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    On Public Health & Safety, A Council That Is Master, Not Servant, Of Its Port

    (March 8, 2004) -- Dr. John Peters, director of the Southern CA Environmental Health Sciences Center and Professor of Preventive Medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine, said it with such clarity it is now impossible for anyone to say they didn't know:

    "I emphasize under present conditions, with the air the way it is now, we have more pre-term births and birth defects...We have an increase in asthma and other respiratory disease in children. We have an increase in abnormal lungs in children. We have heart disease in adults. And we have cancer. So that's what's happening with air the way it is," he told a recent LB conference, adding "The current air we are breathing is damaging humans of all ages...No Net Increase [in pollution] is not enough."

    In contrast, a public entity carrying this city's name -- the Port of Long Beach -- is attempting to dictate to LB Councilmembers that No Net Improvement and No Net Increase won't happen until the LB's Port says they'll happen...which LB's Port claims could take up to a decade (translation: until LB's Port and interests it serve get more federal tax money to put more growth-inviting infrastructure in place).

    The Port of LB, run by non-elected Harbor Commissioners chosen by the Mayor and approved by the Council, wants Councilmembers to approve a Port policy that is superficially benign but substantively contemptuous of a Council whose stated policy is -- was? -- to support No Net (pollution) Increase (2004's AB 2042).

    In January 2005, reported -- and posted verbatim -- a so-called Green Port policy adopted by LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners. In our opinion, it was basically an empty, ambiguous and self-serving document whose terms and implementation the Port has decreed it will decide on the Port's terms.

    Incredibly, LB's Harbor Commissioners now expect the City Council to endorse this. That would put Councilmembers in a servile position on a major matter of health and safety.

    Councilmembers should not allow this given the Port's record on air pollution (it trails L.A. on shoreside power) and bullying of Councilmembers on a matter within the Council's authority: budgeted Port spending.

    In September 2004, retired City Manager, now Harbor Commissioner, James Hankla publicly instructed Councilmembers that if they didn't approve Port-decided spending as submitted (our translation: if the Council tried to cut off funds for Port lobbying against Council-set policies) the Harbor Commission was free to reconsider its previously-determined surplus funds transfer to the City's Tidelands Operating Fund.

    The ultimatum was a watershed moment...and although the Council backed down then, it has the leverage now to turn the tables and regain some semblance of control over this city's Port.

    There is simply no reason for the Council to approve the Port's Green Port policy as it stands. There are multiple good reasons for not doing so.

    LB's Port has contemptuously lobbied against clean air policies supported by the LB City Council, including Assemblyman Lowenthal's 2004 No Net Increase in port air pollution bill (AB 2042). The so-called Green Port Policy is the PoLB's political and public relations cover to deflect mounting criticism of the Port's refusal to commit to No Net Increase.

    Last year, Councilman Dan Baker accurately said that in supporting AB 2042 the Council effectively declared No Net Increase in air pollution to 2004 levels to be LB city policy.

    LB's City Attorney says that under the present City Charter, the Harbor Commision is free to take positions contrary to the City Council on matters within the Harbor District. Fine...but that principle works both ways. LB's elected Councilmembers have no legal or policy obligation to give the Council's blessing to having the Port of LB decide what human impacts it will inflict on LB residents and on what terms and for how long.

    The Port's real Green policy is lobbying for federal dollars to fund more growth-inviting subsidized infrastructure. The Port's lobbying effectively requires elected Council political support because the Port's current policy is extreme and politically untenable: more growth regardless of more pollution.

    LB City Hall is currently spending city taxpayer dollars to urge Congress to insert massive, costly, permanent infrastructure projects in a big federal transportation bill. The Council has absolutely no legal obligation to do this.

    Since the Port refuses to commit to ensuring that the new infrastructure won't worsen pollution, the Council has ample reason to reexamine its support for those projects.

    This needn't be a unanimous vote to be effective. The prospect of losing previously unanimous LB Council support for Port related projects is newsworthy. It will be reported locally and probably nationally. It will eventually percolate to Capitol Hill...and money there is already tight.

