Geraldine Knatz's exit as executive director of the Port of Los Angeles did not come as a big surprise to several port watchers who contacted me after Friday's post. The election of Eric Garcetti as mayor might have sealed the deal, according to one consultant, although Knatz and other top L.A. managers were asked to go through a formal review to get their old jobs back and so presumably a final decision wasn't made until recently. (I've reached out to the mayor's office for comment beyond a pro-forma press release last week; so far no response). Why should we care about this? Because the Port of Los Angeles is one of the city's most important economic engines. Not that the vast majority of local news media gives a hoot, but last year it handled more than $273 billion in cargo and is responsible for 250,000 local jobs. I don't cover the ports regularly, and so the opinions about the kind of job Knatz did, good, bad or indifferent, are just that - opinions. As with any personnel decision, only the principals know what really went down. That said, I have received quite a bit of feedback on what might have happened. Most everybody told me that Knatz did not have a great relationship with the port tenants, to put it mildly. The laundry list of gripes includes an often-difficult lease negotiation process with both large and small tenants ("needlessly difficult," said one); a $150 million cost overrun involving an ongoing terminal modernization project; an unwillingness or inability to handle an increasingly competitive industry (business has been lost to the Port of Long Beach and, more broadly, there's the major expansion of the Panama Canal); not enough hand-holding with the shipping community; limited focus on sales and marketing; and lengthy delays in getting leases and other paperwork completed (given the city's convoluted contracting process, that might not be Knatz's fault). Beyond these specifics is the all-purpose explanation you often hear concerning managers of a certain age: "It was just time for a change." While she's only been heading the Port of L.A. since 2006, Knatz, who is 61, previously was managing director of the Port of Long Beach and has spent her career at the giant port complex (she was hired in 1977 as an environmental scientist at the Port of L.A.). Given the political nature of the position, it's inevitable that anyone running the show is going to make enemies. "Dealing with the multinational corporations, the neighborhood activists, the environmentalists, and City Hall all at the same time isn't always easy," one of the port followers told me. Knatz earns high marks for her experience in environmental engineering and biological science (she has a masters degree in the former and a doctorate in the latter), as well as in her tenacity at handling what remains a male-dominated industry. One more thing: there's no evidence that the cost overruns to renovate the port's 73-foot yacht Angelena II - breathlessly reported by a local TV station's "investigative" reporter - had anything to do with Knatz's departure, which she has described as a "retirement." I reached out to Knatz for comment; a port spokesman says she might do some interviews, but not until she gets back from a 10-day trip to Europe where she'll meet with port customers. She'll stay on until the end of the year.
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