In anticipation of projected maritime growth at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, corporate interests in collaboration with the two cities have proposed a $1.8-billion rail and highway expansion project along the 20-mile Alameda Corridor between the harbor and downtown Los Angeles. The intent is to build an expressway that will expand and accelerate cargo shipments bound for destinations throughout the state and the nation.
The significance of this project to the Southern California economy is indisputable. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach constitute the largest seaport complex in America and the third-largest in the world, behind Hong Kong and Singapore. Trade activity at the ports generated $116 billion in 1992. Granted, the Alameda Corridor project would generate an economic bonanza for the region. But at what cost to the communities along the route? Would the expected economic boom trickle down to revitalize them?
Unlikely. The Alameda Corridor proposal epitomizes the overarching power of corporate America and governmental agencies (the “growth machine”) to secure their economic goals at the expense of the poor minority communities locked in the inner cities of America.
When completed, the corridor project would consist of a six-lane highway alongside a rail line barreling through the cities of Los Angeles, Vernon, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood, Compton, Carson, Wilmington and Long Beach. At full capacity, it would carry 50,000 trucks and 99 trains a day. Flourishing retail and commercial establishments in the corridor cities would be disrupted during construction and eventually be replaced by industrial, warehouse and other port-related uses. Such a trend could cripple the economies of several communities. And, an expressway would split neighborhoods and downtowns, disrupting social and economic life.
An environmental impact statement has documented a disproportionate impact of the project on the businesses along the corridor, but there was no fiscal impact analysis to quantify the extent and duration of business disruption and loss of income in the corridor cities. A fiscal analysis would have provided them with the necessary information to plan, budget and mitigate the adverse effects. Its absence reveals a contradiction endemic in publicly sponsored large-scale urban development projects.
While environmentalists and planners have succeeded in influencing the passage of state and federal laws to mitigate adverse environmental effects of mega-projects, they have ignored issues concerning the quality-of-life, social and economic inequities. Quality of life means different things to different people, depending on where they are in the social, political or economic hierarchy. Affluent communities utilize their political and economic clout to define and implement policies favorable to their communities at the expense of the less affluent communities.
The cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles regard the corridor project as the centerpiece of their economic growth strategy, while the corridor cities are concerned about the adverse socioeconomic impacts. The corridor communities represent the most predominant minority population in Los Angeles County. Of their combined 254,673 population, 68% is Latino and 23% African American, and the area has the lowest income per capita in the county. As long as such social and economic inequities prevail, there will be tensions and conflicts regarding not only what constitutes the appropriate quality of life, but also the types of policies that should be pursued to maximize quality of life for all.
Bridging the widening disparity of income between the poor and the rich should be the force driving discussions about improving the quality of urban life in the urban corridor. Two policy directions are crucial: Port officials must prepare an analysis to determine the impact of the project on each corridor city, contrasted with projected economic benefits to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And port officials must channel revenue from user fees and other port activities into a special trust fund to foster the economic revitalization and infrastructure improvements of the impoverished corridor communities.