Proposed LA/Long Beach port plan meets staunch criticism

| 6/5/2007

As the massive twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach approach an operations overhaul, critics of the proposal say it could lead to decreased competition at other U.S. ports.

And, the number of critics appears to be growing.

The Agriculture Transportation Coalition – an organization representing exporters of cotton, rice, almonds, nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruits, vegetables and other exports – has joined the American Trucking Association and California Trucking Association in criticizing the proposed port changes.

Peter Friedman, the Agriculture Transportation Coalition’s executive director, said officials from other ports have noted that proposed changes for the LA/Long Beach ports could start a trend detrimental to the U.S. economy.

Friedman, who works from an office in Washington, DC, told Land Line Tuesday that he knows officials from two other ports “elsewhere in the country who are frightened to death” about the size and breadth of overhaul planned by officials Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Friedman believes the move will hurt shipping times for produce and other industries because of a lack of competition.

“Some people say it harkens back to Soviet Union central planning in 1958,” Friedman said.

An estimated 16,000 tractor-trailers pull into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach every day, and port leaders say a new licensing program scheduled to take effect in January will eliminate the oldest and dirtiest trucks that contribute to the area’s pollution problems.

In April, port officials told Land Line that the ports didn’t have a written version of any proposed plan but said commissions for each port would likely consider approving a port overhaul by July that would actually purchase new trucks for approved concessionaires. The new trucks would be paid partly by port fees that companies and individual trucks pay per trip.

A new drayage system would limit truck operators accessing the port to those selected by the port as concessionaires, and a proposal submitted by an environmental coalition led by Teamsters and other unions suggested weighting concessionaire applicants by the value of their assets.

Also, independent drivers would be phased out over a few years, and all drivers would be required to be company employees that could be represented by a labor union.

Friedman said the public should question the ports as to “exactly what is the constituency they’re trying to assist?”

“If they’re trying to clean the air up – they have to mandate cleaner trucks – but what’s the purpose of telling some people no matter how clean your truck is we’re not going to allow you to provide trucking services,” Friedman said. “What’s the agenda there?”

Friedman said existing laws designed to clean up the environment and the workforce should be enforced.

Throwing out the existing port system could wipe out already thin U.S. produce export margins, allowing other countries to fill that gap, he said.

“When you reduce or eliminate competition, you reduce quality of service and increase costs – any economist can tell you that,” Friedman told Land Line. “Our country is built on competition and we should allow people to compete.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer