July 20, 2006 - From the July, 2006 issue

Janice Hahn Advocates for Better Solutions to Traffic, Pollution, & Housing in LA's Harbor Areas

San Pedro, Wilmington, and the other harbor communities reap many of the economic benefits of the area's booming twin ports, but they also shoulder the burden of the pollution and traffic that international trade creates. In this MIR interview, L.A. City Council Member Janice Hahn describes, and critiques, the powerful confluence of commerce, community, and land use in L.A.'s southernmost reaches and offers recommendations for cruicial polices to mitigate the impacts of the growth of goods movement through L.A.'s portals.


Janice Hahn

When The Planning Report last interviewed you in 2001, you said, "Our planning department doesn't really plan; the city's approach to transportation, housing and infrastructure is reactive rather than proactive and segmented rather than comprehensive. Council Districts are forced to react to individual projects rather than deal with these issues holistically." After six years on the L.A. City Council, has anything improved?

At the City Council level, we have become more involved in the planning of the city ourselves. We have been giving advice and direction to the Planning Department about things like workforce housing and building housing next to transit centers, and I think that vision has become a reality.

Gail Goldberg shares that vision. Former mayor Jim Hahn and I went down to visit Gail when she was still in San Diego. She showed us City Heights, where she talked about how you plan housing, community benefits, schools, libraries, and the police station-all in one area. As a result of that trip, I moved forward in planning a neighborhood in Wilmington, known as Dana Strand, in a similar way. We have also tried to reflect those principals in the planning of downtown San Pedro. We have been much more cognizant of planning the city so that it becomes livable and sustainable, than any other city council in the history of Los Angeles.

In L.A. the 15 council offices have been, in some respects, their own fiefdoms regarding planning. How much power does the Council want to give up to a city planning director, area planning commissions, and a holistic city planning process?

You're never going to take away a council member's direct authority in their own district but, whether it is a Lincoln Place issue or whether Ed Reyes is pushing for workforce housing next to the Gold Line, the Council is looking at all these projects holistically. There are several projects that get built in other council districts that make sense, like the busway out in the Valley, the Orange Line. I would love to have an Orange Line coming down to San Pedro, but it makes sense at this point to put our collective will behind the Orange Line in the Valley. I think having a Council meeting every month in Van Nuys acquaints us with some of those issues and problems. We are looking at the city as a whole because we are running out of land, we're running out of options, and we have to build the city smarter, and I think we all believe that.

You spoke of the city's new planning director, Gail Goldberg. She's advocated community involvement and engagement in the development of neighborhoods and communities, and of elegant density. Is she being Pollyanish, given population and housing projections? After we add twice the population of Chicago to the basin, can we plan infrastructure as well as new housing and still have livable communities?

I think we have to. I don't think we have another choice.

I'm doing my share in the 15th District. Before I was elected, we'd only taken out about 300 building permits for housing in San Pedro in ten years. We were far behind the rest of city in terms of building housing. I had the Urban Land Institute come out and study us to decide what it would take to have a renaissance in San Pedro. The first thing they said was, "you are really behind the rest of the city in housing permits. You can afford to build more housing, and everybody we talked to will support it." Which is why I have really pushed hard, and now we have close to 1,300 units in the pipeline just for downtown San Pedro. So far the community has embraced that and understands that it is the piece of the puzzle that was missing for the sleepy town of downtown San Pedro, especially in terms of preventing crime and attracting tourism.

Building urban housing in a downtown living environment was not just about Downtown L.A. We have a lot of downtowns around this city and it's where people want to live. I'm trying to do my part. I agree with Gail. You can engage communities, particularly if they feel like they are helping to shape the outcome. If they can help shape the outcome of their community and get involved in the process, then I think you have a better chance of them buying into growth. Community involvement is a much better way than what we used to do in the city, which was to start construction of property and take the complaints later.

To follow up on your reference to Dana Strand and joint use, Mayor Villaraigosa has assigned Gail Goldberg the role of point person to coordinate the city efforts re a more positive working relationship with the largest developer in the basin, LAUSD. What should the city of L.A.'s relationship with LAUSD be to build livable neighborhoods?

That relationship has to be an equal partnership. The kids are not just the constituents of LAUSD; they are the constituents of the city of Los Angeles. The parents are our parents. It has to be a partnership because the LAUSD has needed the city of L.A.'s support for every bond measure that they've passed. We've been big supporters of their bond measures. We've written op-ed pieces; we've campaigned in our own districts.

While they have a very aggressive program to build new schools, they're stepping on a lot of toes in some neighborhoods. They are not being creative; they're taking the easy road, which is to use eminent domain to take people's homes. That has caused problems in at least three neighborhoods in my district. I don't think the school district is trying hard enough to think outside the box and to be creative in how they are building the new schools. We have to go back to being neighborhood schools. I think the neighborhoods, and particularly neighborhood councils, should have a say in the design of these buildings, and even into small decisions like where the teachers park, and ultimately where the schools are located.

Let's turn to L.A. Harbor's Bridges to Breakwater plans, which you and the former mayor fully supported. What is the status of this master plan?

Everything has come to a standstill, which is disappointing to me. We've had a transitional period, but it's now been a year with the new mayor and a new Harbor Commission. So far, the first two phases, which were built under my brother, are the only two phases of the promenade that have been built.

We are in the process of doing the 18-month EIR master plan for the entire 400 acres. We're also pushing the port to complete a few interim projects that have the support of the community; including a plaza near the Ports o' Call area, and a large grass area at 22nd Street so kids can play. We are hoping to see all that soon. But even that has stalled. I am a little concerned that it's not as big a priority as it was under my brother's administration.

