California port bill moves to governor

| 9/13/2006

The California Legislature sent a bill to the governor’s office that would raise roughly $500 million a year from shippers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Meanwhile, two other port-related bills failed to win approval from lawmakers.

Sponsored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, the bill would collect a $30 tax on every 20-foot shipping container passing through the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex. The money would be used to improve rail infrastructure, strengthen port security and clean air pollution caused by trucks, ships and trains.

One-third of the money would go to the ports themselves. That portion would be spent on security improvements at the facilities.

The ports would be required to work with a bevy of security agencies – including the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Department and various state agencies – to select which security improvements would be funded.

The rest of the money would be used to set up port congestion and mitigation relief trust funds to pay for the improvements.

The portion provided to alleviate port congestion would go to the California Transportation Commission to fund projects that improve the rail system moving port containers to and from the ports. The text of the bill says the commission would be prohibited “from using the funds to construct, maintain, or improve highways.”

Money earmarked for mitigation relief would be used by the California Air Resources Board to develop a list of projects to reduce pollution caused by the movement of containers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bill – SB927. If he fails to act it will be stamped with a pocket veto, effectively killing it.

A pair of related bills also offered by Lowenthal that failed to advance to the governor sought to park certain large trucks, limit port growth and speed up “turn times.”

The first bill, SB764, would have required the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex to reduce the amount of pollution produced. The twin ports complex would have been required to reduce emissions 30 percent below the level of emissions produced in 2001. The ports would have been required to meet the rollback on emissions by 2010.

Another bill, SB1829, would have required marine terminals to operate in such a manner that doesn’t cause trucks to wait – and idle – for more than 30 minutes outside terminal gates. Once inside, it also would have prohibited making truckers wait more than 30 minutes for a single transaction. Unloading and loading must be completed in 60 minutes.

Marine terminals found to be in violation would have faced a $250 fine per occurrence. Any attempt by owners or operators of terminals to avoid or circumvent these requirements would have resulted in a $750 fine.

Lowenthal, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Quality, said the port bills were intended to “promote air quality” and set clearly defined goals and incentives to achieve them.

The bills that failed passage can be reintroduced in the session that begins in December.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor