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    LB Council Quietly Letting L.A. Council Advance Port-Favored Amendments Including Funding Entitlements & Pollution Loopholes In Sen. Lowenthal's Container Fee Bill

    (July 6, 2007) -- We follow-up editorially on developments reported last week by

    Today (July 6), the Los Angeles City Council is poised to consider a resolution urging State Sen. Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV) to amend his SB 974 (container fee/"Port investment" bill) to make it even worse than it already is by including funding entitlements and pollution loopholes sought by the Ports of LB and L.A.

    The funding entitlements would use container fee money to replace the current Gerald Desmond Bridge with a higher version that will let mega-size container ships into LB's Port to dump a tsunami of additional containers here.

    The pollution loopholes include measures (unspecified in the L.A. text) that would "incentivize compliance rather than penalize non-compliance" by the Ports with emission reductions in their highly publicized but non-binding "Clean Air Action Plan."

    Big surprise, about the same time as L.A. Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Tom LaBonge advanced their resolution in April, LB's Harbor Commission passed its own resolution advocating nearly the same things but in more candid terms.

    Among other things, LB's Port says it wants unrestricted container fee revenue even if the Ports fail to deliver emission reductions in their "Clean Air Action Plan" [citing what the Port calls circumstances beyond its "reasonable control" but we view as growth related and thus clearly within the Port's control].

    LB Harbor Commission then-President James C. Hankla spelled out exactly what the Port of LB wants in an April 20 letter to Sen. Lowenthal, thoughtfully cc'd to LB Mayor Foster and every LB they can't pretend they didn't know what their Port was doing. Among other things, that letter cites reasons why the emission reductions cited in the Port's much publicized "Clean Air Action Plan" may not occur.

    Meanwhile, big surprise, the L.A. City Council's July 6 action affecting harbor area residents is scheduled for the L.A. Council meeting routinely held at a remote Van Nuys. The Council also routinely meets in San Pedro; Councilwoman Hahn's office (which represents the Port area) claims the San Fernando Valley location resulted from a short holiday week and a July 9 scheduled Assembly hearing on the bill.

    Big surprise, Senator Lowenthal's bill is scheduled to be heard in an Assembly Committee on Monday July 9...where he could announce that he's agreed to amendments to "address concerns raised by L.A"...when the changes are actually cooked to order to suit the Ports of LB and L.A.

    And big surprise, for the past two and half months, those LB Port sought-amendments weren't debated, discussed or approved by LB's City Council...despite what Mayor Foster's choice to chair the Council's State Legislation Committee, Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, said on March 20:

    Councilman O'Donnell:...This bill is going to change...We will make it change. As chair of the Legislative Committee, I'll be opining in the future on this bill, and I'm going to make sure that Long Beach plays a very active part in the development of this bill and the nurturing of it as it moves through the legislative process...This bill will change, and in fact we will make it change as it heads through the process, and understand that I will be vigilant, and I ask you to be vigilant, as this bill heads through the process as well.

    That LB flapdoodle came when Councilman O'Donnell and Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal co-agendized what amounted to "blank check" approval of SB 974...signing LB's name as an endorser and letting Sen. Lowenthal write in basically what he wants.

    LB's Harbor Commission conditioned its endorsement on amendments. The SCAQMD governing board conditioned its support on amendments. The L.A. City Council is about to condition its support on amendments.

    The time is running out for some principled LB Councilmember(s) to agendize in time for the July 10 Council meeting (deadline Friday at 5:00 p.m.) a resolution conditioning the City of LB's support for SB 974 on Sen. Lowenthal double-joining his bill to the "no net increase" legislation that he and the Council supported in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

    Double-joining means two measures either both become law, or neither becomes law. That is exactly what should happen here. The legislature should pass SB 974 tied to a "no net increase" guarantee that requires the Ports to deliver what they promise and forces Governor Schwarzenegger (who sought public office by saying the public had a "right" to breathe clean air -- to either sign both bills or veto progress.

    One year ago, was present and reported when Sen. Lowenthal stood in the LB City Council Chamber and told reps from the Ports of LB/L.A. that his container AND "no net increase" bill were BOTH necessary: the container fee bill to fund clean-up, the no net increase measure to ensure enforcement. Read his own words, which he has effectively abandoned now:

    Sen. Lowenthal [July 2006]: 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.

    In November 2006, was present and reported when Senator Lowenthal was asked during Q & A at a CSULB conference on the "True Cost of Goods Movement" if he'd reintroduce his "no net increase" legislation in 2007.

    And in February 2007, reported when Senator Lowenthal broke his public word by failing to reintroduce his "no net increase" bill.

    About a week later, we reported it when Senator Lowenthal told an industry conference ("Faster Freight, Cleaner Air") that he changed his 2006 container fee bill into its 2007 SB 974 formulation in large part to suit Governor Schwarzenegger's office (read: industry interests).

    In our view, Sen. Lowenthal now talks as if his voice comes from somewhere else, as if some ventriloquist is pulling his strings.

    In SB 974, Sen. Lowenthal proposes to hand the polluting Ports permanent growth and capacity increases while offering the public non-binding, non-enforceable, weasel-worded Port and bureaucrat defined "goals" "plans" and promises that courts, Ports and special interests can easily thwart.

    Sen. Lowenthal is being assisted in this by two major enablers from outside LB, who are providing him with political cover when they ought to be holding him to his own words.

    One Lowenthal enabler is the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has come down from its elegant (310) area code offices (the "Robert Redford Building") to tell those of us in (562) what we should swallow. We doubt NRDC would let anyone do in Santa Monica Bay what they are encouraging Sen. Lowenthal to do to us in San Pedro Bay.

    The other Lowenthal enabler is the "Coalition for Clean Air" which to our knowledge didn't publicly object when Senator Lowenthal abandoned his "no net increase" bill. We find that code of silence on a principled matter inconsistent with a credible advocacy group.

    The real tragedy is that clean air advocates are really holding the cards here and folding them at LB's expense. NRDC and CCA know that the region has to show some reasonable plan for "attainment" of federal clean air standards or local government bodies can get federal transportation (read: Port infrastructure) dollars. Clean air advocates are squandering their leverage...because politicians have to come up with a plan to reach attainment.

    Incredibly, the South Coast Air Quality Management District recently took an action we consider tantamount to moving the goal post. It voted to extend the time -- by years -- in which government bodies can devise a plan to meet attainment on some of the most dangerous pollutants.

    And unspoken but undeniable: if that doesn't work, Congress could change the attainment rules and deadlines..

    Some environmentalists cite what AQMD calls "backstop" measures, supposed protections if the Ports don't deliver as promised under their "Clean Air Action Plan." Unfortunately, the AQMD "backstop" measures could end up being "no-stop" measures. Just weeks ago, a federal court erased AQMD's train idling measures. That could happen to the "backstop" measures too...meaning LB could end up with no protection and the Ports and their special interests would get everything they want (permanent expanded infrastructrue).

    AQMD decrees are not the same as statutory "no net increase" protection...something Senator Lowenthal (and AQMD) once espoused and both are now trying to evade. was among Sen. Lowenthal's strongest supporters on "no net increase." In response, we received countless outraged emails from readers incensed that we'd support a Democrat on this. We don't care about Party. We care about principles...especially when people's health and safety are at stake.

    We have also been advised by some we respect not to criticize Sen. Lowenthal, as if he is some sacred cow. It's our experience that where there are sacred cows, there is sacred bull. We weren't afraid to call things as we saw them about Beverly O'Neill and we're not afraid to do likewise about Sen. Lowenthal.

    We will never adjust our opinions to suit politicians temporarily in power if we think they're wrong on the merits, period.

    We say plainly here that in our view, Sen. Lowenthal is now offering the Ports and their allied interests in SB 974 what LB-area politicians have always offered them to the public's detriment: permanent, continuing infrastructure expansion, decorated by green rhetoric and some undeniable green dollars.

    We don't dismiss dollars lightly. We applaud LB Mayor Foster for moving this issue far beyond anything imaginable under his predecessor. Our difference with Mayor Foster on SB 974 (which he strongly supports) is simple: oster focuses on dollars for "mitigation" and "programs" while we are adamant in focusing on the net pollution outcome.

    History shows that government is efficient at consuming dollars and moving goal posts and isn't efficient at producing net results. In our view, it's not responsible to hand out billions of dollars to build permanent impacting infrastructure when the LB Harbor Commission's immediate past President Jim Hankla has explicitly told Sen. Lowenthal, Mayor Foster and the LB City Council that the Ports' "Clean Air Action Plan" may not deliver the reductions publicly promised.

    Time is of the essence now. SB 974 is advancing to final passage while LB's City Council is letting others decide our future. We urge LB's Council to reject political gamesmanship and not to let the L.A./LB Port complex and its special interests decide our future.

    We urge agendizing of a LB City Council resolution to double-join (tie) SB 974 to the 2006 no-net-increase legislation -- killed by Democrats -- that the LB City Council supported...before something changed Senator Lowenthal into someone we no longer recognize.

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