Friday, September 5, 2008

Zocalo - L.A. vs. Seattle: Whose Pacific Rim is it?

I was going to wait for the actual Pod-cast to be available, but who knows when that will be. Here is a written summary.

Me and Michael Soto were in attendance to this event, which seeks to discuss developments at the ports of La / Long Beach in contrast with the ports of Seattle. There were a couple of speakers at this event.

Steven Erie (moderator): Professor of Political Science and Director of Urban Studies & Planning at University of California, San Diego

Thomas J. O'Brien (Representing LA/LB): Director of Research, Center For International Trade & Transportation, California State University, Long Beach

David Olson (Representing Seattle): Professor of Labor Studies at Washington University, an honest to god Knight of Norway.

Conclusion: After about 30 seconds, David Olson conceded. LA/Long Beach OWNS the pacific rim trade. At least for now.

The point wasn't really to showcase the competition between the two ports, but rather to highlight the challenges both ports are facing.

Obvious challenges: Environment, Labor, Congestion, Politics

It was interesting to learn the politics behind the location of the LA/ Long Beach port (collectively referred to as the San Pedro ports in academic circles).

The whole region was more or less owned by the railroad, and they wanted to put the port for the region in Santa Monica. When the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived at Los Angeles a controversy erupted over where to locate the sea port. The SP preferred Santa Monica, while others advocated for San Pedro Bay. The Long Wharf was built in 1893 at the north end of Santa Monica to accommodate large ships and was dubbed Port Los Angeles. At the time it was constructed it was the longest pier in the world at 4700 feet, and accommodated a train. The plan did not last: San Pedro Bay, now known as the Port of Los Angeles, was selected by the United States Congress in 1897.

The port is actually a public agency and the state has huge influence what can go on at the ports and port revenues stay in the port. Thus, the San Pedro Bay had better lobbyists so the were able to secure the largest economic engine of the state. Santa Monica received the consolation prize, an amusement park on a pier.

The port commissioners, one for Los Angeles and one for Long Beach, are appointed by the mayors of their respective cities. These cities place a different level of importance on the port. For Los Angeles which is connected to the port via a narrow umbilical cord whereas for Long Beach, the port is at the center of life for the city. Thus, the recent clean-port policies reflects the importance of the port for these cities and helps to explain their behavior.

For Seattle, the port is small beans. Only 1.7 million TEU's, or about what LA/ Long Beach pushes out over a 2-3 week period. The reason why so little stuff comes through Seattle is that there are many smaller ports in the region that compete directly with Seattle, and Seattle doesn't have captive cargo like LA/ LB. Captive cargo means that the cargo has to go there, as it is the final point of consumption for the cargo, cargo orginates or is destined for LA/ LB. Seattle doesn't have the population to be a major contender.

No comments: