By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor and Lyn Jensen, Reporter
Although Isadore Hall III has only recently begun representing Senate District 35, which encompasses a group of diverse South Bay communities ranging from Carson to San Pedro, he is already campaigning to succeed Janice Hahn in Congressional District 44 in November 2016. How Hall handles port issues in San Pedro will play an important role in whether he can win the District 44 seat.
Random Lengths recently covered Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka’s efforts to redevelop Ports O’ Call Village, providing for congestion relief in Seroka’s vision of the port’s future. Bill Orton, a rival Democratic candidate for District 44, suggested that Hall had “logrolled” port-related legislation to get Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino’s endorsement.
The allegation stemmed from a San Pedro Chamber of Commerce event at which Buscaino allegedly boasted that he wouldn’t give anyone his personal endorsement without favorable state legislation affecting his district.
This boast allegedly came in July, during the same time period as the Ports O’ Call lease agreement and Hall’s pending legislation that amended the state Tidelands Trust Act, which extended the ability of cities to grant waterfront leases up to 75 years. Those bills are SB 399 and 63.
Hall’s congressional campaign spokesman, Dave Jacobson, told Random Lengths that the allegations were untrue. Jacobson said Orton has since apologized and it appears the allegation has since been removed from Orton’s page and website.
Buscaino’s spokesman, Branimir Kvartuc, also denied the charge against Orton, saying pending legislation had nothing to do with his endorsement, which he called a “no-brainer.”
The reason the councilman endorsed Hall was because he “knows he can work with him and has worked with [him] while he’s been in the state legislature,” Kvartuc said.
Kvartuc noted that both Senate bills 399 and 63 were being drafted long before Hall’s congressional run.
“The only scenario in which the councilman would have withheld his endorsement is if he was running for the seat himself,” Kvartuc said.
Orton told Random Lengths that he referred the matter to the Federal Elections Committee and left it at that. The Federal Elections Committee has not taken action.
After taking office in December 2014, Hall made sure to stay visible in San Pedro, first by being a vocal advocate of the ILWU at the height of tensions during contract negotiations in January, and then “opening a Senate District 35 field office to downtown San Pedro this year.
“One of the biggest blessings that I have is the fact that I can now have San Pedro,” said Hall at his new San Pedro field office. “I’m very huge in the area of ports and goods movement. Making sure that we are providing opportunities for expansion…making sure there is security…making sure that there’s a plan for economic development for the port.” These were not issues he faced when he represented Carson and nearby communities in the state assembly.
When asked about the biggest difference between working in the California Assembly and the state Senate, Hall not only mentioned how his district now includes San Pedro and the port, but also spoke about SB 63, which he authored and introduced less than a month after he took office.
“I’ve introduced [SB 63] with Joe Buscaino that allowed for infrastructure development and enhancement,” he said. “Also another piece of legislation for the ports that allowed for the ports to be creative in how it’s financed…because when the government took away redevelopment from the communities, there was an unintended consequence that took out a component that allowed for the ports to expand and to have an apparatus where they could financially and economically expand their ports.”
Hall argued that this bill corrected a problem created by the dismantling of California Redevelopment Agencies.
“There was a finance component in the redevelopment bill that excluded the ports from being able to expand or to use a financing component to be able to bond or finance expansion and economic development on the port,” Hall explained. “What our bill did was reverse it so we excluded the ports from what was taken away; thereby giving the ports an opportunity to expand, to develop, to finance economic projects.”
Hall makes the case that his senate term has allowed him to add port-related issues to his curriculum vitae that already lists housing, healthcare, economic development and education. He said that before now, he didn’t have a constituency that paid attention to port issues.
“The inland communities never really worry about port because they’re more concerned about goods movement,” Hall said. “But there was never really an emphasis on ports… I still do the work [such as] healthcare, education, economic development, for career vocational technology programs, [and] environment[al] issues.
“Forty percent of all goods movement in the United States of America comes through our Port of Los Angeles. You saw what happened when the port slowed down. And how that impacted not just California but it impacted the nation. We have an opportunity now to work on something that is [not only] significant to San Pedro and California but the nation.”
