February 8, 2022 - From the February, 2022 issue

TPR Exit Interview with POLA’s General Counsel & LA City Attorney Janna Sidley

Despite supply chain challenges and ongoing disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port of LA moved a record-breaking 10.8 million container units in 2021. To elaborate on how  the port is managing the backlog while remaining committed to being the "cleanest and greenest port," TPR spoke to Janna Sidley, who since 2013 has served as POLA's General Counsel and is retiring after a 2.5-decade career in the LA City & US Attorneys' offices. TPR shares this exit interview with Sidley in which she reflects on her accomplishments and tenure representing the nation's 2nd largest port. 

Janna Sidley

“I want to say up front to everybody that the Port of Los Angeles is committed to being the greenest and cleanest port.”—Janna Sidley, POLA’s Retiring General Counsel.

Janna, the VerdeXchange Institute is selfishly saddened to learn of your eminent retirement from the Port of Los Angeles, where you served as general counsel since March of 2013 following a 2.5 decade professional career with the City of LA’s and the US Attorney’s Offices. For our readers edification, share the accomplishments you are most proud of during your tenure as General Counsel to North America’s second largest port.

Janna Sidley: I believe my accomplishments are, first and foremost, to have the respect of and to work well with the client to achieve their goals and objectives. I think that is a requirement of any attorney. I will also tell you that working here with the greatest group of attorneys in the City Attorney's office has been an unbelievable treasure that I will keep with me forever.

I want to say up front to everybody that the Port of Los Angeles is committed to being the greenest and cleanest port. We, as the City Attorney's office and the attorneys down here, work with the Port every day to achieve those goals. I think it's important for people to know that we're a landlord port, and there are obstacles. There's federal preemption; there are rules about what we can do to force our tenants to do certain things; and there are certainly financial obstacles.

We have been very creative with our client to come up with the Clean Truck Program and to push other initiatives. We are studying and currently have underway a lot of test programs for zero emission trucks. We have out on the street an RFP for zero-emission trucks. We try to continue to push what we can do and everybody here—client and attorneys—we're all committed to that. We may not live up to what some people want us to do, but I want everyone to know that we are committed to doing the best that we can with what tools we have in our toolbox. We can only do so much, but every day we come in and see what can we do.

In light of a once-in-a-generation infusion of federal infrastructure funding for clean goods movement, record volumes, as well as a pandemic—elaborate on the daunting challenges that you face today assisting the Port as its General Counsel.

Yes, a myriad of challenges. A tenant issue is with the railroads, which have quite a bit of federal preemption. With trucks, the F-4A (Federal Aviation Administration Authority Act of 1994) controls much of the trucking industry. Ships are flagged internationally. So, all of those have other governing bodies.

We do make our ships plug in. We have our clean truck program. We've worked very closely with the railroad to see if we can push them forward. There are federal rules on the books now about the type of locomotives that they are ordering. There are some of our challenges.

As you pointed out, we currently have this influx of cargo that's coming in, so we are working with the PMA [Pacific Maritime Association] and the PMSA [Pacific Merchant Shipping Association], the two organizations that oversee the tenants here. We have come up with a program now where ships order labor from the time they leave the dorigination port. If you're leaving Korea or if you're leaving China, you can now put in your order for labor before you get here. That means you can slow steam. If you are slow steaming, you're using less fuel to get here and you're not necessarily tying up. You're still out at sea. So, then we have fewer emissions that are impacting the communities that are right here near the port in the San Pedro Bay. That is something that we worked on collectively.

There was also the announcement last week in the Port press release on the green corridor that is also an innovative project that will help with reducing emissions from ships . In everything that we do, we try to make sure that we get the cargo moving efficiently so that people get the goods that they need in the cleanest capacity that we can.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article, ‘Imports Drop at Southern California Ports as Ship Backup Grows.’ It reports that, “Combined inbound volume fell 14 percent in December at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as the queue of vessels waiting to unload surpassed 100 ships.’ What is your reaction, as General Counsel, to that WSJ headline and reporting?

