State of the POLA: Mayor Bass & GM Gene Seroka

Mayor Bass

With the Port of Los Angeles set to receive 233 million dollars in state infrastructure grants, as well as being one of the recipients of 1.2 billion dollars of federal funding being put forth to develop California’s hydrogen hub, Mayor Bass and Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of LA, each recently offered stakeholders a POLA progress report. In their annual addresses, Mayor Bass and Seroka highlighted their Port priorities for the coming year: job creation, increasing container volume, and pushing towards a zero emissions port.

Mayor Bass

It is very very nice to be here with you and this is a great way to start the new year, highlighting the Port of Los Angeles. “America’s Port.” This port serves as a gateway for goods all across the world, to go all across the country. Powered by good paying union jobs, the best in the country and I would argue the best in the world. It's a great honor to be here with you today to highlight the incredible progress already made, and the visionary path that lays ahead of us.

I, of course, want to recognize our stakeholders who are here with us today. Thank you also to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association for organizing this annual luncheon. A round of applause. And of course, I want to thank the workers, the members of the ILWU. You are the reason why our port stands today. You not only are the pride of this region, the pride of San Pedro and Wilmington, you are the pride of our city and of our nation. The work you all do is a product of love and purpose and what you give to the country, you give back tenfold to the surrounding community.  

Let me also recognize the Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, Gene Seroka. Where is he? Where is Gene? Stand up. Stand up. You have guided Los Angeles through challenging times and helped keep a steady supply chain. Thank you Gene for continuing your leadership.

People often call our port the economic engine and of course that's a fitting description, because this is America's largest and most vital trade gateway. Last year $432 billion in international trade moved through this complex more than 19% of all U.S. seaborne trade. This complex ranks number nine in the entire world. Cargo is the fuel that powers this economic engine, our goods movement workforce across the greater Los Angeles region and beyond.

One in nine jobs in the region helps distribute the power of this economic engine to our nation. Every time a cruise ship calls this port, it generates over $1 million to the city economy. The Port of L.A. for more than two decades is America's Port and continues to be the number one container port in the US. The port contributes to the expansion of our city's middle class everyday and that's because of our nationwide reach.

The auto plant in Michigan making cars, the parts they’re using come through our port. The flat screens playing the Ram’s Superbowl win all across the country in 2022, they came from our port. The manufacturing for surf inspired apparel and footwear like Quicksilver and RVCA comes through our port. Even the farmer in North Dakota is using the tractor with parts that came through our port.

So let me repeat just to make sure everyone's clear. And I know everyone here is very clear that our port is vital to the entire city. The entire state. And the entire country and at City Hall we want you to know that we have your back.

Under my administration, we have tried to be very clear that L.A. is open for business. And that of course includes our port. Fueled by a new labor deal that ensures fair pay for Angelenos, our port is well positioned to serve as an economic engine, not only in 2024, but to act as an opportunity engine for years to come. For the past 20 years, our maritime industry, thanks to many who are here today, has demonstrated its leadership and its commitments with investments that help increase cargo capacity while also reducing emissions.

And I want to acknowledge the Board of Harbor Commissioners, led by former Congresswoman, my colleague in Congress and President of the Commission, Lucille Roybal-Allard. Please stand. And Vice President Diane Middleton. Is Diane here? Where’s Diane? Stand up. I want to thank you for your work helping guide our port into the future and ensuring that we are providing good paying jobs in safe and sustainable ways.

Along our L.A. waterfront, hundreds of acres have been transformed into parks, promenades, and open spaces that provide recreation and respite to local families in our surrounding harbor communities.

We will continue our work to support our emerging cruise industry, our signature visitor serving businesses, inspirational non-profits and future-focused institutions that attract people from throughout the region and around the world.

So just think, just 20 years ago, many of the wonderful Port of L.A. assets I just described were mere aspirations. Now you're seeing it come to fruition, but I believe that the best is yet to come.

