The L.A. City Council voted today to wade into a controversy over a proposed shipyard at the Port of L.A., escalating a battle with port staffers who have already rejected the plan.

Led by Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the council voted unanimously to review the port's decision to kill the Gambol Industries proposal.

Port staffers argue that the shipyard plan would interfere with the port's main channel deepening project, which is already underway and which is seen as essential to maintaining the port's competitive edge in the container business.

Cindy Miscikowski, president of the Harbor Commission, argued today that the Gambol Industries plan could set back the channel deepening by up to three years.

Hahn — who, incidentally, took $6,500 from Gambol Industries president Robert Stein in her lieutenant governor's campaign — has argued that the shipyard proposal would bring jobs to the port communities and could be done without harming the deepening project.

Gambol would invest $60-70 million in the plan. Ben Reznik, a Gambol Industries lobbyist, said that Gambol has tried to be responsive to the port's concerns, only to be met each time with a new set of concerns.

“What we've had to go through is unbelievable,” Reznik said. “You'd think we wanted to put a toxic dump there.”

At the core of the controversy is a tension over what the port should be. The port's primary business is container traffic, and port officials view the main channel dredging as critical to staying competitive in the global shipping business. But supporters of Gambol's proposal argue that the port should diversify a bit by allowing a shipyard.

The proposal has split labor groups, with ILWU — which represents longshore workers whose livelihood is linked to containers — expressing concern about the plan and its effect on the channel deepening. Meanwhile, the L.A. and O.C. Building and Construction Trades Council strongly backs the shipyard. 

Reznik said there has also been tension between Stein and Geraldine Knatz, the executive director of the Port.

“She threw him out of her office,” Reznik said. “He said I'm going to go to the council and see what they think.”

The proposal will next go to the Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, which Hahn chairs.

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