Draft Supplemental EIR Admits to Lack of Compliance with Legal Settlement
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
The Port of Los Angeles likes to call itself “America’s premier port” and claims it is strongly committed to developing innovative strategic and sustainable operations. It likes to call itself the model of “green port technology” even as it facilitates some $290 billion in trade per year as of 2014. Clearly, POLA and the Port of Long Beach are the largest most productive ports in the nation. Together they are also the single highest producing source of air pollution in the entire Los Angeles basin.
What is little remembered is the lawsuit filed by attorneys Gail Ruderman Feuer (the wife of the current Los Angeles City Attorney) and Julie Masters of the Natural Resources District Council on behalf of several Harbor Area activists against the port’s China Shipping environmental impact report 13 years ago—a lawsuit that resulted in a $65 million settlement.
Documented in the Amended Settlement Judgment section of the decision is a long list of environmental, cultural and aesthetic mitigations to be accomplished and reported on by both POLA and China Shipping. They have failed to do so since 2011.
The California Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in the NRDC’s favor in this case, finding that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act, CEQA, in failing to address “any site-specific environmental issues related to the China Shipping project.”
As part of its decision, the court stayed a number of China Shipping terminal improvements including: the last 200 feet of the first wharf, erection and operation of four 16-story cranes, operation of the first wharf and construction of the later phases of the project, until the port and city prepare an environmental review of the project’s impacts in full compliance with CEQA.
Compliance with this judgment was to be reported at least annually in the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRPs).
The port says that it has made great strides in meeting its clean air goals and standards, yet after this newspaper filed a California Public Records Act in September of this year, it was revealed that the port has failed to produce any MMRPs dated more recently than April 2011. So it may be impossible for them to verify these cleaner air standards.
Curiously, this curtailment of the MMRPs is around the time that the port under the leadership of Geraldine Knatz disbanded the Port Community Advisory Committee, which after the China Shipping settlement was used to oversee and inform the public as to the progress of port mitigation on this and other terminal operations.
Without the pressure of public oversight, the port obviously failed to perform its mandatory reporting. The port continues to deny the relevance of or need for any public oversight and has preferred to hold closed door meetings with neighborhood council presidents, local chamber of commerce directors and their plus-one guests. That plan has clearly backfired on them. A port community advisory board would have clearly caught their non-compliance much earlier and brought it to the attention of the Harbor Commission.
It has also been revealed that the port failed to include the court-ordered mitigation and reporting requirements during their latest lease renegotiations with the China Shipping Co. over berth 97-109. Now in the current Notice of Preparation in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) the port is claiming that these mitigation and reporting requirements are “infeasible”.
The port is clearly at fault here and now it is attempting to backtrack and cover up the evidence of its non-compliance. Why these mitigations weren’t written into a long-term lease in the beginning is anyone’s guess at this point. Ever since the port responded to my public records request and issued a Notice of Preparation, the port has instituted a gag order preventing staff or anyone else at the port from speaking to the press.
Part of the problem is that the port self- certifies its own environmental impact reports. This has historically been a problem here, since their reports are rarely subject to critical review. And in the absence of the PCAC, there’s scant public oversight on compliance.
Even worse is that the port has only given the public 12 days between the Oct. 7 public scoping meeting and its arbitrary Oct. 19 deadline to respond to the SEIR. This is hardly enough time for the neighborhood councils, public agencies or the NRDC to respond. Clearly that deadline needs to be extended by 120 days.
The current rework of the SEIR that should concern everyone is that the port is backing off a list of critical environmental goals that include: greenhouse emissions, air quality, transportation/traffic, noise pollution and something called “mandatory findings of significance”.
Of these, the air quality and transportation categories are probably the most immediate concerns to area residents, even though there is both a state and national mandate to combat greenhouse gas emissions to reduce global warming.
Under the air quality section of the NOP, three of the five issues raised were marked as “Potentially significant impact.” These include: full compliance with alternative marine power (electric plug in), vessel speed reduction; liquefied petroleum gas powered yard tractors and liquefied natural gas powered drayage trucks and emission standards for berths 121-131 and 97-109.
The failure to comply with the original EIR means that not only dirtier air quality for the seven communities surrounding the port and for the workers in the harbor but has an even harsher consequence for those neighborhoods that directly abut the port.
Because of the missing mitigation monitoring reports it is not entirely clear exactly what mitigations the port has fully accomplished and what they have not, for instance what is the status on these issues:
- Traffic mitigation plan: The port is required to complete and implement traffic studies for China Shipping and the entire Port by expedited dates in the agreement.
- Port-wide policy changes: As part of the settlement, the Port has adopted resolutions setting forth two new Port-wide mitigation policies:
- The Port will require the purchase of only clean, alternative fuel yard tractors for all new leases and “significant” renegotiations of existing leases.
- The port will now only grant permits for new or replacement cranes if they are “low-profile,” subject to a showing of their feasibility.
Though the port is pinning their argument on the “feasibility” of the requirements, I suspect that the real issue is that China Shipping is trying to wrangle its way out of having to pay any further monies toward mitigation connected to this lease. It is also rumored that China Shipping is going to be merged with another state owned shipping company, COSCO.
The port’s failure to meet transportation and traffic mitigation goals is another example of the conflict between the traffic needs of local citizens and the future growth of port operations along with the development of the waterfront, designed to turn the Harbor Area into a tourist attraction.
This failure to meet the transportation and traffic mitigations will only continue to grow as the port regains its pre-2008 container volumes and annual trade surpasses $290 billion per year.
Even with the current expansion of the 110 and 47 freeway connectors, how does the port expect to expand tourist traffic to the San Pedro and Wilmington waterfronts while at the same time exponentially expanding container traffic on the same freeways? The port makes no effort to address these congestion issues or include the possibility of a light rail connection.
One of the other unforeseen and unaccounted for issues not mitigated in all of this is the eviction of some 50 homeless people living along the parts of the freeways that are being expanded. This is the human face of the port’s disregard for the consequences of their actions on the surrounding communities or the lives of those impacted by port expansion.
In the end, this Supplemental EIR is an attempt by the Port of Los Angeles to renegotiate the terms of its Amended Settlement Judgment by self-certifying a new one without going back to court or allowing for adequate time for considered response from the communities affected. They are avoiding holding China Shipping accountable for its part in the failure to protect harbor area citizens from further environmental harm.
Gene Seroka, the executive director of POLA, has claimed that this is a corrective action and is the consequence of the previous administration’s failure to act, but much of this would have been avoided with more—not less—citizen oversight, which is one mitigation that should be permanently written into the new Supplemental EIR.