerly uncovered petroleum coke piles in the Port.
In our view, at the end of the day, what Alan Lowenthal did on that issue eclipses those other votes...because it will protect public health and safety, avoid human suffering and probably save lives.
By the same token, we believe that if Sen. Lowenthal's "Port Investment" bill becomes law without the protection of a no-net-increase mechanism, it will cost lives and eclipse what has preceded it.
We believe what Sen. Lowenthal said in July 2006 was correct. The Ports' expansionist Clean Air "Plan" needs a legally enforceable no-net increase statutory guarantee...with real penalties to encourage compliance and punish non-compliance.
Senator Lowenthal's office emailed us this response regarding his failure to reintroduce his "no net increase" bill:
Senator Lowenthal Feb. 27 statement: While I believe the original goals of my "no net increase" bill were laudable at the time, I no longer believe it is sufficient; we need to go further than maintaining the status quo. As Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and as the author of the bills that will implement the goods movement and emissions improvement portion of Proposition 1B, SB 9 and SB 19, I fully intend to include accountability measures in these bills that will require reductions in all types of harmful emissions.
I felt, after long deliberation, that a re-introduction of a "no net increase" bill would set conflicting standards as we try to achieve accountable, measurable reductions in pollution related to port activities.
I remain more committed than ever to holding the ports accountable in regards to reducing harmful emissions related to goods movement.
This statement, in which the Senator says he remains "more committed than ever to holding the ports accountable" after abandoning legislation that would do exactly that, convinces us that the bodysnatchers got to Alan Lowenthal. We hope he will somehow manage to snap out of this and return to the sensible stance he took last July...when we were proud to commend him for his position regardless of the angry email we received.
For our part, we will be watching closely to see what LB Councilmembers do at their March 20, 2007 meeting. If they vote to endorse Sen. Lowenthal's expansionist "Port Investment" bill, and tacitly abandon prior Council policy by accepting Sen. Lowenthal's ditching of his "no net increase" bill, it will show that the bodysnatchers got some LB Councilmembers along with the Senator.
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