Yes, there are many formidable challenges ahead of us, particularly in the area of meeting our zero emission goals in the coming years for the benefit of all Southern California. But I'm committing to locking arms and working with our maritime industry stakeholders to secure the public support and funding that will help us build the infrastructure and accelerate the technologies that we need to deliver clean air for the port adjacent communities and develop the nation's most efficient, resilient and sustainable port.

And I know that first of all, we are very fortunate to have a leader like the Councilman, Councilman Tim McOsker. And I know he is ready, please stand. The region here is lucky to have a Councilman that is so committed to his district, and so committed to the port and very committed to locking arms with everyone in the city, the county, the state and the federal government to make sure that we have the resources in this area to achieve our goals.

As our goods movement industry takes bold steps towards supply chain decarbonization in the coming years, let's work together. Our city, port and business stakeholders to build an opportunity engine that creates job paths into the port careers of the future. Let's create more opportunities to expose our youth to the marine sciences that will help this urban waterfront weather the impacts of climate change. And let's create a pipeline to make sure we train the future generations to work these docks.

And speaking of our dock workers, I want to again thank the workforce, the hard work of these Angelenos, nothing you see here today is possible without them. So I want to ask if there are members of the ILWU here, please stand. Stand up so we can applaud you. Thank you for your work every day. So when I look around this room, I am filled with optimism. Let's work to create more opportunities for all. Let's do everything we can to turn this economic engine into an opportunity engine that benefits everyone.

I want to again thank all of you for being here today in support of the Port of Los Angeles, EXP and our local seafarers center. Thank you so much.

Gene Seroka  

Well thank you, John. I also want to thank Mayor Bass for being here today to provide those welcoming remarks. A first to have the mayor of Los Angeles at the State of Our Port event.

I'm just taking it all in. Wow. Good afternoon everyone, and welcome Councilmember McOsker who's been working every single table, distinguished guests, and Port of Los Angeles colleagues. I too want to welcome our Harbor Commissioners led by President Lucille Roybal-Allard, Vice President Diane Middleton and Commissioners Lee Williams, Ed Renwick, and Michael Muñoz.

Thank you for all your support. But before we go any further, I want to thank you, John McLaurin, for your 28 years at the helm of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

When I first started at the Port, it was John and Michelle Grubbs who raised the idea of the PMSA hosting this annual luncheon. We held our first one back in 2015, and now it's a time-honored tradition. Since then, this event has raised more than a quarter million dollars for EXP and our Seafarers Center.

And John, it's your great spirit of bringing us together that's been the hallmark of your leadership all these years we've known each other. So, we want to thank you and extend our very best wishes to your family and you in retirement.

We always think of ports as places that connect us to the world. But imagine what it was like in the 1800s when a ship could come around Cape Horn and show up at a little dock in San Pedro with French wine, or English furniture, or cross the Pacific with treasures from Asia. What a gift it is to have a Port. But what happened when that ship pulled up to the dock in San Pedro? Maybe that ship connected the dock to the world, but how did that dock connect the world to Los Angeles some 20 miles away? First by oxcart, then later on by stagecoach and then by local train. But it was the arrival of the Transcontinental Railroad back in 1876 that changed everything. Within a decade, LA's population soared from less than 10,000 people to more than 50,000. And we began our journey to become one of the greatest cities and regions in the world. I mentioned all this because here's the thing, no city, no port stands on its own. It's nothing unless it's part of a system. And working within greater systems is what powers our Port. 

We're the largest seaport in the country, both by container volume and cargo value. We're the cleanest global gateway in America. We have the biggest public access investment in waterfront development. We offer the most job development initiatives of any Port anywhere. And we have Los Angeles values at the heart of everything we do. We value our community, we value our environment, and we value the jobs and the workforce that moves the cargo through this Port. community environment, jobs and cargo. These elements are interconnected, and they operate within larger systems, ones that encompass not only our immediate surroundings, but also the broader economic, social, and ecological systems. So we're driven by three questions: How do we serve our community? How do we protect our environment? And how do we increase cargo that creates more jobs? By answering each of these questions will deliver the results that California needs and expects.

Let's start with how we serve the community. To begin with, on February 3, we'll cut the ribbon on the long anticipated Wilmington Waterfront Promenade. And later that evening, we'll take the opportunity to host our annual Lunar New Year's celebration on the Promenade, welcoming in the Year of the Dragon. With Banning’s Landing Community Center at one end and a future youth aquatic center at the other, this new public space will be an instant landmark. Later this year, we'll break ground on the Avalon Promenade Bridge and Gateway project which will connect Wilmington’s community to its waterfront directly. When it's completed in 2027, this beautiful 12-acre pedestrian bridge will bring new visitors and business opportunities to the south end of Wilmington's main corridor. These two projects are nothing short of transformational for the Wilmington community, thanks to the work of so many leaders over the years. I also want to acknowledge our local Neighborhood Councils and Chambers of Commerce. Your public engagement and support on projects like these have helped us understand community viewpoints and get them done. The Avalon Pedestrian Bridge will receive more than $52 million in Measure M and state transportation funding. Because grant funding is so vital to our capital development, we'll show you these dollar figures on projects that I highlight today. Equally important to that outside funding is the project support and advocacy that so many of you provide, and we're greatly appreciative of those efforts. 

This year, we'll also break ground on the new Harbor Boulevard On-ramp and Off-ramp upgrade between the Vincent Thomas Bridge and the Harbor Freeway. This project will help deconflict truck and commuter traffic while making it easier for all of us to get where we're going. Further south on the San Pedro waterfront, the 42 acre West Harbor commercial development is going up fast.

And while the Port is completing the San Pedro Waterfront Pedestrian Promenade, West Harbor is building 375,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment space. They'll even be a dog park that serves craft beers and other refreshments. Those beers are for humans, of course. And all of that is happening now just in phase one. 

This past June, at the southern tip of our main channel AltaSea broke ground on its major interior build out. This project will transform their warehouse space into a critical mass of marine and blue tech related research, education, aquaculture and technical enterprises. The 180,000 square foot warehouse renovation will enable all to accommodate dozens of academic and commercial tenants. This blue economy job cluster will work on ocean-focused solutions to the world's most pressing climate issues. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank West Harbor and AltaSea for more than a decade of vision, commitment and investment in the future of our LA waterfront. We're so proud of you as part of us. 

Let me share a few more waterfront highlights this past year, the Battleship Iowa opened an amazing Navy Stewards of the Sea environmental exhibit. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium opened three new aquatic nursery exhibits and with grant funding from both the Port and City of Los Angeles, the aquarium is now replacing their 40-year-old life support system with a brand new $2.7 million apparatus.

When you look at our waterfront, what's more exciting than the site of cruise ships lining our docks? Well today I am excited to share with you that over 1.3 million tourists set sail from the LA Waterfront and 2023, the most ever, shattering our previous record set back in 2005 by almost 100,000 passengers. 

These days when a cruise ship is in Port and you visit downtown San Pedro, you'll see restaurants filled with excited friends and families getting ready to board a ship. And please remember, each cruise generates more than $1.2 million in local payroll and business activity right here in our Harbor community.

With all this growth will soon go out to bid on the development we announced last year for an outer harbor cruise and conference center, which will further enhance the Port's facilities. And in the coming year, we'll also issue a call for proposals for the development of the Port's historic Warehouse No. 1 property. Here's Warehouse One making its television debut to a global audience of more than 180 million viewers at SailGP first race in Los Angeles last July. And that was a $15 million boost to our local economy. This is another exciting event that brings thousands of visitors to our Waterfront. And we're in talks now to join the SailGP race circuit beginning in 2025. 

All of this momentum on our Waterfront comes from our shared commitment with Port customers, our harbor businesses and this great community that we serve. But here at the Port, we're also committed to changing lives. One way we do that is by supporting local nonprofits through our Community Investment grants. Right now, we're distributing $1.3 million in grants to 37 nonprofits that will help fund programs to strengthen the Port's commitment to our surrounding neighborhoods. By investing in these initiatives, we aim to foster growth and opportunity across our harbor district.

