When A Law Seeking Clean Air Produces Port Hot Air
(Sept. 2, 2004) -- Like the child who killed his parents and then seeks sympathy as an orphan, the Port of LB is now seeking victim status.
After spending public resources to invite reckless growth that helped turn a publicly owned entity into part of southern California's worst stationary source of toxic airborne pollutants, some LB officials are now using public resources to oppose AB 2042 that would keep their future growth from making the problem even worse.
Despite the fact that LB's elected policymaking body -- the LB City Council -- voted to support AB 2042 (legislation authored by LB area Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal), LB Port officials are now using a bogus argument in trying to derail AB 2042. As a practical matter, they are being assisted in this by LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, whose tapdancing response to L.A. Times reporter Deborah Schoch, and LBReport.com on AB 2042 (portions below) needs to be dealt with immediately.
Time is of the essence...because the Port of LB's forthright Executive Director Richard Steinke has said plainly that he favors having Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger veto AB 2042.
Imagine what message it would send if the Governor, who communicates with LB's Mayor on other things, asked her what she thinks of AB 2042 and received the following (a transcript of the Mayor's exchange with reporters on Aug. 31):
Mayor O'Neill: I think that 2004 [AB 2042's baseline level for pollution] is pretty aggressive and I agree with the intent, but I think the process needs to be explained a little better on how we could actually get there...
Ms. Schoch: ...OK, at this point then, do you oppose 2042 then?
Mayor O'Neill: No, I'm in favor of the intent, but not the process yet, at this time.
Ms. Schoch: OK, so 2042 in particular...
Mayor O'Neill: With the timing...
Ms. Schoch: With the timing, you don't support at this point with that 2004...
Mayor O'Neill: Well as Mr. Steinke said, we have authority over some jurisdictions and some not...
LBReport.com: The Council is on record supporting the bill but the Port is on record opposed. Just specifically, have you communicated or will you be communicating with the Governor to sign it, let it go into law without his signature or veto it?
Mayor O'Neill: We haven't determined a direction as far as after we have agreed with it. We have already agreed with it and that has been sent forward. Is that what you're asking?
LBReport.com: So what is Mayor O'Neill going to do?
Mayor O'Neill: Well I'm following what the Council is doing. I also feel, I agree with it, but I'm just talking about the process of making sure that it can be implemented.
LBReport.com: So would you be encouraging him to sign the bill, let it go into law without his signature, or...
Mayor O'Neill: I think he has to know what it entails.
LBReport.com: That's short of a direct answer. So veto, sign or let it go into law without his signature?
Mayor O'Neill: You know, we will send him our information and the best information that we can give him on what the Council has decided on and the Port will also do the same thing.
LBReport.com: We meaning the Mayor's office?
Mayor O'Neill: No, the Council, for the Council.
LBReport.com: You would not independently be talking to him?
Mayor O'Neill: No, I don't talk independently on things like this.
LBReport.com [to Mr. Steinke]: And the Port?
Mr. Steinke: The Port has stated its position and at this point, again, we agree with the intent of the legislation but the legislation, specifically, we've gone on record to say we oppose it and we still do.
LBReport.com: Will you urge a veto?
Mr. Steinke: Absolutely.
We urge Councilmembers (it only takes one) to agendize a resolution stating City of LB's unequivocal support for AB 2042 and urging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the measure and then do what the Port and polluting business interests should do: urge the Governor to use his clout to free up resources to help attain, not scuttle, AB 2042's modest goal of not further poisoning the public's air.
What the Port of LB is doing is turning a legitimate issue into a bogus one for advocacy purposes. It is citing a bureaucratic, mind-numbing letter sent to the Port of LB from the CA Air Resources Board (an agency operating under the Governor) which has sought to protect its bureaucratic turf by blocking Port efforts to levy a clean air tariff on dirty, old port yard equipment; the tariff would encourage newer, cleaner equipment. Yes, the small yard equipment pollution is a fart in a blizzard compared to big ticket items like ships and trucks, but what the Port of LB wants to do is sound policy.
What's not legitimate is that PoLB officials are now citing the state agency's territorial behavior to spin Port advocacy against AB 2042: how can we meet AB 2042's "no net increase" in air pollution standard when we try but can't control the sources? Oh, woe is we.
The last time we checked, the legislature controls the CA Air Resources Board (ARB). They could fix the problem. We suspect Governor Schwarzenegger would hit the ceiling if he read the CA ARB letter (with his name on the letterhead next to the state seal). To view it, click here.
If the Port and those who use it really want clean air, they ought to press Schwarzenegger to help free up the resources to meet AB 2042, not to scuttle it.
And if Sacramento points to Washington about the Clean Air Act, Congress controls that. It should take pollution and security at the PoLB much more seriously.
During last year's recall of Gov. Gray Davis, candidate Schwarzenegger's campaign web site ("joinarnold.com") included the following:
"Jobs vs. the environment" is a false choice. Overwhelming evidence demonstrates that clean air and water result in a more productive workforce, and a healthier economy, which will contribute to a balanced state budget.
Moreover, it is children who suffer disproportionate impacts of environmental toxins. Studies show that children who live near freeways, for example, suffer significantly higher asthma rates and learning disabilities...
Breathing clean and healthy air is a right of all Californians, especially our children, whose health suffers disproportionately when our air is polluted. The future health of California's environment and economy depend on our taking action now.
We agree. The Port of LB sits on state tidelands property. It is operated by the City of LB in trust for the state. It is beyond an embarrassment that an entity of the City of Long Beach -- a government body that is supposed to protect public health and safety -- is a party to operations that generate multiple airborne toxics that increase the risk of cancer, pulmonary diseases and (especially for children) asthma.
This cannot be allowed to worsen (and ought to be forced to improve.) But a city that speaks with three voices has no voice.
We urge the Council -- which has the City Charter power to approve or disapprove the Port's budget in the coming weeks -- to specify that no Port of LB resources be used for legislative advocacy that conflicts with voted policy positions of the City of LB as set by the City Council.
If the City Attorney says the Council doesn't have that power now, the Council can direct the City Attorney to return with a Charter Amendment to change that and put it on the ballot at the earliest opportunity. No dilatory committee hearings. Either the elected Council sets policy for LB or it doesn't; simple as that.
Or others can make changes in more profound ways. One way would be to give the public a veto at the ballot box -- as taxpayers in other cities have sought and won -- over major land use and development decisions. In LB's case, that would include at the city operated Port and Airport.
We urge the Council to agendize -- by special meeting if necessary since time is of the essence -- a resolution urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign AB 2042 and then use his clout to help secure the resources to meet its modest standards.
No one we respect believes private firms should be allowed to use the publicly-owned Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles -- which sit on state tidelands -- in ways that worsen public health and safety.
No one we respect believes private firms should be allowed to use the public's Ports of LB and L.A. in ways that could cost California millions of federal dollars by making it harder (some say nearly impossible) for the L.A. and OC area air basin to attain federal clean air standards that its residents have a right to expect.
A veto of AB 2042 would undermine the Governor's well stated words about clean air, hurt Steve Kuykendall's candidacy against incumbent Betty Karnette and hurt other candidates backed by the Governor who ought to replace incumbents.
Locally, we believe that if AB 2042 is blocked by the Port and its associated special interests, it will catalyze efforts to rid LB of its current non-elected, non-accountable Harbor Commissioners...who currently presume to impose health and safety risks on the public with virtually no serious public control.
A Charter change could fire them and replace them with an accountable, elected (and recallable) body: either the Council or an independent body.
Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.