By Chuck Hart, President of San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners United
We are in receipt of a copy of a letter written by ILWU, Local 26, President, Luisa Gratz, on April 11, 2012. Their letter is to request that the Commission ignore and dismiss the Port Community Advisory Committee’s Motion to revoke the Port’s revocable rail permit servicing the Rancho LPG facility until a proper risk assessment has been performed establishing the level of risk and liability exposure to residents, the City and to the port.
It appears that the dangers associated with the commodity of Liquid Energy Gas escapes the ILWU totally. This fact, very clearly, emphasizes the critical need for greater education about the volatility, flammability and inextinguishability of butane and propane gases. As the initiators of this hazardous operation, it is incumbent upon the Port and the City of LA to better inform the union workers and all those potentially impacted about the extreme dangers associated with this commodity, its storage and its transport. Another conservative, yet significant finding, was revealed upon the review of Rancho’s worst case LPG release scenario documents on file with the City of Los Angeles, which indicates an impact on more than 700 lives, in the adjacent neighborhood.
A very concerning “insinuation” in the ILWU letter is the reference to the “Community activists” generating “libelous” statements regarding the performance of work associated with their union members. This statement is completely false and seems to be aimed at creating opposition among their union work force. We question where this motivation is coming from. The ILWU letter is written as if by the lobbyists working for Rancho.
It is important to note that the same Homeowners organizations engaged in this fight for safety at Rancho LPG were the litigants in the China Shipping lawsuit on the issue of Port air pollution. In 2000, the ILWU actually pitted itself against the Community on that issue adopting the curious notion that the homeowners were attempting to wipe out the long shore industry in their quest for “clean air”. This latest effort by the ILWU to purportedly “protect” the up to 12 jobs associated with Rancho LPG is a painful reminder of that earlier debacle. The efforts of the homeowners were finally successful in winning the China Shipping lawsuit and meeting the goal of air quality mitigation. That lawsuit netted the entire community, and especially those exerting themselves daily on the docks, cleaner air. The Union now claims credit for making the Port a healthier environment for their workers, even though they opposed these efforts at the time.
The union letter is correct in the recognition of the many refineries and chemical facilities posing potential problems to the Harbor region. Certainly, the homeowners well understand that fact. However, for numerous reasons Rancho LPG stands apart from the rest of the facilities in its extreme risk exposure. Rancho’s 25 Million gallon capacity, makes it the most voluminous facility of its type in a populated area in the Nation.
While the ILWU and other agents of government proclaim that the facility is in “compliance”, that statement does not ring true. A facility that has been “exempted” from having to comply with existing rules and regulations since inception (as Rancho/Petrolane was) CANNOT be truthfully in “full compliance” nor be deemed as “safe.” Ms. Gratz makes a cavalier statement to simply “fix” what is “wrong” with the facility. Obviously, she has not reviewed the issue or simply does not understand the complaints. The first thing to be “fixed” would be to remove the tanks from the Palos Verdes Fault rupture zone.
What Ms. Gratz’s letter does, is underscore the necessity of the Harbor Commission and the City of LA to assume their responsible leadership role in acting immediately in an effort to safe guard all the union workers, the school children, the homeowners, the local businesses and all impacted parties. It is imperative to move on the Motions of the PCAC, Neighborhood Councils and recommendations of homeowners groups in revoking the rail permit servicing Rancho LPG. This rail permit may be re-applied for by the facility after achieving an acceptable level of risk to the public and ensuring adequate insurance coverage to both the City and Port of LA in the event of any disaster stemming from the facility’s operation.
The potential of disaster from the Rancho facility increases every day in multiple ways. It is now known that Pacific Gas and Electric knew for 50 years that there were problems with the pipes in the region of the San Bruno explosion that decimated an entire neighborhood and took 8 innocent lives. Concerns regarding the Rancho site have raged on now for over 40 years. Why should people have to die in order to bring about rational action??!. We cannot afford to wait another minute in removing this impending threat. It is incumbent upon the LA Harbor Commissioners and the Mayor to do what is morally right in this situation. We urge you to use your authority in this attempt to restore public safety by revoking the rail permit as recommended by the PCAC. If the facility is indeed “safe,” as described, there will be no problem in restoring the permit when this fact has been proven.