By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Four months after his marriage, Eddie Mora was confined to a hospital. After a tracheotomy that saved his life, he lives permanently tethered to a ventilator. Eddie Mora was predisposed to lung disease because he has scoliosis. But living in Wilmington may have made the difference between Eddie living in the hospital attached to a ventilator like a dog on a leash and being able to live at home with his wife, says Dr. John Miller, an emergency-room physician who lives in San Pedro.
Paris is also a long way from the small, crowded San Pedro apartment where 11-year-old Juan Carlos Piceno lives with his mother. Like Maria Ortiz's son Fernando, Juan Carlos likes to play football. But doctors are telling him it's a bad idea; Juan Carlos is already taking four different medications for asthma.
Now his mother, Carol, who is single, says that she's been diagnosed with asthma, too. "I'm the only one he has," she says, nodding at her son. "What would he do if something happened to me?"
Even though Maria Ortiz's surviving children are healthy adults now, she shows up at community meetings and testifies at hearings with Carol Piceno. "There are a lot of children suffering with asthma and bronchitis. I have to fight so they don't suffer," Ortiz said.
Many of these illnesses could have been avoided. In contrast to most environmental problems, which often seem hydra-headed and intractable, solutions to the port's problems exist, according to the NRDC's Gail Ruderman Feuer. Alternative-fuel vehicles, electric rail lines, better management of truck traffic and forcing big docking container ships to plug in to electric power can substantially reduce air pollution from the port. The settlement signed just a few weeks ago will accomplish many of these goals, making the China Shipping terminal something close to a model for the port.
But China Shipping is just one terminal in a massive industrial facility. Changing the culture of the port may prove to be a difficult task. The problems at the port are not unique to Los Angeles. Historically, ports have been freewheeling city-states where commerce is the central government and the usual rules do not apply. This cultural predisposition seems to have been exacerbated by the deal-making fever that has gripped the port in the past decade.
In an interview last week, Harbor Commission president Nick Tonsich acknowledged as much when asked if the port could change its ways without major personnel changes taking place first. Tonsich said: "We're going to step back and try to analyze that." Referring to the recent China Shipping settlement, he added: "We have a window to do that now."
With or without a regime change, sweeping reform could be on the way to Los Angeles Harbor. State Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, who sponsored a recent state law aimed at streamlining truck traffic in the port, is planning to hold hearings to determine whether the Port of Los Angeles should become more accountable to a state agency, perhaps the Coastal Commission or the state lands department.
If that means the same rules would apply to the port that apply to the rest of First World America, that would be fine with harbor-area activists like Jesse Marquez, who heads a citizens' group in Wilmington and has spent the last year and a half trying to make sure that his community doesn't get left out of efforts to reform the port.
"The Port of Los Angeles has never conducted one air-quality study in Wilmington and has never conducted one health study," says Marquez. "We don't see any of the benefits of international commerce, but we bear the burden of all the negative environmental and social and health impacts."
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