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Veto threat delays bill on fee at ports

A $60 charge on each loaded container, opposed by the retail industry, would fund projects to cut air pollution, traffic jams.

September 06, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- Faced with a likely veto by the governor, a state lawmaker agreed Wednesday to postpone a bill that would impose a controversial container fee at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach aimed at easing congestion and air pollution.

State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) agreed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that consideration of the legislation should be delayed until next year, after the governor said he wanted to allow concerns by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, environmentalists and the retail and shipping industries to be addressed.

One person familiar with the discussions said the governor did not want to antagonize the retail industry, which opposes the container fee, while he is trying to get major employers to agree to a package of changes in the state's healthcare system.

A year after he vetoed legislation similar to Lowenthal's, Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that he was open to a compromise.

"I support the concept of SB 974 and want to work together with Sen. Lowenthal on the bill so it addresses the future of goods movement while also reducing environmental impacts," Schwarzenegger said in a statement released by his office. "I look forward to working during the fall recess with the senator, his fellow legislators and all interested parties to craft a solution that will protect California's air quality and also facilitate the goods movement" through the state.

Environmentalists who have been pushing for the port fees for three years said they were disappointed but held out hope that a compromise could be reached in the next legislative year, which begins in January.

"I wish they would just implement it tomorrow, but I'm cautiously optimistic something can be worked out," said Martin Schlageter, a spokesman for the Coalition for Clean Air.

The bill would put a $60 fee on each loaded 40-foot container that moves through the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland to raise up to $394 million annually.

The money would go toward projects to reduce air pollution and improve the movement of containerized cargo from those facilities and to alter railroad crossings by diverting traffic under them.

Villaraigosa has withheld his and the city's support, insisting on amendments to allow some of the money to be spent on replacing two bridges.

Lowenthal said through a spokesman Wednesday that he did not support adding the bridges. But the governor wants to include Villaraigosa in discussions on the bill.

"We will certainly be working with the mayor and environmental and industry groups to make sure we get this bill to where everybody agrees it is in the right place," said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger.

McLear said one concern the governor shared with industry opponents was that the bill appeared too vague about how and where the money would be spent.

Schwarzenegger also is concerned about threats by the retail industry to sue the state if the bill is enacted.

"His administration is worried about liability," said John Casey, Lowenthal's chief of staff.

Not all of the political fireworks were behind the scenes Wednesday.

A bill to extend the term of air district chairman William Burke failed to win enough votes for passage, despite a frenzy of lobbying activity, so the author held it for a vote today in hopes of getting it approved.

Burke is the politically influential chairman of the board for the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the husband of Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke.

Only 16 of the 38 senators present Wednesday voted in favor of the bill, and the staff of one senator complained to the sergeant-at-arms that the AQMD had a lobbyist on the floor of the chamber in violation of Senate rules.

Sergeant-at-arms Tony Beard said that William Sanchez, a public affairs director for the district, denied that he was lobbying but left the floor voluntarily after being told of the complaint.

Sanchez could not be reached for comment.

In other action, the Senate passed by a 23-12 vote a measure that would make it harder for teenagers to patronize tanning salons.

The bill prohibits anyone between the ages of 14 and 18 from using ultraviolet tanning devices unless a parent or legal guardian gives consent at the tanning studio. Currently, only written consent is needed and anyone younger than 14 is barred from using tanning salons.

Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) told her colleagues that 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. "A lot of young people want to be exposed to the sun, [but] are overexposed," she said. The bill, AB 105 by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), "is intended to help to fight against dramatic increases in skin cancer rates."

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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