By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was not words, though, but deeds that caused the war to escalate. Since the early 1980s, community members had been pressuring the port to store oil and gas out in the harbor, away from their homes and businesses. There are four oil refineries in Wilmington alone, and nearly everyone who grew up in the area has a traumatic memory of a refinery explosion.
Eddie Mora: The possible human
toll of port’s success
In the early '90s, the port seemed to be complying with the community's wishes. In 1992, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began dredging an 81-foot-deep ship channel for oil tankers, which require channels deeper than the 55-foot channels used by ordinary cargo ships. The port used the dredged materials to build a 484-acre terminal called Pier 400. The new terminal would not only provide safe storage for oil and gas, but would also be used for a new container-shipping facility.
It looked good on paper. But in 1998, port officials were already negotiating to lease virtually all of Pier 400 to Maersk, one of the largest container-shipping companies in the world. Not only did Maersk take over most of the space slated for oil and gas, the port also promised to provide Maersk with an additional 200 acres of landfill.
The broken promise to the community was bad enough, but the port may have compounded that with a possible breach of contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps is prohibited from dredging for the purpose of creating landfill. But since the channel dredged by the Corps for oil tankers is not being used and there's only 20 acres available to consolidate oil and gas storage, it now appears that the sole purpose of the $108 million, taxpayer-funded dredging project was creating a new commercial terminal to be used by Maersk. In addition, the port may have violated a contract with the federal government requiring the port to relocate and consolidate oil and gas on the southern portion of Pier 400.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials would not comment on the nature of the investigation into Pier 400, although they did confirm that it is ongoing. But community members who have supplied information to investigators believe that the Army is focusing on these questions. One former port employee had harsh words for Keller's administration. "It's not good management, it's not good policy, it's a giveaway," he said of the port's broken promise to store flammable materials on Pier 400. "They saw the opportunity, didn't consider the ramifications, and just did it."
Community members also believe that Keller had a conflict of interest on the Maersk deal, pointing to the fact that Maersk helped Keller buy a house in Long Beach's Italianate canal neighborhood near Belmont Shores when the company relocated him to California in the mid-1990s. When the port hired him in 1996, Keller reported Maersk's co-ownership of his house as a potential conflict of interest. But Keller and his former employer remained joint tenants of the property until December 1998.
Keller himself acknowledged the possibility of a conflict in an October 13, 1998, letter to port staff recusing himself from negotiations with Maersk.
More than a month earlier — in a letter dated September 3 — Keller submitted the port's mostly agreeable responses to Maersk's requirements for Pier 400. "I hope that you will both be pleased with the results, detailed in the attached," wrote Keller to J.D Nielsen, Maersk's chief operating officer. "I am confident that the Port of Los Angeles and its new Pier 400 terminal will meet your current requirements and long-term goals."
Keller denied participating in negotiations with Maersk prior to recusing himself. "No, absolutely not," he told a reporter. "At the time, I approached Ted Stein. I said, 'Ted, I really need to recuse myself from this. That means you and our director of marketing need to be the team.'"
Jesse Marquez: One of Port
of L.A.’s leading watchdogs
It would be naive to think that Keller gave special favors as a simple quid pro quo to his former employer. But critics like Noel Park, president of the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, say that Keller has been too eager to please the shipping companies at the expense of the environment and the community. Besides, Park says, Southern California is such an important market for foreign goods that the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles don't need to make such compromises to attract business.
Global trade creates a heady, adrenaline-charged environment, one that offers city-funded trips to Europe for port officials, including Keller and Stein, who flew to Denmark in May 2000 to celebrate the final contract on Pier 400 with Maersk. The trip included a stopover in Paris "for business-development activities."
Paris is a long way from the Little Company of Mary SubAcute Care Facility in Torrance. This is where Eddie Mora, who is 64, is going to stay, hooked up to a machine that helps him breathe, until he dies. Eddie found out that he had lung disease on his honeymoon. He had dated Cecelia Linda on and off for 30 years, but didn't propose until four years ago, when he got jealous after seeing her with a younger man. They were in San Diego en route to Mexico when Eddie became short of breath. Cecelia rushed him to the emergency room. It would not be the last time she saw the inside of a hospital with Eddie.