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    If Sac'to Dems Kill "No Net Increase" Bill, Voters Should Kill Port Expansion Bond

    (August 26, 2006) -- Is State Senator Alan Lowenthal quietly ditching SB 764 -- his extraordinarily important "no net increase" in port pollution bill that Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed in previous form two years ago and Lowenthal reintroduced in 2005, and has called the most important piece of legislation he's introduced in all his years in the state legislature (since 1999)?

    Will Lowenthal watch meekly as his party's "leadership" kills that bill while he carries water for a port-expansion bond [read: taxpayer subsidy]? If not stopped by voters in November, that measure would hand the Ports millions of taxpayer dollars for infrastructure to expand without any legally binding guarantee that the net result won't worsen pollution?

    On the afternoon of August 17, broke the news in a front page advisory that Lowenthal's "no net increase" bill (SB 764) and a significant but lesser bill (SB 760 to create a container fee to fund rail cargo, port security and air quality projects) had been blocked in the Assembly Appropriations Committee by its partisan robot chair, Judy Chu (D., Monterey Park). Lame duck lawmaker Chu [now running for State Board of Equalization where LB area residents can vote against her in November] almost certainly acted with the approval of Assembly speaker Fabian Nunuz [neither has returned our calls seeking comment and an opportunity to question them.]

    The Daily Breeze subsequently reported [and we separately learned from our own Sac'to sources] that some Sac'to politicos didn't like Lowenthal advancing his redistricting bill that could hamper their Gerrymandered rigging of state election outcomes. Whatever Chu's and/or Nunez's reasoning was, it pales in comparison to the damages they are doing to LB and L.A.-OC families...and we need to respond accordingly.

    The threat to SB 764 hit like a bombshell among local activists. At a recent event honoring environmental leader Don May, a veteran of decades of legislative shenanigans on multiple topics, Mr. May instantly grasped the catastrophic significance. "My God, it could be dead for the session," he said. Others at the LB event, already wary of the port expansion bond on the November ballot, realized what has to be done: stop that November port expansion bond.

    Passing a port expansion bond without SB 764 invites poison...literally. It would hand the ports public money for expanded infrastructure without any legally-binding statutory guarantee that the net result won't be increased pollution.

    SB 764 offers some statutory protection against this. It's a "smart growth" measure that sets baseline levels of pollutants and invites the Ports to use new technical methods and innovative techniques of their choice (that the Ports frequently talk about) to ensure their operations don't exceed those baselines without growth.

    Giving the Ports an entitlement to expand without legal protections to ensure this won't worsen pollution is, in our view, stupid growth. It must be stopped.

    Despite an ambitious-sounding draft Clean Air Action Plan," neither the Ports of LB nor L.A. endorsed SB 764 which simply commits the Ports to not making things worse. The "CA Ass'n of Port Authorities," in which both Ports are members and presumes to speak on their behalf, opposes it. The PoLB told the LB City Council it's "neutral" on SB 764 but the Port opposed Lowenthal's previous "no net increase" bill (AB 2042). At least the Port's prior position came after a public vote; we have no idea how LB's current "Board of Harbor Commissioners" decided its supposedly "neutral" policy since it never agendized, debated or allowed public comment on this despite what we consider the clear requirements of the Brown open meetings Act.

    SB 764 is supported by the City of Long Beach (via a unanimous 2005 City Council vote), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and by multiple clean air, health and environmental advocates and groups.

    Here are the salient portions of testimony delivered by Senator Lowenthal in Long Beach on July 12, 2006, addressing a panel chaired by Port of LB Planning Director Dr. Robert Kanter, PoLA's Ralph Eppy and representatives of U.S. EPA, CA Air Resources Board and South Coast AQMD (agencies which assisted the Ports in developing the Ports' draft "Clean Air Action Plan"):

    [begin text]

    Sen. Lowenthal: ...Our region pays a significant health care cost for funneling well over a third of our nation's imported goods through these Ports and while I've been personally working on issues of clean air in our region for over fifteen years as an elected official, I'm excited to see within the last few years others join me.

    ...As you know, you are counting on a lot of the bond, and as a person who worked on the bond, to write the bond, I would make sure that within the bond that the first call on the air quality, the $1 billion in air quality improvements that are related to goods movement...

    So, what we're really saying is that if the state and the public, the people here, are going to pay almost a billion dollars out of public funds, then the private sector which benefits from the use of this infrastructure must be a full financial partner in the implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan in order for it to be successfully implemented...

    SB 760 calls for a container fee to pay for the infrastructure improvements, port security and air quality. It is a major step forward. If we're really sincere about cleaning up our air, we must have everyone come to the table and pay, and SB 760 is an important first step in ensuring that there's industry participation in the funding of this to be successful...

    The other issue is we have these goals [in the Clean Air Action Plan] and we have measures, but how do we build in accountability to this? While tariffs, incentives, lease requirements are really what the Ports can do, and they're very good ideas, there is no accountability in the sense that while we call for significant reductions, while the Plan calls for significant reductions in pollutants, what happens if we don't reach these goals. What happens if we don't get the funding and pollution continues and increases?

    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 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.

    And everyone must pay for their fair share and that we must have accountability built in...

    ...[W]e must hold our feet to the fire by having SB 764 which defines a performance standard, and sets a goal and says there will be consequences and we must have the industry as a full partner right up front to do that, or else we are telling people we are going to succeed and we're not going to succeed because there's not enough resources to succeed. Thank you.

    SB 764 is not dead. Under the legislature's "gut and amend" procedure, bills can (and do) move on the floor up to the August 31 legislative deadline. SB 764 has already passed policy committee hearings in both the State Senate and Assembly. It has cleared the state Senate. (In contrast, some bills pass in "gut and amend" form without any hearings).

    SB 764 deserves a full Assembly vote so it can be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger. He will then have to sign it or veto it. If he vetoes it, it deserves to cost him political capital among every CA voter who recalls that as a candidate, he said Californians had the right to breathe clean air.

    No intelligent voter should be suckered into believing that SB 764 or something else might be reintroduced for 2007 or 2008. It might as well be 3008.

    If this is how Sacramento treats us when they want us to approve a Port expanding bond measure, they'll be even more contemptuous once they've got our money.

    This is the time to stand and fight. No bills, no bonds.

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