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L.A. Harbor Panel Delays Budget Plan at Mayor-Elect's Request

June 09, 2005|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission bowed Wednesday to a request from Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa and postponed approval of a proposed $693.5-million budget as well as a 50-year lease for a port-owned marina in San Pedro.

Villaraigosa, who does not take office until July 1, faxed two letters to the port Tuesday asking for time to review the proposals and sending a message that he intends to closely monitor the actions of the city's commissions in the final days of Mayor James K. Hahn's administration.

The commission did vote Wednesday to spend $1.9 million on the environmental review of the 30-year, $531-million "Bridge to Breakwater" project on the San Pedro waterfront that has been championed by the Hahn administration. The project would redevelop more than 400 acres, from the Vincent Thomas Bridge to the federal breakwater in San Pedro, to include new harbors, parks and a promenade.

The commission also approved a $4.05-million landscaping contract and a $926,867 bike path and walkway in San Pedro.

Commissioners had been poised to approve the proposed budget, which includes a nearly 16% increase from this year despite lower-than-expected revenue. It includes money for several San Pedro projects and 94 new positions.

Villaraigosa wrote the commission Tuesday evening, asking that the budget and marina votes be delayed to allow more scrutiny of unexpectedly low revenue projections.

Despite that request, port interim Executive Director Bruce Seaton advised commissioners Wednesday to move ahead. "I'm still recommending that the board approve this budget today," Seaton said, adding that the City Council needs to review the budget before it goes into effect July 1. He suggested freezing new positions.

But the commission chose to delay the budget vote and set a special meeting for Tuesday morning to review it.

"I think that would be the right thing to do in light of the letter from the mayor-elect," said Commissioner Thomas Warren, who voted for the delay with James Acevedo, Elwood Lui and Camilla Townsend. Nicholas Tonsich, the commission president, was absent. Hahn appointed all five commissioners, and Villaraigosa is expected to replace some of them.

Joe Ramallo, Villaraigosa's spokesman, said, "We look forward to sitting down with the harbor director and his staff to take a closer look at their budget and let them know what our concerns are."

Although the proposed budget was released Friday, port officials have declined to comment on it until after a presentation Tuesday. "There will be interviews after that presentation," said spokesman Arley M. Baker.

The budget shows that the port -- accustomed to significant revenue increases year after year -- has been forced to revise its current-year projections downward by $45 million because of a recent flattening of cargo growth.

Nonetheless, port officials have mapped out spending plans that include a number of costly San Pedro projects initiated by Hahn, a San Pedro resident, including $28 million for the waterfront project.

Commissioners on Wednesday also agreed to Villaraigosa's request that they hold off voting for at least 45 days on the 50-year contract with Westrec Cabrillo LLC to develop and operate Cabrillo Way Marina.

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