The port and city of Los Angeles on Wednesday announced an unusual $60-million settlement with environmental and community groups, resolving a long legal battle over a giant shipping terminal that residents feared would inundate their neighborhoods with truck traffic and tainted air.
Most of that money will go to a wide array of projects to reduce air pollution created by idling ships and trucks hauling goods to and from the port. That will mean cleaner air in the harbor area, city officials said.
Under the agreement, $50 million will be placed in a special fund to offset the port’s effect on San Pedro and Wilmington, with money for a variety of efforts, such as parks, landscaping and a trade-in program to get old trucks off the road.
The groups that fought for the agreement said it heralds a significant change of attitude by the fast-growing port, which in recent years has angered residents of San Pedro, Wilmington, Long Beach and other communities. Residents have complained of increasing diesel fumes from ships and trucks, traffic congestion, 16-story-high cranes blocking ocean views and a brownish haze over the coast.
The legal battle, in fact, was fostered by growing public consciousness that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach -- the largest port complex in the nation -- produce more air pollution than any other facility in the Los Angeles Basin, but remain relatively unfettered by regulations.
The settlement will show that the Los Angeles port can operate profitably and cleanly, some said Wednesday.
“Today is Day 1 in the greening of the Port of Los Angeles,” said Gail Ruderman Feuer, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which brought the lawsuit charging that the port built the terminal illegally. The 174-acre terminal is being built within 500 feet of homes in San Pedro.
The agreement means that the controversial terminal, built for China Shipping Holding Co., will become a model of environmentally conscious technology, she said.
“Today’s settlement is about clean air, healthy communities and future assurance that the needs of harbor-area residents will be considered by the Port of Los Angeles,” said City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents the harbor area.
In a statement, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn praised the pact as a win-win agreement. “The settlement expedites both the creation of jobs and the improvement of air quality,” he said.
The settlement money will come entirely from port revenue, and neither the city nor China Shipping is contributing funds, officials said. If the agreement is approved by judges in state and federal courts, the terminal could begin operations within weeks, Harbor Commission President Nicholas G. Tonsich said.
Key elements of the settlement include:
* $10 million in incentives to clean up independently owned trucks serving the port.
* $20 million to reduce air pollution from port operations over the next four years.
* $20 million to offset aesthetic impacts in Wilmington and San Pedro.
* Replacing four existing 16-story-high cranes with lower-profile cranes to reduce the visual impact.
* Creating a traffic plan for the terminal and other parts of the port.
The port has agreed to make the China Shipping terminal less polluting by requiring non-diesel trucks in the terminal yard and installing electrical power for docked ships so that they do not keep running their diesel engines while in port.
“One of our goals was to create a model of a green terminal,” Feuer said.
Port and city officials were already planning many of the projects stipulated in the settlement, Tonsich said.
“This just guarantees to the parties that it will be done,” he said. Tonsich said the agreement gave the community and port officials the chance “to demonstrate that they do have common goals -- that they can sit down at the table and reach an agreement where both parties are happy.”
That would be a significant change from the mood in recent years in the harbor area, where port expansion has fostered antagonism between port officials and residents.
Tensions culminated in spring 2001 when, over the objections of some residents, the city approved plans to construct a terminal in San Pedro to be leased to China Shipping.
Charging that the port failed to follow state and federal environmental laws, lawyers for residents and environmental groups filed the lawsuit in June 2001. Specifically, they charged that the port failed to perform environmental impact reviews for the $47-million project, which they said would produce significant diesel fumes, a known carcinogen.
Port officials countered that the project was covered by earlier environmental reviews, and that the review process had been approved by several government agencies.
Residents won a major victory in October 2002 when a 2nd District Court of Appeal panel halted construction of the terminal -- which was by then largely complete -- and ordered further study of its environmental impact.
In the settlement, negotiated over the last few months, residents agree to allow the terminal to open. In return, the port promises at least the $60 million in improvements -- port officials say that figure could rise -- and will also conduct the required environmental reviews.
If further study finds that China Shipping operations will create environmental problems that must be offset by more measures, that cost would be separate from the $60 million, Feuer said.
The suit was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, San Pedro Peninsula Homeowners United and Coalition for Clean Air. The port agreed to pay the groups’ legal fees, an estimated $1.6 million.
Noel Park of the San Pedro Peninsula homeowners group said the agreement is justified.
“My point is that if indeed they’d done what they were supposed to do, these costs would have been part of the project to begin with,” he said. “This should be part of the cost of doing business.”