In the next decade, the Port of Los Angeles is expecting to see an increase in import cargo traffic of around 300%. Not only does that type of activity require a significant investment in the port facility itself, but the infrastructure that provides access to the port and the anticipated environmental impacts of such an increase in activity must also be addressed. MIR is pleased to present this interview with Los Angeles City Councilmember Janice Hahn, in which she discusses her efforts to improve the relationship between the Port of Los Angeles and the neighboring communities.
Both Los Angeles and Long Beach have entrusted civic leaders with the authority to manage as well to mitigate the impact of our world class harbor operations. Being that you are from San Pedro and Wilmington, you know about those impacts. How can we best balance the traffic issues and environmental issues with the need for economic growth to our harbor?
The first step to recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem. The first thing we need to realize is that this port, even though it's been an incredible economic engine in the region, has severely impacted people's quality of life, particularly in the harbor area. As the truck traffic increases, it's going to impact commuters on all of our major freeways-the 710, 110, 15 and 60. In my opinion, there has not been enough quality vision on the part of port leadership to look towards mitigating their growth impacts.
Nobody is against growth at the port but we want to make sure that growth is clean, responsible and that its negative impacts are mitigated. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit by a homeowners group in San Pedro to hold the port accountable for their latest expansion project, the China Shipping Terminal. And as a result of that lawsuit, we've finally begun the debate of meaningful mitigation.
Alan Lowenthal, the assemblyman from that area, has introduced three bills that impact the relationship between the port, environment and traffic. Have you taken a position on these bills? Do you believe that they help or hinder the effort to realize the vision and objectives you have for that interface?
You always hope that industry does the right thing. You always hope that business will be responsible, particularly in terms of how their operations impact local residents. But sometimes you need legislation to either be a threat to do the right thing or to mandate the right behavior. I have been looking at his bills and the Los Angeles City Council has taken a supportive position on a couple of them.
I am always cautious when I look at Sacramento legislation because, as a local government official, I'd like to keep local control over some of these issues. I do have concerns that these bills would remove local control and place a little more authority in Sacramento.
Obviously, you should be proud that the Port of Los Angeles received the first ship under its Alternative Marine Power program in June. What is the significance of this program for the San Pedro neighborhoods and Los Angeles? Can we see it expanding?
I think it is significant in many ways. First, it finally lays to rest the argument that you can either have economic development or clean air, but not both. The success of this program shows that we can have expansion, we can have trading partners and relationships with the shipping companies, and we can have clean air as well.
Many people don't realize that the ships from our harbors account for 20% of the air pollution in the L.A. region. People haven't really focused on ships as a source of pollution in the past. According to a recent study at the harbor, ships accounted for about 70% of all the pollution in the harbor. The study provides a great roadmap to figure out how we can significantly reduce pollution, not only in the harbor area, but also in the Los Angeles region. Electrification is an important technological advancement. If one ship plugs into the DWP electricity grid while in berth, we remove so much pollution that it is equivalent to taking 16,000 trucks off our roads. As a result of a lawsuit, 70% of the China Shipping ships will in fact be retrofitted to plug into our electricity grid when they are in our harbor. The AMP is something we can point to as a tangible reduction in air emissions-and it works.
When asked about this issue in April, John Hancock, the former chair of the Long Beach Harbor Commission, took note of the fact that L.A.'s cold-ironing project with the China Shipping facility faces some challenges in implementation. He noted that, "the obligation exists for Long Beach and Los Angeles to take a good look at how to make cold-ironing or shore-side power work and be economically viable. We don't think it's a full solution to dealing with the environment, but it is one we have been committed to studying. The cost-benefit trade-off of investing $2 million to convert a ship would not work out favorably if that ship docks here twice a year and doesn't go anywhere else where cold-ironing is possible." Do you have any thoughts and reactions?
Well, Long Beach is behind Los Angeles in terms of our environmental policies and procedures. I have in fact been in contact with some of the council members in Long Beach who are a little disappointed that their port has not moved as quickly as ours. They are, however, going to begin looking at that.
We certainly were the ones to take the first step with cold ironing. However, we took it as a result of a lawsuit. When we went on our Asian business trip a couple years ago the mayor took a big delegation-we found the desire for a clean environment to be worldwide. I think everyone everywhere is paying attention to our environmental issues. We found as much passion for protecting the environment in China, Japan and Korea as we do here. And 20 years from now, it's going to be the norm and it's going to be how we do business. Being environmentally responsible will become the cost of doing business.
From the environmental challenge, to goods movement and traffic issues. At the city level, it's obviously difficult to deal with the federal and state transportation priorities that affect mobility. What is the game plan for relieving that congestion coming out of the harbor?
I am disappointed that we haven't done a better job of planning for the future. The growth at both of the port complexes is enormous and it is projected to triple by the year 2025. We have 11-12 million containers arriving at the port complex annually right now. The volume is going to be huge and we haven't done anything, in my opinion, to prepare for that kind of growth with our current infrastructure.
A quick look at the state budget crisis or at the federal government's incredible deficit makes one realize that enough transportation dollars are not going to flow anytime soon. I also think the state and the federal governments are looking at us to make sure that we are using our current infrastructure to its capacity. That is why I have been pushing for off-peak operations at both complexes.
It's silly to me that a complex that is the third largest in the world is operating eight hours a day. In my opinion, the congestion is directly related to the fact that the port is only open from 8-5. And when I say the port is open, I mean the gates that allow the trucks to deliver and collect their cargo are only open during that time period.
Ships in the port complex unload cargo throughout the entire day and night, but the cargo is only moving during the day. So, operating the ports at off-peak hours is the first key to a more efficient movement of goods, either in the evenings or on the weekends. And I'm pleased to say that we are very close to implementing a program this Fall that will do just that.
Obviously, you have to deal with the terminal operators, truckers and shippers who are not exactly within the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles City Council. How do you make extended hours happen?
Well, the district boundaries have never stopped me before. Since I am also the chair of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, I feel that I have a responsibility that expands beyond just the city of Los Angeles. Under my jurisdiction, as a member of the City Council and the Commerce Committee, I instructed the Port of Los Angeles to report back on how we might begin to implement an extended gate program, which at that time I called a 24 hr a day- 7 day a week operation.
And so we began the process to help the Port come back with their study on how to implement it. I convened a working group and decided that we would never be able to implement something so radical like this if I didn't have all of the stakeholders at the table. We were able to bring the terminal operators, California Trucking Association, shipping companies, labor, importers, exporters, small businesses, large ones like Wal-Mart and Target, distribution centers (small, medium and large), members of the ACTA board, members of the both harbor commissions and members of both ports' executive staff together to discuss how to best make this happen. It was a power group that had convened before Alan Lowenthal introduced his legislation regarding a mandated hours of operation extension.
The meeting was very interesting. I've been told that this was the first time that all of these people were even in the same room. Everyone at the table told me that we've been talking about this for 20 years and it's never been done. Some were not sure it was going to get done this time. But, I kept explaining that this time, the port's growth is exploding and we are not going to be able to handle it.
If the group's goals were to move goods efficiently, then congestion was the one thing that would prevent that. And everyone agreed that congestion was becoming such a bottleneck that moving goods efficiently was becoming difficult. Truckers are losing money because they are only able to make one run a day because of congestion.
The group itself decided to come up with some ways to incentivize off-peak movements. Everyone agreed that a gate fee would subsidize the extra costs that terminal operators would incur as a result of higher labor costs in the middle of the night. That was actually the final recommendation of this working group.
There were also many legal issues we had to get through in order to allow people to begin talks with each other about gate fees. We just heard from the terminal operators that they've all agreed on imposing a congestion fee where all containers would be assessed a fee that comes through both ports and then that money would be used to subsidize the terminal operators who were open during the middle of the night. It looks like this program is going to be implemented this Fall and it's the one thing that will reduce congestion more than any other current proposal.
Let's turn to the "Bridge to Breakwater," a 400-acre waterfront redevelopment project that's beginning to mature. In April we interviewed Yehudi Gaffen about that plan, and he claimed that a lot of the reality of that plan lies in your office with your leadership. Do you want to elaborate on why you have put so much political capital into this effort?
That was my biggest challenge when I came into office: how do you balance the port operations with the quality of life issues for two communities, Wilmington and San Pedro? They live next to the waterfront but felt like they didn't have access to their own waterfront. Walking on the waterfront was one of those dreams and visions that I have heard from so many people over the many years I have lived in San Pedro. And I felt like, with my brother as the Mayor and me as Councilwoman, this was the right time to pursue the idea of creating a grand boardwalk along our waterfront.
It would not only serve San Pedro, but it will allow Wilmington to have waterfront development as well. This project was the one way I felt like we could mitigate past port operations for both of those communities. We've been able to hire these world-class designers. We believe that both communities have formed a consensus in terms of what they wanted to see on their waterfront. And, if all goes well, we will be walking on the first phase of our promenade by the end of the year.
One last question. Obviously, the entrance to San Pedro on the 110 has always been an obstacle to the evolution of that community, but it's not within the scope of the "Bridge to Breakwater" design. What is going on with respect to that?
Well, we have a great design for what we like to call the "Welcome Park." As you said, many people travel the 110 freeway and find their first impression of San Pedro to be pretty crummy. We've got a dilapidated bridge and abandoned gas stations-it's just not a good first impression. I've talked to people in San Pedro who actually give visitors a different route when they come to visit their home because they are embarrassed of their entry way.
The Urban Land Institute studied San Pedro a couple years ago and emphasized our entry ways, our points of entry, our gateways and suggested that they had almost as much to do with a community's identity as anything.
So we began to put together plans and drawings to address the problem. We hoped that the mitigation money that came from the lawsuit settlement would be money we can use for the "Welcome Park." The lawsuit stipulated that a portion of the settlement money be spent on aesthetic mitigation. We think this project fits that. We've already had the Port Community Advisory Committee recommend it. And, we believe the Harbor Commission will support it. I'm about to go up to Sacramento to try to convince the State Lands Commission that this is exactly what mitigation money should be used for.