    This should get the attention of the Port...especially since major policy assumptions are now being seriously questioned. At a recent LB conference on air pollution, Jon Haveman, Ph.D, a respected economist with the Public Policy Institute of CA pointed out:

    [P]art of the reason that the Ports are here and generating so many jobs is because you all subsidize them. The Ports are tremendous polluters. By their own admission, they're responsible for about 25% of diesel emission in the L.A. area. These emissions are equivalent to those from about 1 million cars.

    The region is heavily impacted to the tune of about $2.5 billion in externalized health care costs a year. Now $2.5 billion is a very large number, but I would argue that a number you really should use in this calculation is much larger still, because this number doesn't take into consideration the effects on the individuals. It doesn't take into consideration the lost time off from work. It doesn't take into consideration the discomfort, the unhappiness. It doesn't take into consideration early death that sometimes result...

    ...The demand for the resource that is willing to pay the most for it ought to get it. That's a simple economic principle that leads to basic economic efficiency provided prices reflect the true cost.

    Air is another matter. Here the principle also holds that the use that can pay the most for it ought to get it, but the use that's getting it is not paying for it. So here's an example where price does not reflect the cost. The goods movement industry is using it for free and that costs all of you to the tune of about $7,000 per job...

    ...Think about what happens in the event that we don't support Port growth, and we don't develop the infrastructure that's really necessary for the Ports to grow from 12 million to 36 million TEUs. I don't think that there's any disagreement that the infrastructure that's currently in place will not allow the Ports to grow from 12 million to 36 million.

    But what happens if we decide that that's OK? I'll put forward five different things that I think will happen.

    One is that some of the cargo vessels that are currently calling on the Ports will divert to other Ports, will divert to the Port of Oakland and other points along the western seaboard...And second, what happens if you don't build the infrastructure, better use will be made of existing resources...Third, other ports will invest in capacity, and as other ports invest in capacity, we'll see that diversion becomes even easier away from the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach...Fourth, prices of goods movement services will rise, and there's already a lot of this going on...

    Finally, less trade will flow. This sounds like a bad thing but I'm going to suggest that it's not entirely. Goods movement is heavily subsidized by you all, by the building of highways and bridges. If we build a $5 billion expansion of the 710, that's a subsidy to the goods movement industry to the extent that the Ports, the shippers and the carriers don't contribute to its construction.

    So we've got direct subsidies in infrastructure at home, and infrastructure abroad, the Chinese are building ports like it's nobody's business. They're also subsidizing their carriers, which means that moving stuff from China to the United States is much cheaper than it otherwise would be...

    Now I'll make the argument that trade is only economically efficient if prices reflect the costs, and with these subsidies, the prices of moving goods from Asia to the United States do not reflect the true costs, the prices are much lower. If the prices were higher, there would be less trade.

    I'm an international trade economist, well indoctrinated in the school of 'trade is good.' But trade is not that good. It's not good enough so that we should be paying people [to do it]...

    ...Common, common principle of public finance economics, that the polluter ought to be taxed to reduce the level of their activities so that the benefits of that activity more equal the costs. We're currently subsidizing the Ports. And in particular, the local communities, as you all know, subsidize international goods movement through their quality of life, whether this means the health effects or the economic effects.

    Faced with such arguments, Port interests can no longer expect federal tax dollars to flow like some sort of entitlement...especially if there are elected local officials who object.

    We're sorry that Harbor Commissioner Mario Cordero -- a well-liked lawyer -- is the point-man for the so-called Green Port policy...but we believe the principle is more important than the person involved here.

    We think Councilmembers should decline the Harbor Commission's invitation to act as Port servants. Councilmembers should not allow Harbor masters to dictate policy on the health and safety of LB residents.

    We urge Councilmembers to force a recorded vote on amendments to any resolution supporting the Port's so-called Green Port policy.

    We favor a Council motion reexamining its previous support for pending federal legislation that would increase the capacity of Port-related infrastructure. It should direct this matter to the Council's federal legislation committee for prompt hearings.

    We favor an amendment that makes unambiguously clear that the Council does not acquiesce in a Port policy that lacks a meaningful No Net Increase provision.

    If this doesn't prompt LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners, supposedly infused with a new way of doing business, to publicly commit to a meaningful, unambiguous, no-nonsense No Net Increase policy, there are a number of other measures that Council can and should take.

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