- Terelle Jerricks
Why the Port Has Taken a Wrong Turn
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
At its May 2 Harbor Commission meeting, the commissioners upon the recommendation of the Port of Los Angeles staff voted to dissolve the Port Community Advisory Committee.
The PCAC was the mechanism that helped settle the 100-year war and the China Shipping dispute that ended up costing the port some $65 million in mitigations. Some of those mitigations are now only being accomplished, like the $5 million for Plaza Park restoration across from the U.S. Post Office on Beacon Street.
The elimination of the PCAC by the Board of Harbor Commissioners on that Thursday morning meeting came with little notice and no consultation with community groups represented in the PCAC.
June Smith, president of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said, “They said it [the PCAC] had been highly successful, so it was time to get rid of it. This is raw politics at its best.”
So how is it that in a city that is filled with dysfunction, that an advisory group is dismissed and dissolved because it’s, too successful? This seems to be the message of hypocrisy that the port is sending to the community.
Even Pat Nave, a former lawyer for the City of Los Angeles, who worked at the port for many years commented, “The city charter says no commission shall consider something until the neighborhood councils have had a chance to consider the matter. That did not happen here.”
This little-used charter section 907, titled, Early Warning System, reads as follows:
The Regulations shall establish procedures for receiving input from neighborhood councils prior to decisions by the City Council, City Council Committees and boards and commissions. The procedures shall include, but need not be limited to, notice to neighborhood councils as soon as practical, and a reasonable opportunity to provide input before decisions are made. Notices to be provided include matters to be considered by the City Council, City Council Committees, and City boards or commissions.
It is odd that the port and its Board of Harbor Commissioners didn’t seem to follow the city charter in dissolving PCAC. They didn’t even inform the presidents of the Harbor Area Neighborhood Councils, who were meeting with the port’s deputy executive director of external relations, Cynthia Ruiz, that this action was about to take place. We all should have gathered that something was in the wind when Ruiz offered the neighborhood councils a memorandum of understanding regarding neighborhood council input into port affairs. With hindsight being 20/20, it was just a gambit around the existence of PCAC. But does this occasionally monthly meeting meet the standards of the PCAC or have the historical understanding of the critical issues involving the port and its developments? Sadly, the neighborhood council presidents don’t have the expertise of June Smith, who has years of community activism and experience on that port advisory committee. Most of the others involved don’t.
What is necessary in response to this unilateral action by the port is that the neighborhood councils now act to form a joint neighborhood council subcommittee that is charged with doing exactly what the PCAC was created to do – watch every move that POLA makes. It is imperative that the Harbor Area communities have a watchdog on this public agency because of it overarching economic and environmental impact on all of our lives. Yes, it’s great that they are moving towards development of Ports O’ Call Village, the Marine Science Center and extending the Waterfront Promenade. But we still aren’t out of the woods on air pollution and toxic materials handling and regulation.
It would be far too easy for the port to backslide after having made a decade’s worth of environmental and community outreach changes. We here at Random Lengths News know how hard it was to get the port to change direction in the first place, after having doggedly covered their bad actions for more than three decades.
Inherent in this action by the port is the “trust me” factor, which when used in normal business practices means that you are about to be taken advantage of. This action and the offered MOU with the neighborhood councils could rightly be seen as a Trojan horse deal.
In the end, the port needs to be much more transparent with what its intentions are and the community should not be lulled into the fantasy of big dreams on our waterfront without having more knowledge and public input.