Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has asked regional air quality officials to allow the largest exporter of bulk commodities in the Port of Los Angeles to stay in business despite complaints that it is polluting the air.
In a letter to the South Coast Air Quality Management District hearing board, Bradley said closing the Kaiser International bulk loading facility, as recommended by the AQMD staff, "would have a devastating impact on the well-being of literally thousands of Americans."
Bradley, who has received political contributions from the company and its president, urged the board to overrule the staff's decision to deny the company two air-quality permits necessary for operation. The AQMD staff refused to issue the permits in March, citing complaints from residents and pleasure boaters, who say black dust from the facility pollutes the air and damages their boats.
Kaiser International, which leases the $23-million facility from the port, has appealed the denials to the hearing board, saying the company is not the source of the dust. Bradley's letter was made public by the board last week when it began considering the appeal, which could take several weeks.
Kaiser International last year exported 2.3 million tons of petroleum coke, coal and copper concentrate from the 26-acre facility. The company pays the Los Angeles Harbor Department about $2 million a year in tariffs and estimates that it generates about $75 million a year for the Southern California economy.
The company and its president, Richard E. Holdaway, have also contributed to Bradley's most recent gubernatorial campaign. According to campaign statements, the company contributed $8,700 to Bradley's unsuccessful bid for governor in 1986, with Holdaway personally contributing an additional $1,000.
Holdaway was also on hand last January when Bradley announced he would seek a fifth term as mayor.
'Vital Part of the Port'
"If you think Mayor Bradley is supporting us because of some contributions, it is an insult to him," Holdaway said. "He is supporting us because we are a vital part of the Port of Los Angeles' facilities. . . . As mayor, he can't stand around and watch a few people shut down a major exporter. . . . It is his duty to take care of the resources of this port."
Ali Webb, a spokeswoman for Bradley, said the mayor wrote the letter because he wanted to "communicate to the people in the area" that he supports the port and Kaiser International. She said campaign contributions had nothing to do with the letter.
"That is not the way Tom Bradley does business," Webb said. "The Kaiser argument had merit to the Port of Los Angeles, which after all is a part of the city of Los Angeles."
Bradley's letter sounded a conciliatory tone, saying that Kaiser International and the port "are being erroneously positioned as adversaries to the boating community."
Both Should Prosper
He said both the commercial and recreational users of the harbor need to "exist and prosper side-by-side," and he noted that he has supported the development of recreational facilities in the port, including a new $45-million marina.
But pleasure boaters and others opposed to the Kaiser International facility have attempted for several years to shut it down. A local environmental group, also concerned about air pollution, took Kaiser to court last year in an unsuccessful effort to close the plant based on alleged zoning violations.
While Kaiser International denies that it is the source of the black dust, opponents of the facility were able to file three complaints last winter about dust that were verified by AQMD inspectors.
Based on those complaints, the AQMD staff has refused to issue the permits, saying the facility constitutes a public nuisance. The company has been operating under permits issued to the facility's previous operator, and it continues to operate during the appeal.
Political Taint Charged
Upon learning of Bradley's letter, pleasure boaters accused the mayor of attempting to politically influence the hearing board, which the boaters have already deemed tainted because of a private luncheon it attended last month at the expense of the Port of Los Angeles. The port has already gone on record in support of Kaiser International.
"I am appalled that you would interfere in such a way as to try to sway the hearing board during its deliberations," boater Camilla Burgher wrote in a letter to Bradley. "They do not yet have all the facts, and it is certain that you do not have them."
Harold Struthers, president of the 300-member Los Angeles Harbor Boat Owners Assn., accused Bradley of giving special treatment to a campaign contributor.
"I really think that Kaiser swings an awful lot of weight," Struthers said. "If Bradley was able to say, 'Hey, those people are not polluting,' that would be one thing. But he is not saying they are not polluting. He is just saying that he wants them to stay there regardless of what they are doing."
No Law Against It