(March 20, 2007) -- Pursuing a story with local and regional implications reported first and (to our knowlegde) exclusively here to date, LBReport.com is today (Mar. 20) invoking state freedom of information law (CA Public Records Act) to seek materials reflecting actions (or inaction) by officials of the City and Ports of Long Beach, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and CA Air Resources Board related to the abandonment by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV) of "no net increase" in port pollution legislation that had been official policy of the City of LB and the SCAQMD.
LBReport.com is also seeking documents related to Senator Lowenthal's rewriting of a cargo container fee bill...which the Senator told a Feb. 28 goods movement conference was coordinated with Gov. Schwarzenegger's office after the Governor vetoed Lowenthal's 2006 container fee measure.
Sen. Lowenthal's 2007 container fee, which his office has publicly described as a "Port Investment" bill, would enable the Ports of LB, L.A. and Oakland to use continuing container fee revenue to expand port infrastructure and goods movement capacity. The measure includes mechanisms seeking consistency with non-binding port-decided and government adopted air quality plans and goals...which could subsequently be waived or changed [while the infrastructure remains permanent].
Under the CA Public Records Act, the city, port and clean air agencies now have to make the documents requested by LBReport.com available or cite grounds justifying their withholding from the public.
At 10:25 p.m. on Sunday night March 18, LBReport.com posted an editorial that criticized State Senator Lowenthal ["The Bodysnatchers Get Alan Lowenthal, And..."] for failing to reintroduce his "no net increase" bill, described SB 974 as "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," said an SCAQMD committee had advised seeking "amendments to the bill...while just supporting the legislation in principle."
The editorial urged the City Council not to endorse SB 974 without holding hearings on its local consequences and urged reintroducing "no net increase" verbiage, either within Sen. Lowenthal's 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," LBReport.com wrote.
At 8:57 a.m. Monday morning March 19, Senator Lowenthal's Sacramento office sent a mass email to multiple environmental groups, claiming LBReport.com [which it dismissed as a "blog"] had urged the City Council to oppose SB 974 and asked "if any of your organizations (especially in Southern California) can attend [March 20's] council meeting (Long Beach) and let the council know that your organization supports the bill."
The Senatorial office email pleaded, "Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated. It would be a bad start if the Long Beach City Council doesn't endorse SB 974."
A few hours later -- while SCAQMD's Executive Officers were closed (every Monday) -- LBReport.com received an email routed through SCAQMD staff conveying the views of SCAQMD Executive Officer Dr. Barry Wallerstein. In his statement (posted in full by LBReport.com), Dr. Wallerstein called SB 974 "one of the most important clean air bills to be proposed in recent years and with a little fine tuning will provide tremendous public health benefits."
About a week earlier, SCAQMD told LBReport.com that at a March 9 meeting involving SCAQMD staff and SCAQMD's legislative committee didn't discuss the lack of a "no net increase" bill in proposed 2007 state legislation. (Support for such legislation has been part of SCAQMD policy for several years).
LBReport.com also learned that just weeks earlier, LB city management didn't inform LB City Councilmembers of the lack of 2007 "no net increase" legislation from Sen. Lowenthal...despite multiple City Council votes supporting such legislation in prior years.
In July 2006, Sen. Lowenthal told a hearing conducted by the Ports of LB and L.A. that his "no net increase" legislation (supported by the City of LB) needed to be part of the Ports' "Clean Air Action Plan." In August 2006, Assembly Democrat leaders blocked advance of the "no net increase" bill (which was also opposed by industry interests). In November 2006, Sen. Lowenthal told a CSULB goods movement conference (in response to a question pressed by LB activist Bry Myown) that he would bring the "no net increase" measure back in 2007.
After Sen. Lowenthal failed to do so by the Feb. 23, 2007 Senate legislative deadline, LBReport.com broke the story and on February 27 received and reported an emailed statement from Senator Lowenthal:
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.
Sen. Lowenthal had previously called his "no net increase" bill the most important legislation he'd introduced in all his years in the state legislature.
On Tuesday night March 20, 2007 the LB City Council is scheduled to take up an item agendized by Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Councilman Patrick O'Donnell proposing that the Council endorse SB 974.
In an email at midmorning March 19, Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga, who is also a voting member of the SCAQMD governing board, told LBReport.com that at the March 20 Council meeting she will be requesting the Council "recommend to support [SB 974] with conditions."