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Minding the Mitigation Money

Byline: Michele PrichardTrains in railyard.tkn by jesse marquez

 

Sometimes a meeting is more than a meeting.

When those of us making up the Board of the new Harbor Community Benefit Foundation met for the first time last Tuesday, there was a sense of accomplishment and of a new beginning in the room. As Liberty Hill's Director of Common Agenda, I was honored to be appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to this board, in recognition of Liberty Hill's longtime and ongoing commitment to environmental justice work in Los Angeles. (If you're new to Liberty Hill's environmental justice work, here's some background.)

This meeting was a first step in allocating "money for projects that will protect, improve and assess public health and quality of life by offsetting past, present and future off-port impacts from Port operations." The money comes from certain fees on Port container traffic that are paid into a trust fund, and if port traffic grows, the fund grows. We don't know how much money will be available, but it has been estimated that it could be up to $50 million over five years, depending on port growth.

As described by the L.A. Times, $5.4 million has already been commited to install air filtration systems in more than 40 Wilmington area schools. Another $300,000 is earmarked for a study, such has never been done before, of the off-port impacts on health, land use and other aspects of residents' lives, of Port operations.

The creation of the trust fund was part of an agreement brokered by L.A. City councilwoman Janice Hahn in April 2008 between the Port of Los Angeles and a coalition of concerned environmental, public health, homeowner and union groups and individual residents. The coalition was headed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and includes the Coalition for Clean Air and Liberty Hill grantee groups Coalition for a Safe Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles and Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

 

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My colleagues on the Board include representatives of some of these groups as well as experts in a number of fields. I was impressed with the many different skills and backgrounds we bring to the task of distributing the funds. My fellow Board members are Sean Hecht, Executive Director of the UCLA Environmental Law Center; James Sadd, Occidental College Professor of Environmental Science; Dr. Silvia Prieto, L.A. County Health Dept. Health Officer for the region including the Port communities; Jesse Marquez, Wilmington resident, appellant, and Executive Director Communities for a Safe Environment; Kathleen Woodfield, San Pedro resident, appellant and long-time advocate for Port communities; and Peter Peyton, President, ILWU Local 63.

Clearly we're still in the learning and listening stage. At this first meeting, we heard informative and context-setting remarks from Adrian Martinez of NRDC who provided skillful legal counsel and negotiation assistance throughout the settlement process. He explained that the new HCBF is unique in its ability to address the historic “legacy” problems in the Port communities resulting from decades of Port operations—something that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cannot do.

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