(May 4, 2004) -- What do you do when those running the Port of Long Beach -- an entity that the South Coast Air Quality Management District's Executive Director has publicly called (with the Port of L.A.) by far the largest source of air pollution in our region -- show that over time LB's Port won't be reducing the level of airborne poisons that keep the Port's money-making machine running and won't even commit to keep the current intolerable situation from getting worse, citing as a "defense" its plans for more growth?
We are embarrassed -- and L.A. and Orange County residents and state lawmakers (on whose property this is bring done) should be outraged -- at what occurred at the May 3, 2004 meeting of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners...and we urge LB's elected City Council -- which sets city policy, which annually approves the Harbor Commission's budget and which voted to appoint the incumbent Commissioners -- proudly to support AB 2042 by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV).
But that's not enough.
CA's fifth largest city cannot speak with two voices...and shouldn't be doing so now. To end this schizoid behavior, we state what some will consider heresy but we view as unassailable.
Under LB's City Charter, "all powers of the City shall be vested in the City Council" except as otherwise provided in the Charter. The City Charter grants "exclusive control and management of the Harbor Department" to the Board of Harbor Commissioners, but that's not a blank check and is arguably fairly circumscribed. Read it for yourself. We have posted the Harbor Commission's exclusive powers and duties on a special page. To view it (a separate window will open for you), click here.
In our view, nothing in the City Charter entitles Port tenants to have the publicly owned Port of LB serve as their de facto mouthpiece on legislative issues. The PMSA and LB Area Chamber of Commerce are quite capable of taking care of their members' interests on their own, thank you.
In our view, nothing in the City Charter gives Port tenants or the Port itself an entitlement to grow without limit. The last time we checked, unlimited growth is the definition of malignancy.
In our view, the Harbor Commission's May 3 vote -- to oppose a prior version of a bill even after being told it had been amended -- reflected a single-minded lust to sit at the bargaining table and be a "player" in what the Port and its tenants want eliminated from the bill. This is precisely where we believe the Port does not belong...especially when the City Council says otherwise.
Not long ago, the City Attorney told LB's Recreation Commissioners that despite their expertise, they did not have City Charter power as a body to oppose the taking of Scherer Park land. That didn't stop Recreation Commissioners from expressing their views publicly as individuals but it did stop them from using city machinery to do so until the City Charter was changed. We concede this isn't perfectly analogous to the Port (which acts as a trustee for the state) but we think that on balance, the City Attorney's basic reasoning still carries weight.
If Messrs. Steinke and Hankla want to sign a letter reciting the reasons why in their view the City of LB should oppose AB 2042, and come to the City Council podium (as Recreation Commissioners were forced to do) to make their points, that's their right. We are not belittling their objections; Commissioner Hankla's substantive points require serious answers.
But LB residents should not tolerate having their Port used as a jamming transmitter to block out policies established by their elected City Council.
The Council can no longer avoid dealing with this. It needs to get a public answer from the City Attorney on exactly what measures the Council can implement to ensure that the non-elected Harbor Commission does not advance positions inconsistent with those set by the Council.
In our view, the Port of LB is today an out of control agency...uncontrolled by the elected Council or the electors of this city. One way or another, that must change.
We're pragmatic about the remedy. It doesn't matter to us if the result is an informal modus vivendi, or more formal restrictions tied to Council approval of the Port's budget or a high octane grassroots Charter revision that controls Port and other city growth and changes the process by which all future growth is approved.
Voters in other cities have enacted versions of the latter. LB's recent history has already done much to invite this.