Hahn Shift on Port Cleanup Is Criticized

Times Staff Writer

When James K. Hahn ran for mayor in 2001, he vowed to see to it that the Port of Los Angeles dealt with the adverse effects of its years-long building boom on the region’s environment.

Port-area residents -- worried about air pollution, noise and traffic -- cheered Hahn’s promise, viewing it as a commitment to make right past shortcomings at the port.

But the mayor has backed off his promise to require new remediation efforts for past projects that harmed the environment. Instead, he plans to address the contentious issue through his “no net increase” pledge to reduce port pollution to 2001 levels and cap it there, said Deputy Mayor Doane Liu.

Some clean-air activists reacted to Hahn’s decision with bewilderment and anger, claiming he is reneging on a bold commitment to slash toxic air contaminants from the port, which along with the adjoining Long Beach port is Southern California’s single largest source of air pollution.


Hahn’s “no net increase” approach, critics say, would not repair the effects of what they claim is the port’s failure to adequately address toxic pollutants, traffic and blight when it approved pre-2001 projects.

Gail Ruderman Feuer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that cutting pollution to 2001 levels is commendable, but insufficient. She cited a 1999 study that found sharply higher cancer risks in areas near the ports and along freeways east to the Inland Empire.

“The bad news is that the air levels in 2001 were unhealthy for the community,” she said. “We need him also to follow through on his initial pledge, to mitigate all expansion projects.”

Liu countered that Hahn remains committed to reducing pollution at the port.

“The mayor has come up with the most creative and progressive way to mitigate past impacts, by declaring there will be no net increase,” Liu said. He also cited the mayor’s push to convert docked ships to nonpolluting electric power.

The mayor’s pledge to mitigate impacts of old projects would be difficult and legally questionable, Liu said. “You can’t undo projects that have been completed,” he said, “but the mayor is absolutely committed to improving the quality of life for harbor residents.”

Central to the debate is the Port of Los Angeles’ unprecedented growth since the mid-1990s, transforming it into the nation’s largest port. Before building several major terminals, the port was required under state laws to conduct environmental impact statements and mitigate harmful effects on the environment.

Some port critics claim that the port erred in not requiring more stringent mitigation for such expansions as Pier 400, the Maersk Sealand project that opened in 2002 as the world’s largest container terminal.


More stringent measures, they say, would have helped curb major increases in diesel fumes from ships, trains and trucks.

Responding to concerns, Hahn wrote port critic Noel Park in May 2001 during his first mayoral campaign, listing the steps he would take to alleviate the effects of the port. He promised to “review all past, present and future environmental documents in an open public process to ensure that all laws -- particularly those related to environmental projects -- have been obeyed, all city procedures followed, and all adverse impacts upon the communities mitigated.”

Sandra Genis, a consultant working for a port advisory group, has reviewed the port’s major environmental reports and issued a stinging critique in August that lists shortcomings. For instance, Genis wrote that the port’s documents for Pier 400 predicted significant increases in air pollution, but the port required no action to cut toxic substances.

Port officials said Monday that the $25,000 consultant’s report, paid for by the port, is incomplete and contains errors, and they refused a Times request to interview Genis.