Friday, October 1, 2010

Long Beach Council Takes No Action on Mayor's Veto of Bridge Project Funds

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday took no action to overturn Long Beach Mayor Robert Foster's veto of a $60 million line item in the Port of Long Beach fiscal year 2011 capital outlay budget that could delay the start of construction of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement.

A group of four Council members added a discussion of the Mayor's veto to the agenda during a Tuesday special meeting of the Council, but after lengthy debate and public comment, the Council as a whole took no action other than to receive and file the comments rendered.

The $60 million port budget line item rejected by the Mayor was to have paid for the relocation of the port’s maintenance yard which sits in the path of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement. The yard, which houses port maintenance staff and equipment, must be moved as a precursor to starting construction on the bridge project.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge is the major ingress and egress point for truck traffic into the port area. Trucks traversing the bridge currently carry an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s container traffic.

The bridge replacement project, being funded by a combination of federal, state and local funds, would replace the existing bridge with a new $1.1 billion structure that would have greater traffic capacity and allow the largest container vessels to access the port's terminal facilities beyond the bridge.

The current bridge opened in 1968, and despite multi-million dollar upgrades by the port, is deteriorating structurally at a rapid pace.

The port maintenance yard relocation was originally intended to be part of a much larger project that would consolidate port staff and the maintenance yard in a new port administration building. The current port administration building opened in 1959 and has been deemed seismically unfit. The Mayor has opposed the construction of a new port administration building.

The Mayor vetoed the port line-item arguing that because the yard relocation was still itemized under the new administration building project line, he could not approve it. The Mayor suggested that even though port officials have publicly said the administration project is not moving forward, the relocation of the yard was a way for the port to move forward with the administration building project.

The port maintains that the yard relocation is necessary for the bridge replacement project.

Mayor Foster said that the port can still obtain the funds by coming to the Council as soon as it wants with a port budget amendment reflecting the yard relocation under a line item not associated with the administration building project.

Because the Council must now approve the port’s funding for the yard relocation, this would appear to place the final financial approval of the initial component of the Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project in the hands of the City Council instead of the Board of Harbor Commissioners.