Thursday, January 13, 2011

Los Angeles City Council Asserts Authority, Revisits Failed Port Shipyard Reuse Plan

The Los Angeles City Council agreed Tuesday to revisit a Long Beach firm's plan to redevelop a shuttered shipyard at the port, despite a decision less than a month ago by the port's governing board to end any consideration of the project.

The Council's unanimous decision to revisit the shipyard proposal by Gambol Industries, coming after nearly an hour of Council discussion and comments from nearly two-dozen members of the public, was spearheaded by Councilmember Janice Hahn, whose district covers the port.

The Port of Los Angeles is operated and overseen by the city's Harbor Department and while the port's governing board is theoretically a semi-autonomous body, the City Council has final approval over many items regarding the port. It is unusual, however, for the City Council to essentially veto a port board decision.

Gambol's plan calls for a $50 million re-development of the shuttered South West Marine shipyard along the port's main channel into a modern ship repair facility. The firm, which claims it has a solid business plan that would create hundreds of union trade jobs at the proposed facility, has faced stiff criticism from the port, shipping industry, and longshore unions since proposing the plan more than a year ago. However, under pressure from Los Angeles City Hall, the port's governing board signed a memorandum of understanding with Gambol in 2009 to consider the development of the ship repair facility. After nearly a year of consideration, the port's five-member governing board voted to end negotiations with Gambol over the project in December 2010.

Port officials have maintained that the Gambol plan is unrealistic and could seriously delay an Army Corps of Engineers main channel-deepening project and ongoing terminal development at the port. The port envisioned the former shipyard's two slips as a perfect location to deposit dredge material from the Army Corps project.

Port officials pointed out at the Council meeting that it took nearly five years of planning and permitting by the port to receive permission to dump dredge material at the shipyard site. Finding another location, said the port officials, would take at least several years and force a delay in the Army Corps project, which in turn would force a delay in terminal development designed around the deeper main channel.

The shipyard proposal will now return to the Los Angeles City Council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which is headed up by Hahn. In February 2010, Hahn stepped down as the impartial mediator between the port and Gambol after it was revealed she received $7,000 in political contributions from the president of Gambol in 2009. In total, Hahn received more than $12,000 in contributions from the Gambol president and the law firm representing Gambol in 2009.

According to data from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, Gambol has paid more than $700,000 to various lobbying firms between 2007 and the end of 2009 to advocate for the project at City Hall.

In the early 2000s, the adjacent Port of Long Beach found itself in possession of the federal government-shuttered Long Beach Naval Shipyard and port officials spent several years trying to identify a firm that could present a viable plan to redevelop the navy yard into a commercial shipyard. While several firms stepped forward, the plans never materialized and the drydocks were eventually filled with dredge material and paved over to add additional acreage to a massive container terminal under development at the time.