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    Exclusive/News in Depth

    Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal On Port Of LB Impacts...And Councilman Val Lerch's Fundamental Question On Growth


    (June 16, 2003) -- On May 20, 2003, the LB City Council held a study session on the 710 freeway, which included a presentation by Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority CEO James C. Hankla. We considered Mr. Hankla's presentation so important that we transcribed and posted it verbatim.

    And we included a statement by 9th district Councilman Val Lerch that may be the single most important question posed by any elected official of the City of Long Beach, or Los Angeles County, in the past fifty years.

    Showing both political courage and intellectual honesty, Councilman Lerch asked rhetorically but firmly:

    "Why have we bought into as a city the building and expanding [of] the Port? Why are we on this track of getting the biggest Port in the world? How does it benefit this city as a whole? Why are we at this? Because they came along and said they were going to take the Navy Station away, so we had to find out something to do with the Navy Station, and now somebody decided, and now we're on this track to make it the biggest in the world? Why don't we tell the world we're done? Don't build anymore. Long Beach has taken it. Why don't we take and close down Treasure Island in San Francisco and use that as the goods to all the world. There are other alternatives and nobody's answered that question why we've decided the Port's a place to be, other than an ego for the city. What does it benefit the city of Long Beach in the long run? And I question that, and nobody's been able to answer that."

    No other Councilmember faced up to Councilman Lerch's fundamental, threshold questions.

    Since then, Mayor O'Neill has nominated Mr. Hankla to become one of LB's two latest Harbor Commissioners (along with Mario Cordero), subject to Council approval.

    When their nominations came before the Council's Personnel & Civil Service Committee, its members (chair Richardson, members Baker & Reyes-Uranga) didn't ask Messrs. Hankla and Cordero their positions on the fundamental questions raised by Councilman Lerch. In fact, the Committee didn't ask Hankla or Cordero any questions. In fact, it didn't ask any of the Mayor's nominees any questions.

    On May 31, 2003 -- before the Mayor nominated Mr. Hankla for the Harbor Commission -- LB area Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal held a meet and greet event at an ELB coffee house. The atmosphere was hectic (bustling customers, whirring coffee machines) but we asked Assemblyman Lowenthal what he thought of the issue raised by Councilman Lerch.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal stopped everything and gave us what we consider a thoughtful and very significant response. We post it in detail below. We consider it all the more remarkable because it dealt with a touchy subject -- some would say a sacred cow -- extemporaneously in response to a question we posed without forewarning.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal's response shows us he has given the issue the serious thought it deserves...and he considers it fair to face the fundamental issues raised by Councilman Lerch's question...and go where the truth leads on the answers.

    We again emphasize that Assemblyman Lowenthal's remarks were extemporaneous and not made in the context of Harbor Commission appointees. However in our opinion, what he said is highly relevant in that context...and others. colloquy with Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal
    May 31, 2003 A Long Beach Councilman, Val Lerch, asked an almost heretical question at the City Council. He said, why have we bought into more Port growth? Why don't we, I'm paraphrasing now, why don't we just say, enough, we're not taking any more?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: I think it's a reasonable question to ask. I think what he's really saying is, is there any comprehensive plan that takes into account what the impacts of this growth are. I will tell you...what I learned when I introduced my bills, not so much the covering of the [Port area petroleum] coke piles but the truck idling, what I learned about that was that the Steamship Association, the tenants in the Port, believed that their responsibility only came up to the Tidelands. So if they brought everything in, and they used those resources then to increase the infrastructure in the Tidelands and some of their money went to that, that's as much as they were responsible for.

    And what they disliked about what I was doing, was saying these trucks are producing all this pollution inland're responsible also.

    I think what [Councilman] Lerch is saying is, if you're going to talk about economic development and expansion, everyone has to be at the table, not just the area within the Port. We don't have mechanisms now in place to look at that expansion in terms of overall impacts, what's the best and what's the worst...They are always afterthoughts, after the decisions were made, Bill, and then figuring out how you're going to mitigate it, put something here, do something there, put a wetlands out in Bolsa Chica.

    ...And what we're finding is that the largest issue now in the state is the environmental justice issue. And really what Lerch is saying is that, starting from North Long Beach, all the way to downtown L.A., we have to suffer all these impacts and we're not at the table.

    And I think if he starts that discussion and raises it, that's a positive discussion, because without that discussion, we're not going to be able to make those kinds of rational decisions about what is enough? What are the different plans? If you have plan A, what impacts does that have? What does plan B have, what does plan C [have]? What are the costs?

    ...I don't think you can get away any longer in California, with the changing demographics, with the changing makeup of our urban centers, engaging in development that does not take into account the impacts among the poorest communities who have to suffer the brunt.

    It's never going to happen again, you're never build the political support. They have been an island -- and a very positive island -- but they have been an island and they now are going to have to rethink, even though they're only responsible for being in the trust [area] along the tidelands, people are not going to allow them to go on if they're not taking into account other impacts. It's not going to happen.

    It's not just Val Lerch. They don't understand that this is a tidal wave. Your legislation now twice has actually moved mitigation measures that cleaned the air in the area, first with the coke, then with the [truck] idling, to actually make it better. No one has yet raised cleaning the current level of air pollution with the "improvements" that they're going to make to the [710] freeway, it's just to accommodate current capacity. That question came up at a Wrigley [area] meeting.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Absolutely, a great meeting...[L.A. Mayor] Jim Hahn, when he was elected -- and I use this because of the Port of L.A. -- for years and years the Port of L.A. was engaged in a 100 year war with the residents of Wilmington and San Pedro. They didn't respond at all...Hahn came in and said, any Port improvement, any development can have no net increase on environmental impacts.

    Noel Park and the neighborhoods around there, Jesse Marquez over in Wilmington...said wait a second. It has to have a decrease...And where is the base rate? And when are you measuring it? And let's just start this...which started a chain that we have not seen the end.

    One of the things that happened over there, it began the development of the PCAC which was the community oversight. It began the China Shipping issue, and the NRDC lawsuit [basically] saying that any kind impact as part of the economic development of this, your building this terminal, there has to be money for decreasing pollution. Decrease pollution. Decrease it.

    That has not come across the water yet to Long Beach. But it's coming. What you're raising is coming. Those are reasonable questions. With the 710 in particular?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: With everything...Everything has to be part of a plan. I want to see us engage in electrification. I don't know where that fits into this plan. Ultimately we have to think about inland ports, distribution centers have to be in other places...We did not develop an infrastructure...I'm concerned that we're talking about new infrastructure when we're not even using the existing infrastructure to its maximum.

    This stuff to me reflects a lack of an overall plan which does not take into account, and that's what I'm beginning to look at at the state level -- just looking at it, I'm just listening and looking at it. I'm not committing [to] it yet, but I am definitely looking.

    You know, they're always wondering, what is Lowenthal down in the Port going to do? All I'm going doing is watching this and seeing that there's right now, there is no comprehensive plan. There is no understanding of what Mr. Lerch is saying and what the impacts are.

    And it will be good, ultimately, if we go through that kind of change, just like L.A. has been going through. It's a change in thinking...

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: It's a paradigm shift. It is good for the community. It's good for the Ports. They screamed and yelled, but there is now much more support down there than there ever has been. They don't believe everything is going to happen but the linkages are there. They're building a buffer around the Port of L.A. They're opening access to the public. They're talking about clean air.

    I think that that's got to happen in Long Beach too.

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