2023 was also a year of moving forward on the environment. After two years of increased emissions during the pandemic, I'm happy to report that our air quality scores are once again improving. While we did take some criticism for the previous spike in emissions during COVID, we acknowledge it. That said everyone should know the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles take our environmental goals extremely seriously. 20 years ago, we were the first port in the world to plug a container ship into shoreside power. The first in the world. People thought we were crazy for investing tens of millions of dollars to electrify our berths simply in an attempt to reduce our port emissions. Yet, it worked. Today, shoreside power is designed into new ship builds. It's technology that's gaining momentum at major ports around the world. And here in California, it's now state law. Since that milestone two decades ago, we've shown our resolve as a global leader to decarbonize the maritime trade. At last year's State of the Port, I mentioned that we were applying for funding to establish a hydrogen hub in the state of California that would assist us with our zero emission goals here in the San Pedro Bay. The Ports of Long Beach in Los Angeles committed a combined $300 million of our own money for that hydrogen hub initiative in this complex. And then it was back in October, when I joined Mayor Bass and Councilmember McOsker, along with other city and labor officials to share the news that California had been selected for a $1.2 billion grant from the United States Department of Energy to establish a hydrogen hub right here.

With this funding, our Ports will play a leading role in the green hydrogen market in Southern California. On this side of the San Pedro Bay, our initial investments will help purchase dozens of hydrogen powered cargo handling units and build their necessary fueling infrastructure. This is a huge win for our Ports, our region, and the state of California. Here's what some of our partners have to say. [Video plays]

But we're going to need more than hydrogen power. So, this past year, we partnered with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to create a $300 million zero-emissions ports, electrification and operations program will work closely with the DWP on the design and build out to all the critical infrastructure that we’ll need to support electric power and zero emission operation that are human operated. Since I spoke to you last January, the number of ZE trucks in our drayage registry grew from 56 to 195. That's progress, but still a very small percentage of the 20,000 trucks that service our ports. Assembly lines for those future ZE trucks aren't fully ramped up. And the price is beyond the reach of many of our truckers. But keep in mind, we're creating a market that doesn't exist yet, just like we did with shoreside power 20 years ago. By working together, our cargo industry here in the San Pedro Bay will succeed through public-private investment, collaboration and sheer determination.

One way that we're helping is our Clean Truck Fund Rate program, which has collected more than $115 million to date. With those dollars, last November, our ports made another $60 million available to the drayage market through California Air Resources Board and CALSTART Program channels. With clean truck fund vouchers, our truckers now can add another $75,000 or $100,000 to state voucher funds they received for the purchase of zero emission trucks. If all this gets put together and works the way we think, it'll help put as many as 800 new ZE big rigs on the road. When we do that, we’ll have paved the way for other ports around the world to follow in our footsteps. And that's important, because as I said earlier, no port stands alone. We're all part of a global system. And we must always maintain a global mindset. 

Take our green shipping corridors as an example. Last September, the Ports of Long Beach in Los Angeles along with Shanghai released the Green Shipping Corridor Implementation plan outline. While there are roughly 20 Green Shipping Corridors in current development, this one is the largest and we'll be the most impactful. Here's a stat to provide some perspective: just a 10% reduction in emissions from a single vessel en route from Shanghai to the San Pedro Bay is equivalent to a year's worth of that same ship’s in-port emissions when it comes here. That figure might raise some eyebrows, but the emissions reductions quickly move forward. And the number of ocean carriers that have volunteered to participate in this groundbreaking initiative is unprecedented. These partners deserve a huge round of applause.