Curious. We've had the highest volume ever. We had over 10 million TEUs [twenty-foot equivalent unit] come through. The Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach together have broken all records. The ILWU deserve a tremendous amount of credit for moving this cargo. We are just a landlord port; we do not hire the ILWU. I would be remiss not to congratulate them for all of their work that they do. They've been coming out every single day, and they continue to work tirelessly to move the cargo that's needed in the nation.

I do know that other ports are talking about how they're getting more cargo. There's more cargo in Georgia, there's more cargo in New York-New Jersey, but there's just more cargo. Because of COVID, we're sitting at home, looking around our house, and thinking, “I could redo my kitchen” or something of that nature so, people are ordering. Also, it's so easy to order you just click and you know it's going to arrive. People often don't think about what it takes to get something to arrive. Someone has to manufacture it, somebody has to move it across the supply chain, and then it has to be ultimately delivered to your home. That involves a lot of people, and it is very much part and parcel of our economy.

I also want to thank the work of the Biden administration, which also helped us here at the Port to move forward with some initiatives and to make sure, as they and Mayor Garcetti said, we saved Christmas, we saved Hanukkah, we saved Kwanzaa, and all the holidays that are in December.

I don't necessarily agree with the Wall Street Journal on this. I don't see that our cargo is really diminishing. There are a lot of ships coming, but we can handle a lot of ships. Also, we have seen something that's quite unique. Because of the influx of cargo, we're seeing people who are bringing in smaller ships. Generally, our workhorse ships were 12,000 TEUs or larger, and now we're seeing some 10,000 TEU ships and smaller. Then, the number of ships may be higher, but the cargo numbers are not necessarily reflective of what you would think.

Again, we continue to move the ships in and out as quickly as possible and to get the cargo off the docks. Thankfully as you know, we have not enforced the container fee as the General Manager here has said he doesn't want to. So far, we haven't because the tenants have been moving cargo. That container fee took quite a bit of work through the City Attorney's office. We have FMC [Federal Maritime Commission] requirements and notification requirements. We were definitely partners with the department on getting that through. We're proud of that and proud that we are here to support those initiatives.

Governor Newsom’s state budget, recently released, includes a planned investment of $2.3 billion for California ports. What’s the promise of such public investments; will they ease the current backlog and achieve the ambitious goals that you just articulated in this interview?

We're thrilled to see that investment. Obviously, there's still a process. Nobody's spending the money yet, but we're thrilled to see that people are understanding how important our ports are to not just California and this region, but to the nation. One in nine people employed in the five-county LA region are tied to the port and moving cargo.

We are working on identifying projects that support this infrastructure. The governor has also put this money towards zero emission trucks. The Harbor Department has approved our clean truck program, and the clean truck program monies will go to zero emission equipment. Unfortunately, today there aren't the trucks out there that you could order and get delivered. We are seeing that technology is still in its infancy, but certainly, everybody's working on it. Whenever somebody has a truck or something they want to test, we open up the port and invite them to come here and test.

There are the same delivery and supply chain issues in the trucking industry as in the car industry, too. Even if you were to order a truck today, you're not going to get it tomorrow. But again, we're thrilled with the governor's work.

We're thrilled to have Dee Dee Myers at GO-Biz. Dee Dee is a dear friend; we worked together for Mayor Tom Bradley. Dee Dee’s been working with us and has come down to the port four or five times now to come see what's going on. She was very instrumental in helping the governor put together this budget and in understanding the infrastructure needs.


Also, we're going to be building a first of its kind labor training center to train on supply chain issues. The governor has put in over $100 million dollars in his budget for that organization to move forward, and the Port is supporting it. The Port has put money behind it and identified land, so that is all positive in keeping the supply chain moving forward and being as efficient as possible.

Let’s pivot to the LA Metro 710 Corridor Task Force, which is currently engaged with local communities and regional stakeholders in a process to reevaluate the needs of the 710 corridor and reducing disparities in impacted communities. Also comment, as well, on the Energy Commission’s award of a $13 million EPIC grant to develop a high-powered freight charging corridor network in California.