He said his priorities as both a state senator and vice chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus are not limited to one group of people.
“Our issues are not just [about] empower[ing] African-Americans, but to empower minorities as a whole,” he said. “One of those things would be our environment.”
As example, Hall pointed to his favorable vote on SB 32, a bill that aimed to reduce toxic emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Given that his campaign donors include oil companies, this could be an indication that he does not necessarily vote as those donors may wish.
“I think that’s important not just for the state of California but particularly in our geographical area,” Hall said. “It’s very important. A lot of the oil companies are not necessarily in line…but I think it’s a healthy bill.”
The bill was authored and sent to the floor on Jan. 15. It has since passed through the Senate and has been sent to the assembly’s appropriations committee.
While Hall’s position makes him one of the most powerful African-American politicians in California, the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color has been an issue no major portion of America can ignore. Hall cited the reams of legislation that have been put forth in both the Assembly and the Senate addressing the divide between law enforcement and communities of color. He particularly highlighted Sen. Holly Mitchell’s SB 227.
“Holly Mitchell had a bill…where [if] you had a law enforcement agency that had committed violence on a person, that law enforcement person is able to go through the same level of a jury as anyone else and not hide under the guise of a grand jury.”
With his background as a reserve deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Hall aims to balance support for law enforcement while acknowledging that there’s still work to be done.
This may at least partly explain his expression of gratitude that recently Los Angeles didn’t see the same level of unrest as other parts of the country, when he said that Los Angeles learned its lesson following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Those stemmed from a Ventura jury’s decision to acquit four Los Angeles Police Department officers for the 1991 beating of Rodney King. The beating was caught on videotape but the jury still bought completely into the defense’s argument.
“In every organization, there’s a bad apple,” Hall said. “It’s a matter of weeding out the bad apple, be it in a hospital, in law enforcement, in a fire agency, at a school… in every agency, you’ll find a bad apple.
“We just have to make sure they’re not in a place where they can hurt the individual or a community… I think that’s what the legislature is doing, particularly with the community.”
This view may seem out of sync, however, with the fact that Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department problems were more systemic and institutional than the presence of a few bad apples would suggest. The department was forced to accept federal oversight following the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by jail inmates who said they were beaten by guards, along with reports of continuing abuse despite promises to reform over the past three decades.
Vocational training is another issue Hall appears eager to address. Such education has become an increasingly potent issue over the past several years as civic and business leaders question the wisdom of steering all students toward four-year colleges.
“The obvious thing is that not everybody’s going to go to a four-year university, unfortunately,” Hall said. “If only 10 or 15 percent of the folks from high school are going to college, what are we doing for the other 85 percent… who are not?”
Hall recalled when wood, metal and mechanic shop classes were still common in California high schools as recently as the 1980s.
“When we graduated from high school, we had some type of skill or trade or something that you could get into to help you make some money,” Hall said. “All of that’s been taken out of schools now.”
To address that, Hall said he is working on legislation with Sen. Ben Allen and Assemblywoman Autumn Burke to make sure we invest in career vocational and technical education.
Hall noted that major portions of workforces at Boeing and other companies in the aerospace and computer industries are going to be retiring by 2020. Even though Boeing recently announced layoffs at their El Segundo satellite division, the five-year timeline for retirements will still have to be dealt with.
“There’s going to be a backfield that’s going to be needed like you’ve never seen it before,” Hall predicts. “These employees are going to be folks who’ve gone to career-tech, voc-tech training programs.
“The Black Caucus is very happy to support the career-tech voc-tech programming, putting dollars back into our communities.”
Hall also touted his and the Legislative Black Caucus’ commitment to increase the number of slots for children enrolled in early childhood education, which was accomplished in the Budget Act for fiscal year 2015-16. In addition to the expansion of early childhood education, Hall worked to secure an additional $3.1 billion for the University of California and California State University systems to expand access to students throughout his district.