With State Bonds Approved, Long Beach Prioritizes Cleaner Skies, Mobility

Bonnie Lowenthal

Within the state’s approved infrastructure bond is $2 billion dedicated specifically to goods movement relief and $1 billion for related environmental cleanup, and the harbor area is eager to put those funds to work. Long Beach City Councilmember Bonnie Lowenthal has served on the front lines of the battles over goods movement and pollution, and in this VerdeXchange News interview she discusses the state bond’s promise for easing the burden on her constituents in Long Beach and neighboring port communities.

Where are your constituents hoping the infrastructure bond funds will be invested to address port pollution and congestion?

The release of the collaborative Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles was a great day for California. While the costs are high, it is interesting to compare CAAP to the cost of the aqueduct that Governor Brown promoted in the 1960s–that was going to be $1 billion, or not even, and they thought that was enormous. And now look at the cost of the projects that we feel are essential to our quality of life.

Specific projects in Long Beach include the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge, which is a new bridge with expanded traffic capacity, from the existing four lanes to three lanes and a shoulder in each direction. The funds will help pay for work on the Seaside Avenue/Ocean Boulevard/Navy Way interchange, where the last remaining signal on Ocean Boulevard will be removed. It is very difficult getting from Long Beach to San Pedro, or vice-versa, and this would allow the free flow of traffic because the trucks take up so much time while idling at the stoplight there.

The Terminal Island Freeway, State Route 47, including the Schuyler Hein Bridge replacement will also be part of the goods movement infrastructure improvement. That will create an expressway between Terminal Island and the San Pedro Bay Ports, and enhance mobility on the local freeways. It will divert trucks from the local arterials, and eliminate five at-grade crossings and three traffic signals. It also facilitates future improvements to the I-710.

Several projects being considered are essential for efficient on-dock rail operations. Obviously the use of on-dock rail eliminates trucks at the port. For the first time funding is available for advanced transportation management information and security systems.

Prop IB had a specific funding category for port security. Some of the money will go for homeland security in the way of container screening. We have been waiting for that additional funding. Other homeland security initiatives would add up to 16 closed circuit television cameras, and nine changeable message signs to improve traffic operations on the I-710, the I-110, and State Route 47 as part of the overall ITS intelligent transportation systems program for the I-710 corridor. Last but definitely not least, Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Long Beach will be doubled or tripled in size by realigning the access to the 710 Freeway.

Given that the air quality challenge for the ports of Long Beach and L.A. is increasing as more goods move through them, can Long Beach maintain a vibrant trade economy and, at the same time, have a clean and healthy environment?

I believe that both of those can be accomplished if we fully fund the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan. On November 20, 2006 both harbor commissions approved the plan as it had been revised. What is significant, as Senator Lowenthal has said, is that the funds contributed by both ports are a down payment that provide a match to the bond, which has $1 billion for air quality improvements. But that is not enough; that is not adequate to improve air quality in the basin. Some people talk about no net increase. I believe we need a net improvement in the air quality.

Are you satisfied with the revised version of the Ports’ Clean Air Action Plan?

I do not have enough of the metrics to know whether they will reach my goal, which is a net improvement in air quality. I cannot tell you that because that is not the way it has been devised. They talked about a reduction of nitrogen oxide by 45 percent, sulfur dioxide by 52 percent, diesel particulate matter by 37 percent. But nobody has really indicated what the baseline is or what year the baseline was set.

Having dealt with dirty air, poor quality of life, and the horrors of the medical conditions of people throughout the Basin, I still need to see more data. I also have not heard a commitment from the industry in terms of a container fee, which has been so vigorously fought by industry and chamber of commerce interests. This industry is participating in the pollution and the traffic congestion that has impacted all of us in our daily lives. That industry has to participate in the solution.

The Clean Air Action Plan is the product of not just the ports, but also of AQMD and CARB and US EPA. Has this collaboration produced a valuable plan?

This is an unprecedented collaborative work, and I am thrilled that these parties are all at the table. But it is only a beginning, not an end product. As I understand it, the federal government also is being lobbied to look at how they should regulate international trade. Currently, ships that come into our harbor have little incentive to comply with new regulations. Perhaps with the change in Congress last year federal rules will be reconsidered.

Your city council colleague Tonya Reyes-Uranga told MIR last month that AQMD’s draft air quality management plan contemplates imposing fees on new development. How might those plans relate to what the two ports and you are trying to accomplish regarding environmental regulation of goods movement?

I am not really familiar with AQMD’s plan, but I believe that all new developments should be reviewed for their impacts on air quality. If that is AQMD’s focus, then I am supportive of it. On November 14, 2006 the city of Long Beach approved examining the development of a municipal air quality plan. So even though AQMD has the jurisdiction, we would like to better understand the impacts in all parts of our city. Whether it is commercial, retail, industrial development, the airport, or international trade, we really need to see and monitor how all of those uses/activiites impact air quality. It overlaps, I believe, with what AQMD does.

What motivates this sharp focus on air quality by you and others in the port communities?

In my neighborhood, as well as in the city, the Long Beach Children’s Clinic has developed the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA). Because of the struggles of parents and children with asthma, and the connection between their physical condition and the increase in international trade, I have taken a tremendous interest in the quality of life of all of the people in my district as well as in my city. I think people who come to testify at Gateway COG meetings, at Long Beach City Council meetings, at school district meetings, and at MTA meetings have had a tremendous impact on my thinking and appreciation for what it is like for people who suffer from asthma and medical conditions.

The incredible research by Andrea Rico at USC, and people at UCLA and recent articles in the paper about the number of premature deaths from the air quality –I think it is something like 2,400—gives me tremendous pause and leads me into action. It is my responsibility as an elected official, elected not only to the City Council, and serving as vice-mayor, but as a the representative for 27 cities in the Gateway area on the MTA Board. I must be responsible for health in my decision-making, and I sense that the ports now realize that they have a responsibility to the community in which they are located as well.

How tight is the economic relationship between the port and the city of Long Beach? What role does the port play in the city’s economy?

In our charter it says that it is our responsibility to appoint and confirm the five members of the Long Beach Harbor Commission. The charter also says that they may contribute up to 10 percent of their revenues to the Tidelands Harbor Fund. That is a fund managed by the city of Long Beach for the area south of Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach. That funding has been used for beach areas, public safety in the Tidelands areas, the Long Beach Convention Center, and the Long Beach Aquarium. The funding has made quite a significant difference in Long Beach.

And the port has also promoted tremendous growth in blue-collar employment. As you know we have had a tremendous decrease in manufacturing jobs in the Los Angeles basin, so these logistics jobs become very important for the economic vitality of the area.

Even with the passage of the bond measures, and $20 billion for transportation and environmental cleanup, most observers suggest that it is a down payment. Where will the resources come from to match and finish the job of improving mobility in the basin and in Long Beach?

The federal government has to step up to the plate, because this area, which subsidizes TVs in Kansas, cannot bear the burden for the entire country. As I mentioned earlier, the industry must contribute and container fees would provide a mechanism for their fair share.