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Port Chief to Step Down

Harbor Commission President Nicholas G. Tonsich, a Hahn appointee, has been criticized for contracting practices.

July 03, 2005|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

Harbor Commission President Nicholas G. Tonsich said Saturday that he would resign, the first of several changes expected at the city's port as Antonio Villaraigosa settles in as mayor of Los Angeles.

Tonsich, a sometimes controversial appointee of former Mayor James K. Hahn, said he submitted his resignation on Thursday, effective July 12. He said he decided to resign out of respect for Hahn and to give Villaraigosa ample time to name a successor.

For his part, Villaraigosa said Saturday that he would bring new leadership to the powerful commission, which oversees the nation's largest seaport.

The body has been criticized for contracting practices and what some describe as arrogance on the part of commissioners and port staff.

Tonsich, a San Pedro attorney, sparked criticism because of his law firm's work for companies with ties to the port. The Times reported that he had recused himself from votes and discussions at least 20 times in the last two years and had received no-bid government contracts.

After the story appeared, Villaraigosa called for a criminal investigation of Tonsich's business dealings. Tonsich said that he received no special treatment from the Hahn administration.

Tonsich told Villaraigosa privately a week ago that he planned to resign, the new mayor said.

"What's important is that we are going to start with a fresh and new commission leadership," Villaraigosa said. He said he had a new president in mind, but declined to name the individual.

Tonsich spearheaded Hahn's efforts to reduce air pollution from the port's massive container ships and to improve the long-contentious relations between the Port of Los Angeles and residents of San Pedro and Wilmington.

He was one of three San Pedro residents that Hahn appointed to the commission four years ago. Hahn had promised during the 2001 campaign to improve the port's relations with residents who had long complained of the port's air pollution and arrogance toward the community.

Tonsich said that the commission did an impressive job of meeting those goals, citing among other things plans for a new environmentally friendly container ship terminal and the new "plug-in" technology with which China Shipping vessels can use shore-side electric power when they dock, reducing pollution from their diesel engines.

"The relationship with the community, I think, is at an all-time high," Tonsich said.

The new administration is expected to name new port commissioners shortly.

The current commissioners, all appointed by Hahn in 2001, are James Acevedo, Elwood Lui, Camilla Townsend and Thomas Warren.

Tonsich said Saturday that he hopes Villaraigosa will continue with projects such as the waterfront redevelopment. "I wish the new mayor all the success in the world," he said. "Hopefully the new Harbor Commission can take advantage of the past four years of work and get a lot of swift wins."

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