Public officials at all levels of government like to go oversees to promote international trade in California. Cynic’s call them “junkets”. Policy makers call them “trade missions.” Economists have found that the logistics industry fostered by international trade has replaced California’s long lost manufacturing base in terms of providing good paying jobs.
Unfortunately, because of regulatory infighting and competing political agendas, California is unable to develop port projects or the supporting inland infrastructure needed to meet the future growth trends of international trade and the modernization that will improve efficiency and environmental protection.
The international trade community is finding willing partners and moving ahead with development projects in states like Virginia, the Carolina’s, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas. We have seen the development of projects and expansion of facilities in Canada and Mexico – all in an effort to provide alternative gateways to California. The investments in these other locations are being made now.
By comparison, after six years, tens of millions of dollars and a six thousand page environmental impact report to modernize one of the oldest marine terminals in San Pedro (with programs that will reduce air emission pollutants from current levels at the same time increasing the speed and volume of cargo), the project is still years away from completion.
However, this same terminal operator, within two years of reaching agreement with the Port of Jacksonville, will open up a completely new and modern marine terminal in Florida.
While ports in California experience double digit “decreases” in cargo volumes, ports in the South Atlantic are recording increases. Highly paid longshore wages, amounting to approximately one billion dollars per year in California, are seeing their first declines in decades.
While Mexico moves forward with expanding current port facilities and starting the process to build a multi-billion mega-port in Baja, the Port of Los Angeles can only manage to construct a $14 million dollar Las Vegas style fountain and a Rose Parade float. The Gerald Desmond Bridge, one of the most seismically unsafe bridges in California (of which 10 percent of the nations trade drives over), is a generation away from being replaced.
The impediments to being able to plan and move forward with construction projects to handle projected increases in international trade are many. Legitimate issues involving environmental mitigation and land use planning are major concerns and are being addressed. But the politics surrounding port governance have devolved into an Alice in Wonderland like setting, complete with the Mad Hatter.
There is clearly an arrogance that international trade has to come through California’s ports. But arrogance breeds contempt and cargo interests are actively seeking other gateways – and other states and nations are more than willing to lend a helping hand.