A former city councilmember and long time public servant, Cindy Miscikowski was recently appointed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to replace green pioneer S. David Freeman as the president of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. As detailed in the following TPR/MIR interview, Ms. Miscikowski hopes to use her substantial experience brokering compromises between business interests and community groups in furthering the port's efforts to grow green and improve the trust of the surrounding community. On the table at the port are significant challenges due to the economy, increased competition from abroad, and legal challenges to employment mandates in the Port of Los Angeles' Clean Truck Program.
In June you were appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa to replace David Freeman as President of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. What enticed you to take this responsibility? What on the port's agenda interests the most?
The Port of Los Angeles is very much at a crossroads. It has been number one in the United States, combined with Long Beach, in terms of market share of import and export, and it is particularly well positioned on the Pacific Rim. But economic forces and other forces are aligning against the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. Other ports throughout the country and region are indicating that they want to grow their market share-that means taking it from us.
I knew a little about the port, from my years in the Los Angeles City Council. What I remembered about the port was something called the "hundred year war"-the battle between this huge economic engine and its location in the formerly sleepy little communities of San Pedro and Wilmington. Given my years at City Hall forging compromises with neighborhood groups and homeowner groups, I felt I could help cement that relationship in a positive way.
The Clean Truck Program at the Port of L.A. has now been in effect for about a year and Mayor Villaraigosa announced that the program has reduced truck air emissions by nearly 70 percent. But the courts have not allowed the other provisions of the L.A. program that mandate employee drivers. Will the commission appeal?
Despite the fact that the battle is being waged on the issue of the employee mandate, the ultimate goal of the clean truck program is hugely successful, much sooner than expected. The whole mantra of the port growing green is in terms of local community projects the most significant impact of the port in the area-air quality. For that to be reduced to the extent it has as soon as it has means that that part of the clean truck program, as well as other clean air programs, has been hugely successful.
The battle is going back to court, which was scheduled for December and now will wait until March. The other part of the clean truck program was good jobs, which we got. The Port Commission believed that the creation of a concession mandate was a better control mechanism to create jobs throughout the port in the clean truck area. Right now there is uncertainty in terms of providing the good jobs part of the program-or ensuring that the good jobs will stay. As a consequence of some of the market decrease, in terms of the whole economy, good pay for jobs and good treatment for jobs is harder to come by.
The U.S. District Court in the central district of California has approved the settlement agreement between the Port of Long Beach and the American Trucking Association, allowing the Port of Long Beach to move forward with its clean truck program. What is the position of the Port of L.A. regarding that settlement, and does Long Beach's success undermine L.A.'s assertion that you can't achieve the clean truck goals without including the employee mandate?
It clearly adds more confusion and shows that there are different routes available. The Port of Los Angeles is still committed to its program, including the local control mandate, even though it has now been challenged in court. There are other ports and communities, particularly on the East Coast, that are saying that this is something that they believe in. They are looking for a modification in Washington through the transportation bill to allow local control. Local control is clearly meant to ensure safety and security and control the environment on the ground with safety and clean air. Long Beach will try to show that it can go forward with out it. We believe that a comprehensive program is the way to go.
According to a Journal of Commerce article entitled "West Coast Ports Gear Up for Competition": "Los Angeles and Long Beach have lost cargo shares since implementing its clean truck and extended gate hour fees and now the ports are doing an about face." And Long Beach's Director of Trade and Port Relations is considering a motion to refrain from levying new fees for a yet to be determined number of years and the ports are adding some of the low emission trucks that 90 percent of all trucks leaving the harbor in early 2010 will be exempt from the clean truck fee. What is your response to Long Beach's action in light of the economic recession at the ports?
The port and its leadership are looking at the economic impact of the recession for all of our customers: the terminal operators, the shipping lines, and the cargo owners-the ones who pay for the goods to come across the see to have delivered throughout the country. We are aware that they are hurting and that the port needs to work in a partnership in terms of cutting fees and our own costs-making ourselves more efficient-and passing on what we can to our customers. The Port of L.A. has suspended its fees relative to an infrastructure imposition. Although there is a big demand for infrastructure improvement, now is not the time to be levying more fees.
As much as there is some internal competition among ports, the six West Coast ports, including the U.S. and Canada, are going to China next month and presenting a West Coast process to show that we are still the best place to come and get into not only the Southwest but America's heartland. We are competing against some of the perceptions relative to the Clean Truck Program. The federal government of Canada has also funded a $7 million marketing campaign in Asia to say, "Come here and we'll deliver faster and better." There's the issue of the opening of the Panama Canal and the ports along the south, Galveston, and others. The ports of Long Beach and L.A. have to be very smart about keeping as much of the market share as we can even though business has dropped.
That same article asserted that the West Coast ports have lost 4 percent of cargo share to ports in Canada, Asia, and the East Coast. How competitive is the L.A.-Long Beach port complex?
We have serious competition. For a long time the Port of L.A.'s only competition was the Port of Long Beach; it didn't see a lot of competition from these other entities. Granted we do have a huge percentage of the market share. In addition to really being cognizant of fees and streamlining and addressing those issues, we also have to look at major infrastructure improvements and efficiencies so that allowing faster growth of the terminal operators and the channel deepening project keep the Port of Los Angeles competitive.
A new California infrastructure advisory commission, which BTH Secretary Dale Bonner chairs, has been discussing potential P3 opportunities, including possibly the Desmond Bridge. Has P3 financing been on the commission's agenda? What are your thoughts about the value of public-private financing, given current constraints on public funding of infrastructure.
We're going to have to look at all options, there's no question about it. We do have, right now, with both the stimulus dollars and the TSA security dollars, $500 million of construction projects underway at the port of Los Angeles. That is equivalent to 8,000 one-year construction jobs. That's a million dollars a day that the port is spending on capital improvements. We have about $30 million worth of federal stimulus dollars in there and we're going after more. There's no question that we'll look at all options, particularly on the infrastructure improvements just outside of the port, dealing with goods movement, and logistics analysis. We are processing EIRs on major railroad expansions near dock. We are doing an extension of on-dock rail. But you're right, the ports are at the end of the landmass of our region and some of infrastructure, like the bridges and others leading out from there, are cramped and need of rebuilding.
Public-private financing of infrastructure is appealing to the Port of Los Angeles. There was some discussion regarding private interest in alternatives being put into the transportation system as a way of growing green and coming up with alternatives there. We are looking at public-private partnerships that make sense and pass environmental muster with the higher bar that we have set. It can't just be money to build something the old way.
Turning to land use, a subject you know well, the Harbor Commission recently approved the FEIR for the $1.2 billion project called the San Pedro Waterfront Project. What is the significance of that project?
Along with the Wilmington Waterfront Project-which was less controversial but also a really positive thing that has already kicked off a 30-acre improvement of a public park buffer between port operations and the residential community immediately to the north, bringing into Wilmington a park promenade that will then feed and connect ultimately with the San Pedro Waterfront Project-the San Pedro project will create a public promenade along the entire waterfront, which is now significantly interrupted. We're going to build the promenade from the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the breakwater at Cabrillo Beach.
Other important features are connecting downtown San Pedro to the waterfront, looking at opportunities for private investment with an upgraded live/work/play environment with the ports of call and downtown, and connecting pathways, walkways, bridges, and new marinas in the downtown area to the harbor surfaces. That will create a connectivity of public space and public place where one can go and commercially interact and also sit and watch the wonder of commercial cargo and the cruise ships and everything else.
The city of L.A. is currently stressed by budget deficits and a hemorrhaging of jobs. What counsel, from the perspective of being long out of public office, can you offer the city's elected leadership?
There needs to be partnerships. The city needs to step up, perhaps to a greater degree than it has in the past, and pull together its union workforce and its business development-on the public side and the private side. In the instance of the port, the $1-million-a-day worth of jobs being created in construction is a helpful thing to fall back on in hard times. Jobs are what it would be all about. The city will not be able to afford what it wants to do until it reintroduces a stable economy. That means jobs, significantly dropping the unemployment rate, building more Metro, building more homes, and creating a better the job-housing balance. We've got to do it better and smarter-essentially get back to basics.
What would you say to those who argue that the city is pursuing a Detroit-like strategy of relying heavily on public employment rather than private investment?
We can't discourage private investment. There are always going to be needed infrastructure projects that can produce jobs, but it's got to go hand in hand with private investment as well. We really have to look at where we are in the 21st century. What are going to be the job markets? I still believe L.A. is going to be well situated to serve them if we clean up our act and process projects, process EIRs, and avoid some of the pitfalls of ideas that were stymied in the past.