Last month, along with the Port of Long Beach, we signed an agreement on the Singapore Green and Digital Shipping Corridor. Our partnership with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore is crucial because they're a major ship fueling hub. Their increasingly cleaner fuels combined with our digital technology will decarbonize the supply chain even more. That'll benefit all of our future green shipping corridor endeavors. In the second half of 2023, we also signed a Green Shipping Corridor Agreement with the Port of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province of China. And that's not all thanks to the steadfast support of California Governor Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Dee Dee Myers at GO-Biz, and California Transportation Secretary Toks Omishakin work will soon begin on developing Green Shipping Corridors with the Japan base Ports of Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama. And in November, we signed Green shipping corridor MOUs with the Long Sun Port of Vung Tau Province in Vietnam, and the port in Haiphong City. Now, here's what our corridor partners have to say on this: [Video plays]

In 2022, import volume from partners in China, Singapore and Japan accounted for nearly 17% of all the container volume imported through the San Pedro Bay. But the bigger picture is that the green shipping corridors go well beyond emission reduction efforts here. They demonstrate the power of thinking in terms of systems that do the greatest good. And that goes back to the questions that we're focused on. What's good for the community, what's good for the environment, and what's good for jobs. Last year, Starcrest Consulting Group released a study that pointed to a 19% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when cargo from Asia is routed through the San Pedro Bay instead of East or Gulf Coast Ports. 

As the western hemisphere's largest trade gateway, we have to do more than just shift our supply chain emissions and jobs to other ports. We have to focus on solutions that benefit both our regional and global communities. So, we've spent the past year working with the City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department led by our friend Carolyn Hull. Our efforts here are to create an initiative that we call POLA Works. This program will focus on jobs that employers are continually looking to fill. We also emphasize the disadvantaged worker population, single working class parents, and people who have recently experienced homelessness. There are so many people who need a second chance. And the goal of POLA Works is to be there for them. Our overall objective is to make great jobs available to every member of the community. And that's why we've also joined a nationwide nonprofit called Equitable Workplace Initiative. This effort was started by friends John Porcari and Phil Washington. Its mission? To train the unemployed and unhoused across the country and right here at home. Last year, we announced the breakthrough idea of the Goods Movement Training Campus that we're developing along with the Port of Long Beach, the ILWU, the Pacific maritime Association, and the California Workforce Development Board. That project is making significant progress as we are now moving into the formal design phase of the project. 

But it's our people who are our greatest asset. And this past September, I had the honor of announcing the promotion of Dina Aryan-Zahlan, to Deputy Executive Director of Development. Dina has been an engineer at the Port of Los Angeles for over 23 years. For most of the past decade, Dina oversaw our Waterfront Development Program that we talked so much about here today. In January of 2022, Dina became our Chief Harbor Engineer, and now, Dina oversees all of the engineers, architects, construction planners, along with our construction and maintenance team, 457 employees. That's 45% of our entire harbor department workforce, who are now reporting to Dina. Tremendous.

Earlier I pointed out the powerful impact that increased cargo has on job creation. Think about what that means to the people right here at home in our communities, because it goes beyond just the jobs in the Port. Think about all the small businesses that support us here at the Harbor, and all those who benefit from their proximity. In 2024, we'll continue our progress on cargo growth and efficiency, because that's our largest generator of jobs across Southern California. That said, economies are systems and just like everything else on the planet, they run in seasons and cycles. Some of those we can predict and plan for, some of those can hit us like a big wave up at Zuma Beach. Last year at ports all around the world, cargo traffic was down in almost every category. But the good news is the global trade is now edging up and we anticipate a return to more normal cargo volume levels in the year ahead. But whatever the forces of global trade have in store for us, we’ll be ready, we’ll be resilient, and we’ll be responsible for better outcomes for the people who count on us. Through it all, one thing remains the same. For the 24th consecutive year, the Port of Los Angeles ranks is the nation's number one container Port.

And now let's look at the numbers and how we finished up last year. In the second half of 2023, we returned to positive container flow with five straight months of year-on-year growth. While the final stats are still pending, our 2023 total volume was more than 8.6 million 20-foot equivalent units down 13% compared to 2022. But it's a dramatic recovery from the decrease of more than 30% we saw after the first quarter of the year. On the import side, we handled roughly four and a half million CPUs down about 10% from 2022. But the real story was our exports. They had the highest volume since 2020, and we're up more than 7% year over year. That's good news for the US economy because export jobs, on average, pay more than work in other segments, narrowing the trade gap boosts our gross domestic product. So, it'll be interesting to track the fourth quarter GDP estimate when it's reported in the coming weeks. Bringing back cargo and the related jobs is our big priority. That's why we're pleased to see a 3% bump in our West Coast market share compared to East and Gulf Coast Ports. Working together with our partners at the Port of Long Beach, we've made San Pedro Bay the country's biggest gateway, now nearly double the size of the next largest port complex in the country.

And we want to see our container numbers continue to grow. A big part of that effort is our 10-Year Capital Improvement Program for infrastructure. Here's a quick update on some of the major projects we're working on. This year, we'll complete the $73 million Pier 400 Rail Corridor expansion. We're also continuing design work on the Terminal Island Maritime Support Facility along with its related road and rail grade separations. at Pier 300 Phoenix Marine Services Terminal we're in the final design for an on-dock rail yard expansion that will break ground in 2025. Seismic upgrades continue in our Shell Oil and PBF energy liquid bulk facilities. And this past November, we also began construction on a new concrete wharf at the Pasha Breakbulk Terminal. 

In addition to these projects, we continue to make technological advancements to enhance operations and ensure efficient cargo flow. And to do that we use our port optimizer and our cyber resilience center. Those tools have been so valuable to all of us over the past few years, and we have much more that we want to develop. So we're working as hard as we can to implement new capabilities. Together all the projects I've just mentioned add up to about half of our 10-Year Capital Improvement Program, which now presently exceeds $2 billion worth of investments. Even with all the grant funding we receive, there's still a lot more money on the table. And we all need to continue to work together to make the most of this once in a lifetime infusion of investment capital. The bottom line is when our capital development dollars are matched with government funding, we accelerate projects, make our ports smarter and more efficient, meet our future zero emission goals and create a meaningful career system. All these projects are job multipliers - a group of skilled workers designs them, another group builds them, a business team will lease them and then many more people will come to work at these facilities every single day.

A moment ago, I mentioned the gains that come from every additional container ship through our ports. Now let me point out what we lose when they go elsewhere. When cargo takes longer routes, there's more pollution. When we keep it here, we reduce that pollution. When cargo sails east, it means a loss of jobs every single year. Please remember, for every four containers we move through this Port, we create one new job. When we keep that cargo here, all of our businesses are more competitive and more people in Los Angeles have access to good job opportunities. The community, the environment, jobs and cargo, each element is essential. Each has an impact on the other. When we serve each, we make a Port that is better for the community, better for the environment, and better for jobs and cargo. 

The Port of Los Angeles is a wonder of engineering and global logistics. From a wooden dock served by oxcarts all those years ago, it's now an integral part of the global economy. We provide jobs to people around the world and we move a lot of cargo. In 2024, our sights are set on sustainability, and success for everyone we serve. All of you play a part in the future that we're building, and we so greatly appreciate everything you're doing. There's been a shift over the years in port business, just like there's been in nearly every business industry, across our region. We've gone from a silo focused model to a broader view, that creates a dynamic and sustainable port ecosystem, where people in the community feel valued, and enjoy a better quality of life. And this is, this is what I've been working on with people like Capri Maddox, and so many others who inspire me to continue to reach out to the community and do more from the ground up.

You know, there's a word in the Indonesian language, “mushawara”. It means working together to build consensus. It's the idea that when two or more smart minds are brought into interaction, the whole of their contributions is greater than the sum of their parts. Think about what we all do. We put intelligence and integrity into the same pot as innovation and intention. We mix in a little boldness and risk, focus it on the long run. And what we get is the Los Angeles of tomorrow, a city that is stronger and future focused, imagined and brought to life by some of the most innovative minds across this great state, the fifth largest economy in the world, supplied and supported by the best port in the world. Let's do all that together and make this a great year. 

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the 840 women and men of the Los Angeles Harbor Department, thank you for your business and your commitment to the Port of Los Angeles.


“We're the largest seaport in the country, both by container volume and cargo value. We're the cleanest global gateway in America. We have the biggest public access investment in waterfront development. We offer the most job development initiatives of any Port anywhere.” - Gene Seroka