(Nov. 13, 2005) -- Recent developments justify prompt City Council action to begin the process of readying a Charter Amendment for an April 2006 vote of the people to create an elected, recallable LB Harbor Commission.
Some Councilmembers appeared to be headed in that direction in September 2004 after LB's non-elected, non-recallable Harbor Commission used public resources to undermine the voted policy of the LB City Council. At stake was clean-air legislation, authored by then-Assemblyman, now-state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV) that merely sought to prevent Port-related pollution from getting worse. LB's Port shamefully opposed this moderate measure...and Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
Now the Port is thumbing its nose at the Council and the public again, albeit in a more stealthful manner.
On October 27, 2005 the CA Air Resources Board (CARB) confronted a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) secretly negotiated by CARB staff with CA's major RR's. The South Coast Air Quality Management District opposed the MOU, warning that it would weaken local pollution controls. The LB City Council voted unanimously to oppose the MOU. Two LB Councilmembers (Reyes Uranga and Lowenthal) delivered individual testimony to the CA Air Resources Board, underscoring LB opposition to the MOU.
LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners didn't agendize the MOU. They didn't publicly discuss the MOU. They didn't vote to take a position on the MOU. But flying below the radar, something called the "California Ass'n of Port Authorities" did. Through a Sacramento lobbying firm, the "CA Ass'n of Port Authorities" submitted written testimony parroting RR and shipping industry support for the MOU (saying it will produce some pollution reductions quickly). At its October meeting, the CA Air Resources Board refused to rescind the MOU.
LBReport.com subsequently learned and reported that the "CA Ass'n of Port Authorities'" current president (the position apparently rotates) is Port of LB Executive Director Richard Steinke.
As we see it, one of two things is true: either LB's Harbor Commissioners didn't know what was done by an entity purporting to speak in the Port's name headed by its Executive Director...or they did know and did nothing.
So which is worse? It's an interesting question but to us the point is: a City of LB entity is currently operating -- literally -- out of control by either the public or their elected Council representatives.
The City Council has tried more moderate measures in the past to no avail. In September 2004, Councilmembers Gabelich and Reyes Uranga sought to use the Council's current budget process (the Council approves the Harbor Dept.'s annual budget) to curtail Port lobbying against Council-set policies. That led LB's hardball Harbor Commission to threaten to "review" its previous decision to transfer millions of Port-declared surplus dollars to LB's cash-strapped tidelands fund.
Councilmembers caved in to this in 2004, and if Harbor Commissioners threaten it again the Council should let them. A Port threat to sink tidelands programs and require backfill from city taxpayers will produce a tidal wave of support for the measure.
As another reminder, this week the public will be forced to deal with a draft "Environmental Impact Report" (first EIR public meeting is at City Hall, Nov. 14, 6:00 p.m.) stemming from a backasswards Port agreement to facilitate an application to put 80+ million gallons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) roughly two miles from downtown. LB's non-elected Harbor Commissioners invited this before a Council vote on whether it was a good idea and before an independent risk assessment. We doubt an elected, recallable body would make such an agreement first and then look into public risks and public costs afterward.
When the Port recently unveiled its EIR (co-issued by the Fed'l Energy Regulatory Comm'n), it used a figure to calculate areas at risk that the CA Energy Commission explicitly recommended against using as insufficiently protective of the public.
LB's Harbor Commission tilted toward federal control of the process from the outset by failing to support CA's Public Utilities Commission which sought to have the LNG applicant comply with CPUC safety and regulatory authority. That invited a court fight that led Congress to strip away CPUC and some Council authority but left LB's Harbor Commission with the ultimate "yes" or "no" power to decide the outcome.
This issue goes beyond the RR MOU and LNG. The Council and the public will face more, and perhaps worse, situations in the future. This will persist as long as a non-elected, non-recallable Harbor Commission operates beyond public control.
Residents of Seattle-Tacoma, WA and Port Hueneme, CA already have the right to elect their Harbor Commissions. LB residents deserve to be next.