Davis to Get Bill Loosening Limits on Port Revenues
By DAVID GREENBERG
Two years after the city of Los Angeles agreed to return $62 million to the port of L.A. to settle a lawsuit alleging misuse of port-generated funds, a bill on its way to Gov. Gray Davis allows cities greater flexibility in their use of such revenue.
The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, at the urging of the L.A. City Council, would open the door for funds to be used for recreation, transportation, cultural, tourism and other public use purposes and not just for maritime commerce, fisheries or navigation.
The bill sailed through the Assembly earlier this summer, gained Senate approval Aug. 14 and is now awaiting a vote in the Assembly on modifications made by the Senate. This vote is expected before the legislature goes into recess at the end of the month. Gov. Davis would then have 30 days to sign the bill.
A 1970 legislative amendment limited L.A.’s so-called “tideland” funds for port uses. But in the early 1990s, then-Mayor Richard Riordan used port funds to pay for police, fire and other citywide services after the state took away local property tax funds to help erase a budget deficit. The Steamship Association of Southern California and the harbor commission subsequently sued.
The bill would remove the amendment and the debate that goes along with it.
“Under the bill, the harbor commission (and City Council) can look at each square foot of tide and submerged lands and determine what they feel is the appropriate trust use,” said Bill Morrison, the commission’s chief of government affairs. “They’re not limited to the purpose of port development only.”
The bill would allow port-generated funds to be used for improvements to harbor area cities, which city officials have long complained have been ignored by the same port whose maritime activities create traffic gridlock and pollution. The funds still must be used in L.A.’s tideland district that stretches from Santa Monica to the Long Beach border.
Port officials said they are taking a neutral stance on the bill.
The bill is opposed by the Steamship Association of Southern California and the California Association of Port Authorities, which want all funds be spent on improvements, such as terminal expansion and larger cranes.
“Many of the projects that area needed by the city of Los Angeles and the local communities surrounding the ports may be very important, but taking port funds is not the way to do it,” said Tim Parker, executive secretary of the steamship association.