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    Council Votes 8-0 To Prepare Resolution Endorsing Sen. Lowenthal's "Port Investment" Bill SB 974; Attaches No Conditions To City Hall Support But Will Send Letter To Senator Listing Local Concerns

    (March 21, 2007) -- After roughly an hour of City Council discussion and public comment, Councilmembers voted 8-0 on Mar. 20 to direct the City Attorney to prepare a resolution supporting SB 974, the "Port Investment" bill (container fee) authored by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D., LB-SP-PV). The resolution will be sent to the Senator with a cover letter listing local concerns that the Council hopes the Senator will consider...but not conditioning City Hall support on amendments addressing those concerns.

    Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who chairs the Council's State Legislation Committee, co-authored the agenda item to endorse SB 974 without holding any hearings on the matter in his Committee. His Council agenda item was co-agendized by Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal.

    Among those testifying in support of the bill were the Natural Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association (CA), Coalition for Clean Air and Coalition for a Safe Environment.

    "Alan Lowenthal is not just one of the foremost people on the environment in this country, he's a hero. He's a hero for bringing this back again and again," said Coalition for Clean Air rep Rafael Pizaro.

    An NRDC rep said:

    NRDC: ...Obviously we support Senator Lowenthal's bill specifically because it makes polluters pay their fair share to fund the technology that will clean up the ports. Port growth is continuing and without a source of funding for the pollution-mitigation measures that we know are possible, they won't be implemented. In that scenario, we'll continue down the path of more and more pollution that we're already breathing. SB 974 is critically important to the communities around the San Pedro Ports, including Long Beach, because it's the best mechanism we have before us today to pay for the air pollution measures that we know are necessary...

    However LB community advocate Bry Myown and SP-area activist Janet Gunter [San Pedro/Peninsula Homeowners Coalition] expressed significant reservations. Ms. Myown urged that the Council's concerns about the legislation be explicitly listed in the Resolution itself and said:

    Ms. Myown: ...It is with great conflict that I do urge you to support SB 974 but with either a friendly amendment from Councilwoman Reyes Uranga, or a substitute motion, that would echo the concerns already expressed by the AQMD...It is not true to say that the community has always supported a container fee bill tied to port growth. The community has always supported making the shipper pay...You know that your Council's I-710 oversight committee has had standing-room only meetings all over town where your constituents told you they do not want to fund port growth, period. You know that your Tier II advisory committee told you they did not want a dime spent on infrastructure until we had achieved no net increase, not the legislation but the reality. And therefore we have always given very conditional support for this bill, because the pragmatists among us, first and foremost its author, told us it was the only way to achieve the funding we needed for no net increase in pollution, which was a compromise because some of us wanted pollution to decrease. So it's with a heavy heart that we see that many changes have been made in this bill that now would make taxpayers responsible for the security costs...has no economic analysis or growth projections of what infrastructure we will have to fund, how much it will increase traffic, and puts control over the mitigation measures in the hands of a state agency [CARB] that is not our friend...

    Ms. Gunter read a letter from the president of the Homeowners Coalition:

    [Statement read by Ms. Gunter]...It appears that in order to get the buy-in of ports and shippers, the bill is offering methodologies that can be used to facilitate growth that will continue to jeopardize those neighborhoods closest to transportation corridors and cargo facilities...We are very grateful to Assemblyman [sic] Lowenthal for this much needed first step, but we feel compelled from a community perspective to have stronger protections in this bill...We have not been involved in the crafting of this bill. Had our community been invited, we would have pushed for language that would afford us more protection. We hope that the City Council will move to approve this bill only after more stringent controls are adopted into its text. Again, we are most anxious to get a process of accountability started but not at the risk of doing more harm than good. Please exercise your authority as Councilmembers to adopt stronger language that will benefit all of our harbor community residents.

    And Barbara Morell, who'd previously attended meetings of the Council's I-710 oversight committee, came to the podium carrying a portable oxygen generator with plastic tubing leading to a cannula in her nose:

    Ms. Morell: ...I remember when you people, the City Council and the Commissioners of the Port and the AQMD had a meeting all together, and oh you just sounded as though you were going to do everything we wanted. But now with this bill, it sounds like they're going to make it a long time, they're going to not make the polluters pay all they should be paying, and on and on. And so that's why I'm supporting everything that Bry Myown said and what's more, I'm supporting what the AQMD wants done...As you pass this bill [resolution], please put in all of those caveats.

    Early in the discussion, Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga said:

    Councilwoman Reyes Uranga: ...I too am supportive in concept. I do have some concerns and I'm going to express those concerns in hopes that while this bill is "morphing" as you put it, that they'll include some of my concerns in the final draft...I would like to request the author includes some of the recommendations I'm about to put forward....I am supportive, and I thank Senator Lowenthal for continuing to keep us in his hearts and in his mind when he puts forth legislation, but as this bill is crafted I'd like to suggest some of the following recommendations:

  • Local involvement in determining appropriate mitigation expenditures, and what that means is we don't just leave it up to CARB [CA Air Resources Board]...I think locally we should have some say-so as to how these mitigation expenditures are expended
  • Cost sharing for infrastructure projects funded from congestion relief funds. This is to say that we don't want all public funds to be utilized for these rail facilities or any other projects that really are not going to be good for the community. [Councilwoman Reyes Uranga opposes the So. Cal Int'l Gateway (SCIG) container transfer project]
  • Also sunset date for fee collection should be tied to implementation control measures of the AQMP...we ensure that the fee goes along with our attainment of certain control measures that we...will put forth in the Air Quality Management Plan...
  • And then lastly, which I think just needs to be stated over and over and over again, it's important that any funded infrastructure projects do not have any adverse environmental justice impacts...

    I spoke with Sen. Lowenthal this afternoon and I told him I would be offering some recommendations. He was OK with that so long as we passed it, quite frankly, so long as there was support for his bill. So I would suggest these five and I would suggest that we add this as recommendations for consideration as this bill moves through, so I would either offer an amendment or a substitute motion, depending on whether you accept the amendment or not...

    All I'm saying is that with this bill I would like to see a little bit more involvement locally and a little bit more assurances that we're not going to be funding our own demise...

  • Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal moved swiftly to avoid stating any reservations in the Council Resolution itself or attaching any conditions to Council support for the Senator's bill:

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: What I'm hoping we can do is, given that we all agree Senator Lowenthal has been the foremost advocate for air quality issues from the time he served as a Councilmember and before then, what I would like to see us do is offer our support for the bill and offer these [items stated by Councilwoman Reyes Uranga] but not conditioned to our support. I think that would be the right way to go, is for us to support his measure, give ourselves the opportunity to sit down with him and make these recommendations either as two Councilmembers from the State Legislative Committee [O'Donnell, Bonnie Lowenthal, Reyes Uranga] or individual Councilmembers. Our support does not preclude our continued discussion on this item

    Councilwoman Reyes Uranga acquiesced in this. "I did not say that my support was contingent. I said these are recommendations that will help improve the bill and really have accountability for me, at least for my district...I'm not saying it's contingent on, but if these suggestions aren't included, I would make a substitute motions that they be included somehow as recommendations," Councilwoman Reyes Uranga said.

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal kept the pressure up. "Perhaps what we can do, instead of including [Reyes Uranga's points] in a resolution, could we in our support letter say our Council has voted to support...this measure. We would like to continue our dialogue and discuss these five items that you've raised and perhaps others," Councilwoman Lowenthal suggested.

    The City Attorney then indicated the Council's concerns could be stated in its Resolution or in an accompanying cover letter...and Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal (who presided at the meeting) restated Councilman O'Donnell's motion as follows: "Your original motion is to create a resolution in support of [SB] 974 and as Councilmember [Suja] Lowenthal suggested in a support letter to include the five items [suggested by Councilwoman Reyes Uranga] that are here before points that we would [Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal completes sentence] wish for him [Sen. Lowenthal] to consider."

    Without hesitation, Councilman O'Donnell replied, "Absolutely."

    There was no substitute motion...either to condition City Hall support for the bill on obtaining amendments to it...or to list LB's local issues concerning the bill in the Council Resolution taking a position on it.

    When comment from the public was invited, a staffer from the office of State Senator Lowenthal scurried to the podium ahead of other public speakers and read a statement from the Senator. It said in part:

    [From statement by Senator Lowenthal, read by staffer: ...[T]he Governor may have done us a favor in vetoing my previous version of this bill by allowing me to more fully integrate the input of the community and to strengthen the environmental provisions of this bill. The bill you are voting to support this evening is the product of literally hundreds of hours of discussion with dozens of environmental justice groups, local health advocacy coalitions and statewide environmental organizations. While the bill has just been introduced and is a long way from its final form, I am proud of this piece of legislation and look forward to continue working with all of the affected communities as it makes its way through the legislature.

    ...[SB 974] requires the state Air Board [CARB] to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to ensure that projects within the San Pedro Bay Clean Air Action Plan are completed and allows CARB to provide funding directly to the SCAQMD or the Ports. The bottom line is if the infrastructure project increases pollution, then it will not be funded by SB 974. I'm looking at clarifying this when the bill is eligible to be amended.

    I would like to make one clarifying point. There has been concern that SB 974 could fund the Southern California Intermodal Gateway [SCIG]. This project is not mentioned in the bill and it is not referred to in the bill in any way. I do not support the proposed SCIG.

    I have dedicated the last seven years in the legislature to holding the ports and those that use them accountable for their actions. I believe this bill is the way to do just that...

    Following public testimony, the Council voted 8-0 to direct the City Attorney to prepare a resolution of support -- without conditions or reservations in the resolution -- for transmittal to Senator Lowenthal along with a letter listing some local concerns.

    The actual text of the resolution will be put in legal form by the City Attorney's office and will return in the coming weeks for a final Council vote. Resolutions of this nature are routinely put on the agenda's "consent calendar" [items routinely approved and not scheduled for discussion unless requested by a Councilmember or member of the public].

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