Scores of Long Beach children raised homemade frown-face signs to express their frustration with port officials at a special meeting held by Council Member James Johnson at Silverado Park Wednesday night.
Over 200 Long Beach community members attended the specially held city meeting to record and submit public comments on the environmental impact of building an industrial rail-yard along the western edge of the city.
A coalition of religious, school, and city officials throughout Long Beach have waged a long battle against the “SCIG” project, a $500 million, 153-acre container trans-loading facility. They have held a steady battle since the project was first proposed in 2005.
Long Beach City Council requested that the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) hold a public comment meeting in West Long Beach earlier in the proposal process, but the port refused. They held their, “last” public comment meeting in Wilmington on Oct. 18.
Port officials changed their mind after Councilmember Johnson told them he would hold his own local meeting for Long Beach residents. Both attending port representatives left the auditorium after their presentation, and before hearing any of the 45 registered public comments.
While there were a few supporting comments Wednesday, the majority of comments were against the proposed yard.
One by one-students, school district representatives, seniors, and local workers stepped up to the microphone to tell proposers Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) what they thought of the project.
Several mothers whose children suffer from asthma expressed concern about the project, and talked about how they feared for their children’s future.
“How do you mitigate a child in bed asleep at night?” said President of the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association John Cross at the hearing.
Many opponents of the SCIG say it is simply in an inappropriate place for a heavy industrial yard. The presentation by Supervisor for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Lisa Oschner explained that all of SCIG itself would be located on industrial property.
“Even if something is zoned properly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the zoning laws surrounding it are correct. The project is too close to schools and homes, and mitigating it is required by law, but creating green-space would not at all reduce emissions or lower the health risk to the community,” said Morgan Wyenn, a project Attorney for the Natural Resource Defense Council. She works with a team focusing on industrial pollution caused by heavy cargo operations like the rail-yard at SCIG.
Comments that were in favor of the proposal mostly cited the additional job opportunities as why.
Many residents, however, said the additional jobs provided by the project would not be worth the negative health impacts on the community.
[pullquote]“We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our lungs to feed our stomachs,” said one demonstrator in a ‘NO SCIG’ T-shirt.[/pullquote]
The SCIG, or Southern California International Gateway is a $500 million project proposal by BNSF and the POLA that would allow construction of a massive container trans-loading facility just a few hundred yards from schools and residences on the west side.
Opposition to the project became more active after the first draft of an environmental impact report (EIR) claimed that “unmitigable” harm would be done to communities east of the SCIG due mostly to air quality issues. Those same impacts were deemed “less than significant” in the EIR, which lacks the original chapters detailing the specific impacts to low-income and minority populations.
The newest draft of the EIR uses a “floating baseline” for assessing health impacts to the community surrounding the SCIG. Oschner’s presentation also explained the floating baseline to be “the application of all feasible mitigation to a particular impact, and the reassessment of that impact based on those current and future programs (i.e. the clean truck program).”
Essentially a floating baseline allows the preparers of the EIR to present an absolute best case scenario as a factual reduction in environmental impact. One of these lofty best case scenarios is that eventually all trucks coming and going from SCIG will be zero-emissions vehicles.
Johnson criticized the re-circulated EIR for being weak in three areas: “laying out a feasible roadmap for a zero-emissions future, accommodating the businesses currently occupying the property, and failing entirely to mitigate those health damages that would be done to the community.”
His comments were met with cheers.
All comments submitted at the meeting, even if not heard by the public, are being transcribed and sent to the POLA for consideration before the pubic comment period closes on November 13th.
After public comment closes, the final draft of the EIR will be submitted to Los Angeles city officials in early 2013. All that stands between the proposal and its groundbreaking are; LA City council, a Building Healthy Communities committee and 5 more days of public comment.
Comments on the environmental impact report can be submitted to:
Director of Environmental Management with the Port of Los Angeles
425 S. Palos Verdes Street, San Pedro, CA 90731
or via e-mail to: [email protected]