By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
A key question for the Eric Garcetti administration in the Harbor Area will be the direction of the Port of Los Angeles.
On the one hand, the port’s environmental practices have improved significantly since the Riordan years, but on the other, there are troubling signs of backsliding, highlighted by the unprecedented array of lawsuits against BNSF’s proposed off-dock rail yard—including a civil rights complaint—and the preemptory abolition of the Port Community Advisory Committee.
Since the first order of business is staffing the new administration, Random Lengths asked a number of local residents for their thinking on whom they think Mayor-elect Garcetti should appoint to the Harbor Commission.
“He needs to appoint someone who has an understanding of global economics and trade—and particularly the fact that in the world we live in there’s an international division of labor,” said labor lawyer Diane Middleton, who went on to point out that shipbuilding has “gone to other countries. We don’t build big ships the way we used to. So talking about the port, and why isn’t there a shipyard here, isn’t going to make sense,” although “On the other hand, there’s certainly a need for ship repair.”
In 2007, the United States accounted for only 3 percent of worldwide shipbuilding, compared to 25 percent in South Korea and another 26 percent split between China and Japan. But 10 European countries combine for roughly 30 percent of the total — 10 times what the United States produces. So, clearly, it’s not just the international labor market, but also government policies that are involved. Middleton does have a point: without a substantial change in U.S. labor policy, it’s highly unrealistic to expect U.S. shipbuilding to return to San Pedro. And yet, changing policies on multiple levels is clearly part of what port leadership in the early 21st century is all about.
And this takes us to the heart of the question, since almost everyone agrees on the broadest outlines, such as the need for the green growth—which Middleton went on to discuss—but the differences arise in fleshing out what that means, specifically, and how to achieve it through multiple levels of action.
Several individuals, including former PCAC co-Chairwoman June Smith, mentioned Richard Havenick’s name.
“Someone like Dr. John Miller, Janet Gunter or Richard Havenick would be a big help to the community,” Smith said.
Havenick was one of the first and most vocal advocates to promote the idea of low-sulfur fuels replacing bunker fuel about a decade ago, when the port declared it impossible. Then Maersk unilaterally committed itself to low-sulfur fuel. Now, there’s an international agreement phasing in, covering coastal shelf waters around the globe.
That’s just one example of outside-the-box environmental advocacy from local grassroots activists, which is fast becoming standard policy. Jesse Marquez—another name mentioned repeatedly—has advocated a wide range of cutting-edge technologies, as well as spreading awareness of existing standard practices elsewhere. For example, the commonplace use of electric trains serving European ports. Marquez has already served on national and international bodies advancing environmental justice and environmental technology issues.
While organized labor and environmental advocates have often been pitted against one another, the shipbuilding situation highlights the fact that labor desperately needs the sort of outside-the-box thinking that local environmental activists have excelled at. Although struck down by the courts, the Clean Trucks Program’s employee mandate represented an all-too-rare example when labor and environmental activists joined together to redefine the context of the possible. That’s what many community activists want to see more of, including on the Harbor Commission.
China Shipping plaintiff Janet Gunter—mentioned as a possible commissioner by June Smith and others—does not see herself as a good fit for the job, but does have a long list of suggestions.
“The person filling the commission seat (in my view) needs enough backbone to stand up clearly for their determinations with honor, and not relinquish to political pressures,” Gunter said.
In addition to Marquez and Havenick, she suggested John Miller, June Smith, Chuck Hart, Marcie Miller, Connie Rutter and Peter Warren. But the one potential candidate she focused the most attention was Kathleen Woodfield.
“Kathleen is an intelligent, practical and straightforward individual, who thinks in broad terms, with a mind toward the respect of all involved parties,” Gunter said. “She has integrity and honesty ingrained in her system and doesn’t surrender it under any circumstance…. She also has over a decade of experience in community activism with the Port of LA and knows very well the history of the Harbor and its communities….Having Ms. Woodfield as a Harbor commissioner would energize the port’s professed desire to create a better relationship with the community. If that, indeed, is the intent of the port and city of LA, then the appointment of Ms. Woodfield would be a giant step in establishing that goal.”
On the other hand, Pat Nave—a former Port Attorney who’s spent most of the last decade as a neighborhood council activist—has more of an eye for what he sees as people who can get things done. He named three possible nominees:
“Cindy Miscikowski, one best and fairest commissioners ever,” Nave said. “Anthony Pirrozi, local person with decent instincts. Tim McOsker, great background and good judgment.”
Explained his first choice.
“Cindy is polite, nice, runs a very good meeting, makes sure everyone has their say, has superior judgment and resolves many problems quietly, behind the scenes,” Nave elaborated.
Others are significantly less impressed, however.
“Cindy is the same old that we’ve had,” said Peter Warren, of Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. “We need a change.
“Cindy is the president who presided over the undoing of PCAC, and either planned it or assented to it. That’s not what we need going forward.”
Warren also cited as “emblematic” that SCIG was approved under her leadership, a project that “has set a record for the quality and breadth of its opposition,” Warren said.
He pointed out that “The AQMD for the first time in its history has sued a municipal agency over an environmental impact report.”
They need a real community membership and perhaps three community-based members, who are responsive to the community…. Noel Park [a China Shipping co-plaintiff with Janet Gunter] comes to mind; Kathleen Woodfield has devoted herself and has turned herself into an expert on air pollution and other issues; Dr. John Miller, who is a physician who coined the phrase ‘the diesel death zone,’ which is probably the most appropriate name for what the port has created.”
But Doug Epperhart, a former president of Coastal Neighborhood Council, takes a dramatically different view.
“Honestly, I don’t know that it matters at all.” Epperhart said. “The reality is commissions like the Harbor Commission, the mayor tells you pretty much how you’re going to vote, and that’s pretty much how you vote. And, that’s just the way it is. I’m not terribly certain it matters an awful lot who serves on the Harbor Commission.
“The more I have seen of city government from the inside, the more I realize that you don’t effect change from the inside; you effect it from the outside…. It would be much more effective — and the neighborhood councils have talked about it with the demise of PCAC — to at least have a group that is external to the port that at has the ability to really seriously influence what’s done.”
Still, there’s value in citing individuals who embody the kind of thinking we’d like to see Mayor Garcetti advance. Restaurateur Andrew Silber, who’s worn a variety of civic hats over the past decade-plus, sees dozens of possibilities representing different facets of the community. The top-tier candidates he cited include: Camilla Townsend, Carrie Scoville, Dave Arian, Dick McKenna, Doug Semark, Herb Zimmer, Linda Alexander, Mary Gimenez-Caulder, Paula Moore, Phil Trigas, Sue Castillo and Vernon Hall.
But perhaps the most important recommendation is the one you make yourself. Individuals can volunteer to serve in the incoming administration, including seats on the Harbor Commission. Go to http://transition.lacity.org/, click on the link to “Join the Administration” and proceed from there.