Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s fight to clean up the air in the heavily polluted Los Angeles harbor—stymied in the courts---has shifted to Congress where his labor and environmental allies have more clout.
At stake is the air quality in the harbor communities of San Pedro and Wilmington as well as in the small cities of Southeastern Los Angeles County, where the predominantly Latino low income residents are afflicted with bad air as well as—in many cases—bad government.
I have always thought this has been one of Villaraigosa’s worthwhile efforts that deserve much more attention than it has been getting. The issue is of vital importance to the residents. And the politics, with the Teamsters Union and environmentalists supporting Villaraigosa, is interesting, especially now that they are taking their case to Congress.
Art Marroquin of the Daily Breeze, one of the few reporters following the issue closely, reported that the Los Angeles harbor has paid $340,500 to an influential lobbying firm, the Gephardt Group, founded by former Rep. Richard Gephardt, who has close ties to labor.
The Los Angeles harbor department had proposed a Clean Trucks Program that would require truck operators serving the port to comply with strict air pollution standards. It would be expensive for big trucking companies, which would have to bring their trucks up to standard. They would rather hire independent drivers who would be responsible for maintenance. The companies went to court and got a temporary injunction against the plan, contending the port was usurping federal authority when it sought to regulate trucks.
New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill that would give Los Angeles and other ports the power to enact truck cleanup regulations. “We must ensure that the government is doing everything in its power to decrease vehicle emissions and minimize pollution around our ports,” he said.
The big trucking companies want the drivers to bear the burden of meeting clean air standards and pay for maintenance out of their low incomes, estimated by backers of the bill at about $10-$12 an hour. They would be considered independent contractors who, if they managed to save enough money, could buy the trucks they lease.
Brandon Borgna of the American Trucking Association, which represents the big truckers. disagreed that the independent truckers are low paid. He told me that many drivers “operate intelligently and efficiently” enough to work only four days a week and “and live very comfortably.” He said pollution has been greatly reduced in the Los Angeles and Long Beach without the mandate of the Nadler bill.
The Teamsters Union wants the big companies to run the truck so the drivers can be organized. Independent truckers are non-union,
With Ari Gold, the mythical and thoroughly awful agent competing for a Los Angeles National Football League franchise in HBO’s Entourage, I’m reminded of the two real-life competitors, both of whom could be characters in the TV series.
One of them is Philip Anschutz, the multi-billionaire owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) whose lieutenant and front man, Tim Leiweke, is talking about building a stadium for an NFL team next to Staples Center and in the heart of AEG’s LA Live entertainment complex. The other is Ed Roski Jr., a billionaire developer who made his fortune in the Chinatown-like City of Industry. Roski wants to build an NFL stadium in Industry.
Their stories are part of a deeply researched, fascinating book, “City of Industry: Genealogies of Power in Southern California,” by Victor Valle, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and a professor in the ethnic studies department at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.
Industry is well known to aficionados of local scandal. It is an odd little San Gabriel Valley city whose single purpose is to encourage and enrich developers and manufacturers through its redevelopment agency. The arrangement cheats surrounding cities and school districts of tax revenues businesses evade by locating in Industry. Double dealing, questionable city-business government deals and conflict of interest are normal behavior there.
As in Chinatown, Valle reports, land development and manipulation of local government agencies brought Anschutz and Roski together.
Like Chinatown’s devilish characters, Anschutz avoids publicity. He made his billions quietly in oil, sports, other entertainment and railroads. His Union Pacific railroad and its customers needed warehouse space along its route through the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and to the harbor. Land developer Roski, owner of Majestic Realty, had the warehouses. According to Valle, Roski owns or controls 27 per cent of Industry’s 7,610 acres. He makes “the big decisions” in the city, Valle wrote.
Anschutz and Roski linked up, first on Roski’s warehouses, and then on owning the Kings, the Lakers, Staples Center and LA Live. The two were influential, Valle noted, in winning approval for the Alameda Corridor project, a direct rail line from the harbor, built by a combination of government agencies.
Now, as Daniel Miller reported in the Los Angeles Business Journal in May, Anschutz and Roski are engaged in a battle of the billionaires, floating stadium schemes as they compete for an NFL team.
They are classic L.A. buccaneers. Here’s hoping Entourage can find time for them this season.
With city hall news full of minor malfeasance, it is surprising to report that something positive is actually happening. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30/10 transit plan is moving toward Congressional approval even though progress is about as slow as a Wilshire bus during rush hour.
Under the plan, the federal government would loan the Metropolitan Transportation Authority funds to begin construction of the 12 transit projects scheduled to be built with proceeds from the half cent sales tax increase approved by the voters as Measure R in 2008. The loans would be repaid by the sales tax revenues.
This procedure would allow the projects to be built in a decade rather than the 30 years envisioned when the voters approved Measure R. Among the projects are completion of the Wilshire subway, the so-called “Subway to the Sea;” an extension of the Gold Line light rail to Claremont; an extension of the San Fernando Valley’s Orange Line rapid bus way and a number of freeway interchange improvements, more carpool lanes and highway widenings.
Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten, one of the few journalists paying attention to plan, wrote it “is the most important initiative proposed” by Villaraigosa and “if, as seems increasingly likely, it’s embraced by Congress, it will become one of the nation’s most significant public infrastructure policy.”
Having covered transportation when I was at the Times, I can tell you the subject is a hard sell with editors. The beat is not a ticket to page one. Editors like something simple and snappy, like the mayor’s free tickets to big events or which of two houses is the real residence of City Councilman Richard Alarcon, the one in the district and the other that’s not.
I’ve already commented about the tickets: Mayor, take those tickets, show up at the Oscars, concerts and sports events, big and small. You’re the city’s political and government leader, CEO and chief cheerleader!
In the Alarcon case, I’ll withhold comment since Alarcon’s chief of staff is my friend Saeed Ali, and he’s been subpoenaed by the grand jury, which, along with the district attorney, is looking into the situation.
But there are some much more important issues being resolved or neglected in City Hall, and they deserve more attention.
One of these is traffic congestion. Approval of the 30/10 plan will be a step toward easing it. Recently, I talked to Richard Katz, a member of the MTA and Metrolink boards, .who is working with the mayor to get the plan approved.
Katz, just back from a trip to Washington, is very enthusiastic about all this. “It’s on a par with Mulholland bringing water to L.A,” he said. I said that water deal was pretty big. Are you sure this thing is that huge? “I am too close to it,” he said.
Still, as he described what’s happening, it’s a damn good story. Villaraigosa, helped by Democratic Reps. Jane Harman and Lucille Roybal-Allard, are trying to convince the old guys in the House that this revolutionary approach won’t hurt their pork barrel approach to transit appropriations. Sen. Barbara Boxer is doing the same in the Senate. The Obama administration is on their side. In L.A., the labor unions and the construction and engineering lobbyists are using their clout, as well.
Jobs will be created, too—160,000 construction jobs in the next decade. This will help pull L.A. out of the recession.
And finally, this is something Sen. Boxer needs. Her Republican opponent Carly Fiorina has been blasting her as some sort of leftist. She faces a rough race and will need to show she’s a practical, dollars-and-cents senator. This project would help her.
Put it all together—heavy on the drama and politics--and it’s not a bad story. Maybe not as hot as mayor’s free tickets but much more important.