I'm hoping that this mayor and the Harbor Commission will realize that San Pedro and Wilmington both deserve waterfronts and that they will be a source of tourism money for the entire city. This could be a big commercial retail development that could attract people from all over; not only the cruise ship passengers, which number about 1 million annually; but people from all over will come to walk along our waterfront. Everyone loves nightlife on the water. Everyone loves an attraction by the ocean, particularly ours. We have a main channel that is spectacular: the cargo ships, the cruise ships, the fireboats, and the tugboats.

Los Angeles is a port town; we actually have a waterfront. Soon, if we keep moving forward, our waterfront will rival the waterfronts in Long Beach, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Oakland.

Access to that harbor and oceanfront is via the 110 Freeway exit on to Gaffey. What has happened in terms of improving access to San Pedro?

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It has been an eyesore; it makes a first impression that lasts. I have been working on it every day, and it has taken much longer than I anticipated. But finally I think we are going to move forward to create a welcome park into San Pedro. There were obstacles concerning the port purchasing some of that property and the State Lands Commission threatening to sue because the land was off port property. Then the city had to enter into a land swap with the port to take over the land. It has been quite an entanglement, but I believe we are finally close to making that a reality.

You have been developing great expertise about the workings of L.A. and Long Beach ports and their impacts due to growth on the livability of neighboring communities. Share how you balance livability and environmental concerns with the manifest economic benefits of job and economic growth at the ports?

We can have both economic development and clean air. The technology exists today. We do not have one or the other.

What we need to focus on is clean air. We don't need to worry about the growth, because it is coming. Trade is projected to triple and possibly quadruple in 20 years. That is without us marketing the port or building any new infrastructure. This is where the international trade industry wants to be. We are America's port. We are now carrying 43-44 percent of the trade that now comes into this country. Don't let anyone tell you that the growth is going to get diverted in any major way.

Twenty percent of all the pollution in Los Angeles comes from ships. That is an amazing statistic. I think people driving around in L.A. on a bad air quality day, probably would blame it on cars, manufacturers, or refineries, but it is the ships. And we could absolutely eliminate a majority of the ship pollution by plugging them in when they come into berth. We have to push for the port to use clean air technology; it exists.

The next generation of big ships will take four to five days at the dock to load and unload. Every day that they are docked they burn bunker fuel that causes the worst kind of pollution. It's so easy to eliminate that problem; we need the port to step up when they enter into leases, and we need the shipping industry to begin retrofitting their ships to plug in. We also need to change out the old diesel engines of the trucks coming in and out of the harbor.

And it's not just about Wilmington and San Pedro, it's for the whole L.A. basin. The impact of port pollution stretches as far as 15 miles inland. The California Air Resources Board released a study last year that concluded that cargo related pollution was responsible for about 750 premature deaths; 350,000 school absences; and 160,000 days of lost work.

The school component is fascinating to me, because, how do schools get their money? They get it through attendance. So cargo-related pollution is actually harming the ability of our schools to get the money that they need to run their schools because they only get paid when kids show up. We need to do something quickly, and we need to also plan long term, to clean up the air at the ports.

You've long supported neighborhood councils. By provisions in the charter that created the neighborhood councils, they come up for review this year. What have you learned in the last five years, and what needs to be tweaked to improve the councils?

We've learned that neighborhood councils are here to stay. I don't think that they are an experiment, and I don't think the city will ever go back to the way it used to conduct business. We've engaged a whole new group of Angelenos that really were not involved before. We have so many new faces in these neighborhood councils citywide-they aren't the normal community activists that we're used to seeing. They're homeowners, young people, old people, people from all walks of life that actually have gotten engaged and involved with their government.

It has been exciting, but, if we don't watch it, red tape creeps into neighborhood councils. I've had to snip away that tape every time that I felt it happening, like when we began requiring all our neighborhood council people to fill out the same form that elected officials fill out in terms of conflict of interest. That just did not seem right.

The 912 Review Commission is coming at the right time, and I hope there will be a good enough mix on this commission of academics and people that have experience on neighborhood councils who can really take a good hard look at what works and what doesn't work. I think the real test is to look at whether or not people are getting burned out. Are they dropping out of their neighborhood councils? Are they feeling as frustrated with the neighborhood councils as they were with city government?

Neighborhood councils are about empowering neighborhoods to have a say in the decisions that we make down here at City Hall that impact them. I'm hoping that the review results in a report of what the problems are, as well as recommendations for how we can fix them and move forward.

A fellow alum of Edison, Bob Foster, has just been elected mayor of Long Beach. Since your district borders Long Beach, what inter-governmental collaborations are possible between the cities of L.A. and Long Beach under his leadership?

He used to be my boss so it will be really fun to have him be my colleague! I plan to work closely with him, like I did with Mayor O'Neill.

Los Angeles and Long Beach share a lot of issues. Most of those involve our ports. We need to work together to clean up our air. I think that the city of Long Beach need to catch up with Los Angeles in terms of our green policies. Pollution doesn't respect jurisdictional boundaries, so I really want to work together on that. We will also be working together on securing our ports. While we compete for customers, we stand united on security and working to get more funding from the federal government.

Traffic congestion around our ports is also a huge challenge and we will need to work together to move goods more efficiently. In that capacity, we will also work together on the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority. I just became chair of the board on July 1 so I looking forward to seeing whom Mayor Foster appoints.

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