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    Sen. Lowenthal Says He's "Negotiating" Over L.A. Councilmembers' Proposal Urging Port-Backed Changes In Container-Fee Bill...That Haven't Been Publicly Discussed by LB Councilmembers

    (June 28, 2007) -- State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D, LB-SP-PV) has told a state legislative hearing that he's "negotiating" over amendments to SB 974 sought by two Los Angeles City Councilmembers and backed the Port of Los Angeles that would let "local government entities" [presumably including the Ports themselves] allocate container fee revenue for "congestion relief projects" along with provisions to "incentivize compliance, rather than penalize failure" by the Ports to deliver pollution reductions publicly touted in their "Clean Air Action Plan."

    The resolution proposed by L.A. City Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Tom LaBonge largely parallels the April 16 voted position of LB's Harbor Commission which sought amendments to SB 974 that would let the Ports spend container fee revenue for Port-capacity expanding infrastructure projects even if the LB/L.A. Ports fail (due to circumstances they call "beyond their control") to deliver pollution reductions goals in their "Clean Air Action Plan."

    Like the Port of LB's position, the amendments proposed in the L.A. City Council resolution also seek to use container fee revenue to build a new version of the Gerald Desmond Bridge that would enable new mega-size container ships to enter LB's inner harbor, bringing larger container volumes to the area. webposts below the salient text of the proposed L.A. City Council resolution...along with Sen. Lowenthal's description of it -- and his response to it -- as stated by him at a June 25 meeting of the CA Assembly's Natural Resources Committee.

    On June 22, the Hahn-LaBonge resolution (with an L.A. City Hall analysis reflecting support for amendments by the Port of L.A.) cleared an L.A. Council Committee. The measure now advances to the full L,A.'s City Council where it could be agendized for action in the coming days.

    If approved by a majority of the 15-member L.A. City Council, the resolution would effectively apply the resources of CA's largest city and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to advance substantive amendments favored by the Ports of L.A. and LB.

    The L.A. resolution, proposed by L.A. City Councilmembers Janice Hahn and Tom LaBonge, states in pertinent part:

    ...THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, with the concurrence of the Mayor, that by adoption of this resolution, the City hereby includes in its 2007-2008 State Legislative Program SUPPORT of SB 974 (Lowenthal)...IF AMENDED (a) to authorize local government entities, instead of the California Transportation Commission, to allocate those funds that are designated for congestion relief projects, with the bulk of those funds going to the agencies representing the communities closest to the ports; (b) to include funding eligibility for repairs and improvements to distressed bridges such as SR 47 and the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which are top priorities of the Port of Los Angeles; and (c) to incentivize compliance, rather than penalize non-compliance, with the San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan, and to encourage the development of similarly rigorous plans throughout the State.

    Asked about the City of L.A.'s position on his bill during a June 25 hearing by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lowenthal stated:

    Sen. Lowenthal: We're working with them. They have a motion now before their Council to Support if Amended. They are concerned, they want to make sure the money is spent in the area. They also have concern, as was pointed out in today's [June 25] L.A. Times editorial, which we don't think is appropriate but we're working with them, they are not wild about the California Transportation Commission being the ultimate decision, we're trying to negotiate and work out something with them on that. And also we're working on specific projects that allow us to meet the [U.S. constitution's] Commerce Clause but are not in violation of that, but in concept they have no problem with it. They are just, there is a motion going before there to support the bill on the City Council if amended and we're negotiating with them on those issues.

    To hear Senator Lowenthal's words, click here (MP3 file).

    To date, there has been no public discussion or action taken in response to these development by either the LB City Council or LB Mayor Bob Foster.

    Asked today (June 28) for comment on the L.A. and Sacramento developments regarding SB 974, Mayor Foster's Chief of Staff Becki Ames told

    "We have no reason to believe that Senator Lowenthal is going to accept the amendments proposed in the City of Los Angeles. We can't speak for the Senator and continue to believe that Senator Lowenthal and Mayor Foster are lockstep in their interest in protecting the environment and controlling pollution at the Ports."

    On April 20, LB Harbor Commission President James C. Hankla sent a letter to Senator Lowenthal, cc'd to Mayor Foster and all LB Councilmembers, detailing the voted position taken by the LB Harbor Commission. To view Harbor Commission President Hankla's letter, click here.

    On April 16, LB's non-elected Board of Harbor Commissioners voted to condition the Port of LB's support for SB 974 on three substantive amendments: that the bill require user fee [container fee] revenue to be spent "where collected" [locally]; must allow the use of the funds for port-related highway projects such as the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement and SR 47 project; and must not restrict funds if the Ports' "Clean Air Action Plan" fails to deliver its pollution reduction goals "due to circumstances beyond the reasonable control of the Ports."

    The next day at an April 17 hearing on the bill in the Senate's Transportation Committee, Sen. Lowenthal said LB's Harbor Commission "supported this bill with some caveats" and continued:

    Sen. Lowenthal [April 17]: ...They want us to make sure that the money stays in the local area. They want to make sure, they're asking for amendments that we focus not just, the bill primarily focuses on rail and grade separations. They would like some of their projects to be focused on, that's a technical issue. And they also want to make sure that they're not held totally accountable for things that are beyond their control. Those are issues that they want to work out with me, but in concept after they passed that [Clean Air Action Plan], they voted last night [April 16] to support SB 974 with these amendments...No, I have not sat down and worked on those amendments yet.

    In March 2007, LB's City Council voted endorse SB 974, without attaching any conditions...even those sought by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and requested by Councilwoman (and AQMD Boardmember) Tonia Reyes Uranga.

    In September 2006, L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa failed to support Sen. Lowenthal's earlier container fee measure while it sat on the Governor's desk despite the urgings of LB Mayor Foster, Sen. Lowenthal and L.A. Councilwoman Hahn. Sen. Lowenthal's 2006 measure would have split revenue between rail projects, security enhancements and clean air programs at the Ports of LB/L.A...and was opposed by the "CA Ass'n of Port of Authorities" (in which the Ports of L.A. and LB are the two largest members) and other industry interests; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately vetoed the measure.

    Earlier this year at an industry conference ("Faster Freight, Cleaner Air"), Sen. Lowenthal acknowledged that he revised his 2007 container fee measure (SB 974) to meet objections raised in Governor Schwarzenegger's 2006 veto message of Lowenthal's prior container fee measure. SB 974 no longer funds increased security measures, which industry interests opposed paying for at a state level contending security is a federal matter. [Meanwhile at the Congressional level, the American Ass'n of Port Authorities has opposed additional security related fees on shippers.]

    SB 974 focuses on creating a funding source for cargo movement projects in LB/L.A. and Oakland, accompanied by what it calls mitigation...but without a legally enforceable guarantee that the net result will in fact be less pollution.

    In August. 2006, Assembly Democrat leadership blocked Sen. Lowenthal's "no net increase" measure from advancing; in 2004, Gov Schwarzenegger vetoed an earlier version of the measure.

    At a November 2006 CSULB conference on the true costs of goods movement, former 2nd district LB Council candidate Bry Myown pressed Sen. Lowenthal on whether he'd reintroduce his "no net increase" measure in 2007...and Sen. Lowenthal indicated he would...but has since refused to do so.

    Meanwhile, SB 974 continues to be opposed by the CA and LB's Chamber of Commerce and multiple industry interests. At the June 25 meeting of the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee, the measure encountered what appeared to be coordinated arguments from the CA Taxpayers Ass'n and the CA Chamber of Commerce.

    The CA Taxpayers Ass'n contended the container fee would violate Proposition 13 (Section 13A of the CA Constitution), saying the fee requires a 2/3 vote...and cited additional grounds for potential court challenges under federal law.

    The CA Chamber of Commerce then followed by arguing that to avoid litigation and delays, a better "solution" would be a "public-private" partnership, presumably an industry-backed solution similar in operation to a RR MOU approved (over environmentalists' objections) by the CA Air Resources Board.

    If such a scenario were to play out, it would likely include Sen. Lowenthal "declaring victory" by dropping SB 974 in exchange for a voluntary industry-backed "solution."

    SB 974, which has cleared the State Senate, is now questioned by a number of LB-L.A. area activists while continuing to receive support from groups outside LB including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Coalition for Clean Air and American Lung Ass'n.

    As reported in February 2007 by, Sen. Lowenthal declined to reintroduce the "no net increase" measure...and his office emailed us the following statement in response to our request for comment:

    Senator Lowenthal Feb. 27 statement: While I believe the original goals of my "no net increase" bill were laudable at the time, I no longer believe it is sufficient; we need to go further than maintaining the status quo.

    As Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and as the author of the bills that will implement the goods movement and emissions improvement portion of Proposition 1B, SB 9 and SB 19, I fully intend to include accountability measures in these bills that will require reductions in all types of harmful emissions.

    I felt, after long deliberation, that a re-introduction of a "no net increase" bill would set conflicting standards as we try to achieve accountable, measurable reductions in pollution related to port activities.

    I remain more committed than ever to holding the ports accountable in regards to reducing harmful emissions related to goods movement.

    Sen. Lowenthal had previously called his "no net increase" in pollution bill the most important bill he'd introduced in all his years in the state legislature.

    Sen. Lowenthal has also reversed the pubicly stated position he took in July 2006 testimony to Port of LB/L.A. reps in which he said their "Clean Air Action Plan" required the enforcement mechanism of his no net increase bill. At that time, Senator Lowenthal said:

    Sen. Lowenthal [July 2006]: 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 [no net increase] 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.

    In contrast, Sen. Lowenthal's 2007 "port investment" cites the Ports' CAAP as its basis for supposed pollution "mitigation"...reductions which Harbor Commission President Hankla's April 20 letter now admits may not be attained.

    The proposed L.A. City Council resolution regarding SB 974 could be agendized for a vote in the coming days.


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