A RARE (AND WELCOME) GLIMPSE OF JAMES JOHNSON’S SEETHING, SCATHING SIDEBy Sean Belk
GreaterLongBeach.com has obtained a copy of a seething, scathing letter that Long Beach City Councilmember James Johnson sent to Port of Los Angeles officials early this week after learning they will not hold a public hearing in Long Beach regarding a proposed $500 million railway facility that would run along the city’s west side.
Dated Oct. 15, Johnson’s letter assailed the Port of LA’s decision with words like “outrageous” and “disrespectful” and “unreasonable.” Johnson accused Port of LA officials of “intentionally ignoring” Long Beach residents—particularly those who live in areas of West Long Beach that border the project and are forecast to be most impacted by it.
Johnson’s reaction is understandable—many of those residents are his 7th district constituents—but it is also uncharacteristic … at least compared to the generally uptight impression that Johnson has been giving since he was elected to the Long Beach City Council in 2010.
Known as the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG), the facility was proposed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) as a massive 12-track railyard intended to expand the Port’s capacity for goods movement while reducing environmental impacts.
The facility would take over 153 acres mostly owned by the Port in unincorporated East Wilmington. The site, bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, the Dominguez Channel and State Routes 47 and 103 (Terminal Island Freeway) borders West Long Beach, while a portion of the site juts into the City of Carson.
But it has been one of the most controversial issues in the Port of LA since BNSF proposed it seven years ago. In fact, the current schedule of public hearings—there was one on Wednesday (Oct. 18) at Banning’s Landing Community Center in Wilmington—is actually the second round of them. The do-over became necessary when the first Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was so heavily criticized for its old (circa: 2005) data that the Port of Los Angeles eventually withdrew it.
In his letter, Johnson points out that Long Beach was included in the first round of public hearings, and on Nov. 10, 2011, residents packed an auditorium at the Silverado Park Community Center. For that reason, Johnson said he originally brushed off reports that there would be no public hearing in Long Beach to go over the many changes in the “recirculated” EIR.
“I thought it was a mistake,” he writes in his letter—in fact, it is his very first line. “Would the Port of Los Angeles really change the report and release it without coming back to West Long Beach and explaining the changes and seeking input on the revised document?”
Johnson figured “there must have been some administrative error” but now concludes that “I was wrong.”
Johnson recounts in his letter that the Port of Los Angeles confirmed its decision when he called himself. “‘We decided,’ I was told, ‘that we did not need to have a meeting in Long Beach.’ Long Beach, it must be said, was not consulted in that decision.”
Johnson has requested the Port promptly schedule another hearing in Long Beach and extend the EIR public comment period to allow six weeks public notice. Port officials have since said there will be no hearing in Long Beach.
Christopher Cannon, the Port’s director of environmental management, sent an Oct. 17 in response to Johnson’s concerns. (GreaterLongBeach.com obtained that letter, too.) It states that the Port
determined that holding only one hearing was “appropriate,” since the new draft EIR’s public comment period is only for 45 days, ending Nov. 9, while the previous public comment period lasted for 105 days.
The Port’s letter goes on to state that Port staff chose the Banning’s Landing location because “it is a Port facility where our own staff has experience with security and crowd control,” adding that the
location is “centrally located, has plenty of parking and it is only about 5 miles from the Silverado Park.”
Port staff also provided television monitors for the overflow crowd. Cannon further explains that most residents of the Harbor Community, including Long Beach, are “familiar with the location,” where numerous Port related meetings have been held. He said Port staff and Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino offered up buses to shuttle people from Silverado Park to Banning’s Landing.
Cannon concluded the letter by stating that Johnson declined Cannon’s offer to attend a workshop that Johnson would be able to set up for constituents to learn about changes to the EIR.