We Find Assemblymember Judy Chu (D., Monterey Park) At Local Labor Day Picnic And Ask Why Sen. Lowenthal's Port Anti-Pollution Bills (Including "No Net Increase") Were Blocked In Appropriations Committee She Chairs...And She Replies
(Sept. 4, 2006) -- As previously reported by LBReport.com, SB 764 by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV) -- the "no net increase" in port air pollution bill (sets air emissions baselines and requires the Ports of LB & L.A. to meet them) -- was abruptly blocked from advancing to the Assembly floor on August 17, 2006 by Assembly Appropriations Committee chair Judy Chu (D., Monterey Park).
On August 17, chair Chu also announced that two others bills by Sen. Lowenthal were being held in her committee: SB 760 (a cargo container fee to fund rail cargo, port security and air quality projects) and SB 1829 (tightening restrictions on truck idling at marine container terminals and shifting enforcement authority from individual local air districts to the Air Resources Board (ARB).
Senator Lowenthal did manage to get his cargo container fee measure to the Assembly floor via a "gut and amend" procedure (stripping text from an unrelated bill and pouring new text into it). Surgery was performed on SB 927 and the container fee bill advanced with a substantive change: container fee revenue would be directed to the CA Air Resources Board instead of SCAQMD. That was an eyebrow-raiser because CARB engineered the MOU with CA railroads opposed by SCAQMD, area cities and grassroots activists.
The revised container fee legislation passed the Assembly; the Senate concurred and the bill is now headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But because of Assembly Committee Chair Chu's action -- either on her own or with what we presume was the acquiescence of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D., L.A.) -- the no-net increase bill (SB 764) was killed. That bill had major substantive power because -- unlike "plans," "goals" and predicted "metrics" -- it offered taxpayers a statutory guarantee that the Ports wouldn't worsen air pollution as the Ports simultaneously demand more public money to expand.
Without the "no net increase" bill, L.A.-LB-OC-Inland Empire residents now have no statutory, enforceable legal guarantee that a pending November ballot measure (a "transportation infrastructure" bond written behind closed doors by state lawmakers) won't worsen net pollution with growth.
Killing SB 764 -- which was supported by the City of Long Beach (by its City Council) and the SCAQMD -- was a major defeat for LB-L.A.-OC-Inland Empire clean-air advocates and an unearned victory for port-industry interests. That outcome was the result of the Assembly's Democrat leadership.
Telephone messages left by us with Assemblymember Chu's Sacramento, Monterey Park and campaign offices and Assembly Speaker Nunez's Sac'to office, asking to speak with these elected officials, got us nowhere.
However, we expected that one or both of them might attend the annual Labor Day picnic at Wilmington's Banning Park, a traditional Democrat venue. We got a break: Assemblymember Chu, now seeking a seat on the State Board of Equalization, was there. (Separately attending was State Senator Lowenthal, visible in the distance in the photo atop this page).
Assemblymember Chu made herself available to us for some on the spot Q & A, which we transcribed below. Her comments were extemporaneous, fielding our questions with a P.A. blaring and multiple distractions.
At the outset, Assemblymember Chu noted that the container fee bill had passed...and our conversation followed:
LBReport.com: Tell us what happened to the other two port bills?
Assemblymember Chu: Well, it was an agreement that was made, there was a discussion with [Senator] Alan Lowenthal and the leadership in terms of what bill he wanted to have come forth and so he thought that the Port [container] fee bill was the most important thing for the community.
LBReport.com: Why wouldn't all three [port bills] go forward?
Assemblymember Chu: Well, there were problems with all bills in terms of some aspect of it. There was, in terms of the bill with the waiting [truck idling times], having only thirty minutes before you can do your business, there were problems that needed to be fixed with that bill that were not fixed at the time period. For instance, what would happen if the truck driver wanted to go to the bathroom? Or if the truck driver wanted to go to the trouble window? You know, the trouble window apparently some time. I think these things could have been worked out, but...
LBReport.com: ...But yours wasn't a policy committee. [Appropriations Committee hearings are publicly limited to fiscal, not policy issues. Sen. Lowenthal's bills had already passed the full Senate and an Assembly policy committee.] Why keep it from getting to the [Assembly] floor?
Assemblymember Chu: Many of the bills that get stopped at our level are for all kinds of different reasons. They're for fiscal reasons but they're also for other kinds of reasons as well. For instance, if the bill hasn't been worked out well enough.
LBReport.com: And was the Daily Breeze right when they attributed this to Speaker Nunez being upset about the [Lowenthal] redistricting bill coming out [passed by the Senate]?
Assemblymember Chu: Well, I do not believe that is the case. I believe that, in fact I would say no. Each decision on bills are made just solely on the bill itself. And that's how we have to approach things.
LBReport.com: So was your decision on the merits [of the bills]?
Assemblymember Chu: Yes. But I do have to tell you, that I understood how important the [container] fee was to this area, and that's why after discussion with people about the fee...Initially, we were concerned about the fact that there was this transportation bond coming forward that would give a lot of money to the ports. So it wasn't until after we had further discussions, after the bills were held, that we concluded after talking to several members that it was important to have an ongoing source of funds that would take care of port issues.
LBReport.com: ...The no net increase bill was supported by the City of Long Beach, the SCAQMD, that one's now dead, but the legislature is asking the public to shell out money for what amounts to a lot of port expansion. Why shouldn't people vote against the bond because there's now nothing to protect them against an increase in pollution because the bill didn't get out?...
Assemblymember Chu: Well, remember that it'll be a while before the monies are dispensed for the bond, and in the meantime there can be legislation that can be passed that can deal with some of the problems with that particular bill. So there is always next year and he [Sen. Lowenthal] can start as early as January. And there can in fact be an urgency [attached to the legislation] so the bill can be passed right away and go into effect. Believe me, it'll be a while before that [bond] money is even, in any way shape or form, dispensed out...
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