I would tie it together by only saying the state spent a lot of money on the Alameda corridor. Moving cargo by train is much more efficient than moving cargo by truck. Anything we can do to continue to promote the use of the corridor is a better use than having those trucks on the 710. There have been a number of stops and starts on the studies of the 710. The Port of Los Angeles gave money to South Coast Air Quality Management District to study an overhead catenary system that turned out to be not something that was not feasible. We continue to look and see what we can do, but it's a difficult problem.

I will make a pitch here for the SCIG project. It was a near dock railyard by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Their current yard is downtown, and it would have taken a million trucks off the road. We are currently still working on CEQA litigation. It may not be perfect, but we can make progress. We just have to be open to incremental steps. I'm hopeful that we will continually move things forward and make those incremental steps.

LA County, with leadership from the LAEDC, is pursuing a federal Build Back Better regional grant of up to $100 million in funding for economic development strategies that encourage equitable recovery and growth in LA's blue/green goods movement system. Is the Port  supportive, and what are the latter’s expectations for such a grant/program?

My understanding of that programming grant is that it is a partnership with AltaSea. AltaSea is here on port property, and the port is very supportive of AltaSea. In fact, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles is the official name.

I think the more people who see the port, the better it is. I tell people I'm the General Counsel of the Port of Los Angeles, and the response I get is, “Oh, do you drive to Long Beach every day?” People know about the airport; we all use the airport. People only now know about the port because they can't get their refrigerator. Finally, people are realizing that we're here and what we do. The more that people understand and see the Port of Los Angeles, the more valuable it is to support the efforts here to support the economy and the workforce.

You can hear in my voice that I have a passion for the Port. So, retiring is somewhat difficult, but again it's my time. It’s also time for people in Los Angeles to be so thankful for the fact that it's here and what we do. Nothing is without some problems, but we are committed to try to work with everybody to solve them.

Having been introduced and read the book The Box, about the origins, history, and 25 years it took for the idea of the container to be incorporated into the process of international trade, what does that say about the speed of innovation as we try to deal with these challenges that you've addressed today?

That was revolutionary, The Box. I think that we are moving at a much quicker clip right now. This turn over to new fuels is also revolutionary. It's also important for people to understand that most of the players in this area are private sector. They're all international companies. So, this is an international challenge.

I was fortunate enough to go to COP this year in Scotland and was thrilled to see all of those nations at the table. You're starting to see everybody step up and understand that we only have one earth. I don't think that it will take the 25 years to change. Although there are those who would say it's already taken more than 25 years. Let's be clear, there was a whole movement of zero emission cars and then we plowed them under. We have had slow fits and starts, but I think at this point everyone's committed. I think you'll see much quicker movement, and I'm excited about that.

Again, as I pointed out, these are international businesses that want to get the life cycle out of their equipment. If you have somebody buying near-zero now, they're going to want to use those near-zero pieces of equipment until their life cycle is gone. I think you're better off waiting a little bit for the zero and then you get those 8-10 years of that zero emission equipment. You have to remember that these are private sector companies, and this is very expensive equipment. To get people to invest, it's got to also work on their bottom line. 

What is the role of the city attorney's office is vis-a-vis the Port and your job for the next person who wants it?

My boss is Mike Feuer, the elected City Attorney. The city charter indicates that all lawyers hired by the city are in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. We support the efforts of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which is really the client. They are the decision makers; they set policy. We, the City Attorney's Office, support them and their policy.

With that, we are better attorneys when we are educated and when we know what is going on in this space. We are well-versed in all of the items that are there. What clean equipment is out there; what environmental concerns are going on; what is the new landlord-tenant law. We also have 7,500 acres here that we lease out, so we have a huge real estate operation. We have a police force. We have Port pilots that move these ships. Like everyone else, we have Public Records Act requests that we have to respond to. We have every issue that any other department would have, but maybe on steroids.

 Our job is to provide the best possible legal advice that we can to support the client. If we are defending a case or if we are providing advice before people make a decision, that's what we do. There are 21 City Attorney employees down here, and we're committed to make sure that we do the best job possible, so that our clients make the best decisions possible.

If you’re willing to share, what might be in the note you leave in your desk to your successor.

Well, it won't be my phone number—but what it will be is, “trust your instincts, trust your other fellow colleagues, and enjoy what you're doing. You're working the best law job there is in the country. Get up every morning and enjoy it.’


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