(June 17, 2007) -- Stressing the need for increased federal funding for security at the Ports of LB and L.A., Firefighter unions representing all paid professional firefighters in the 37th Congressional district (nearly 7,500) held a June 26 press event atop Signal Hill (overlooking the Ports and LB) to spotlight their endorsement of State Senator Jenny Oropeza (D., southbay) to succeed the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., Carson-LB).
During a post-event availability, Sen. Oropeza told LBReport.com that she supports tougher cargo container requirements than at present, but not inspection of all containers.
And Sen. Oropeza indicated that she doesn't support replacement of the Gerald Desmond bridge (with a higher bridge that could allow mega-container ships to bring even larger container loads ashore in LB) without practices "in place in the operation of the ports that assure that the expansion that is facilitated by the bridge expanding can be handled in a way that does not add to the pollution of the air.
LBReport.com provides extended streaming audio coverage of the event. To launch the audio, click here.
The event featured representatives of the Int'l Ass'n of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the three largest unions representing CA firefighters (including LB Firefighters Local 372 President Richard Brandt), plus Congressmembers Hilda Solis (D., El Monte/ELA) and Xavier Becerra (D., L.A.), State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero (D., L.A.), LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga and LBCC Boardmember Roberto Uranga.
LB Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga displays "Firefighters for Jenny" T-shirts, with LB Firefighters union president Richard Brandt (already wearing one) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D., El Monte-ELA) (in grey).
LBCC Boardmember Roberto Uranga dons one of the T-shirts
Senator Oropeza thanked the union reps and the officials for their support. She called the Long Beach-Los Angeles port California's premier "open for business" sign to the world...but said it's also "one of America's most vulnerable...point of entry to the terrorists...It's a dangerous threat to our security that so few of these containers are examined and are screened."
During the opening portion of the event, Dave Gillotte, president of L.A. County Firefighters Local 1014 (representing IAFF Gen'l President Harold Schaitberger) said:
L.A. County Firefighters President Gilotte: The 37th [Congressional] District...contains the Ports, two of the largest Ports in the nation. Those Ports would be the most vulnerable points of entry to Los Angeles. Protecting those ports is a primary consideration for the firefighters and the public safety personnel and the leader that we're going to send back to Washington to bring back the funds and the support to in fact keep those ports safe.
Over 15 million large containers flow through those ports every year, many of which are not checked, and in fact if something were to happen down there, the first responders would be the firefighters...
The 37th district also contains refineries and chemical plants. We all know how those would have been targeted in a post-9/11 world. Jenny Oropeza's going to be the leader that's going to go back and brings the funding to protect those chemical refineries and those oil refineries as well as the sports venues where people go see large events in the 37th Congressional district.
In her remarks, Senator Oropeza said:
Senator Oropeza: The Long Beach-Los Angeles port is California's premier "open for business" sign to the world...and unfortunately it also, to terrorists, serves as one of America's most vulnerable signs of vulnerability point of entry to the terrorists...It's a dangerous threat to our security that so few of these containers are examined and are screened. Imagine if a major disruption were to take place. It could really cripple the entire country's economy, not to mention endanger the lives of residents here in the 37th Congressional district. It is a serious, serious concern for me. In addition, as was mentioned, the refineries and the other crucial chemical plants that are in the area make it a definite target unfortunately....
...I'm going to fight for our port security, for the federal homeland security funds that we deserve to keep us safe here in our district, and to keep us safe and to keep the ports running...
Also attending was Steve Tufts, president of L.A. City Firefighters Local 112...and Rich Brandt, president of LB Firefighters. In a release, Rich Brandt, President of LB Firefighters Local 372 said Sen. Oropeza "has worked at every level of government to ensure the safety of those we protect."
Several Firefighter union reps told us their endorsements weren't just for letterhead purposes...and rank and file firefighters would be phone-banking and walking precincts in support of Senator Oropeza.
LBReport.com used a Q & A availability first to ask Senator Oropeza if she'd support the toughened container inspection requirements -- including a measure that sought the 100% inspection of all incoming cargo containers -- that Democrats brought to a House vote in 2006 (when Dems were in the minority and the measures had little chance of passing).
At the time, Republicans argued against the measures, variously contending that technology and pre-screening methods were a better use of scarce resources and made inspection of all containers unnecessary. Democrats in the House shot back that Repubs were putting corporate profits over public safety.
Now that Democrats hold a majority in the House, we wondered if Sen. Oropeza would support the container inspection measures that her party (including the late Congresswoman Millender-McDonald) supported a year earlier.
Senator Oropeza replied:
Sen. Oropeza: I would support certainly more inspection than we have now, so I would support a measure that would be additional inspection from where we are now, but not inspection of every single container because I think that would probably be, number one, it would slow down the process of the movement of goods, to the extent that it would economically make it very, very difficult to move goods through the ports, probably increase prices of products and also increase the congestion in our area to the point where we would be living in gridlock and also have more pollution in the area. It would be from a community based standpoint a disaster...But we do need to have ways in which we can definitely increase the security and increase the inspection of the containers...
...There are lots of ways for us to have security of the cargo without a physical, visual inspection of all of the cargo...That's a simplistic, symbolic kind of approach that the Republicans could use as a way of saying that they're doing something without really...
LBReport.com: They didn't. They opposed it [and the Democrats supported it]
Sen. Oropeza: ...Well, whatever [some cross-talk]...The past is the past...There's a new direction now. We're getting real about the solutions, not symbolism. And under this leadership, we're talking about real solutions with the funding to make it happen, using the best technologies, using the cutting-edge solutions...[Those in leadership] are going to be, I know, looking toward the forward-thinking solutions, not looking at simplistic little ideas about how to do things in a manual way that are ridiculously simplistic and expensive when we can do things in a smart way toward the future.
We also asked Sen. Oropeza about an item the Port of LB wants...and some neighborhood and environmental groups don't want: federal funds to replace the less than fifty year old Gerald Desmond bridge with a higher bridge that would let larger mega-container ships -- carrying many more containers than at present -- into LB's inner harbor (where the containers would have to be transported by trucks or trains). Does Senator Oropeza support federal funding for the Desmond bridge replacement?
Senator Oropeza: ...I'm not into growing the physical plant of the Port until we get our priorities straight on the negative environmental impacts of the current operation of the Port, so that's what has to happen first, and we're not there yet.
LBReport.com: Would you attach some conditions to federal funds for the Gerald Desmond bridge?
Sen. Oropeza: Well absolutely it needs to be, simplistic, green. To be simplistic about it, we need to make sure that any activities out of the ports now are environmentally sensitive and sound. I'm not going to support any kind of activity out of the ports that is not environmentally sensitive and environmentally sound...
LBReport.com: But would you approve federal funding for the [Gerald Desmond] bridge without conditions to it?
Sen. Oropeza: No I would not.
LBReport.com: And the conditions would be along the lines of...
Sen. Oropeza: Of making sure that there are...practices -- not just policies but practices -- in place in the operation of the ports that assure that the expansion that is facilitated by the bridge expanding can be handled in a way that does not add to the pollution of the air.