The battle over whether to build a new shipyard at the Port of L.A. is over, as Councilwoman Janice Hahn withdrew her support today.
The council voted 13-0 today in favor of the Harbor Commission's decision to cut off talks with Gambol Industries, which has been lobbying to build a shipyard for the last two years.
The vote is a win for the Port of L.A. and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which have argued that the shipyard would interfere with their top priority: dredging the Main Channel to allow access for larger container ships.
It's a defeat for Gambol and for Hahn, who has been the shipyard's biggest champion.
At today's meeting, Hahn couched her reversal in the language of epiphany, saying she
changed her mind after hearing complaints about the shipyard at a
barbershop on Saturday. But it seems clear enough that Hahn would have kept going if she had the
votes. Her last-minute change of heart suggests that she knew she didn't.
Now that it's over, it's worth surveying the political damage this has done. The Gambol plan pitted labor groups against each other. It consumed thousands of hours of engineers' time over two years. It drew the opposition of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, the shipping industry, and regional planners, all of whom feared it would threaten the Main Channel Deepening Project, which is critical to the regional economy. It drew the support of environmentalists and conservationists. It also exacerbated hostility between Hahn and the Port of L.A. over who actually runs the place. And in the end it came to nothing.
“It's always an unfortunate thing when so much political goodwill gets squandered,” said Howard Hills, a staffer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who weighed in on Gambol's behalf. Hills added, at a hearing last week, that the Gambol shipyard should be taught in Harvard's Kennedy School of Government as a case study in political mismanagement.
Hahn's motives in pushing the shipyard seem to be a mixture of self-interest and altruism. She received a $6,500 contribution from Gambol's owner, Robert Stein. She is friendly with Gwen Butterfield, one of Gambol's lobbyists. But that seems hardly enough to explain her devotion to the project. She has said again and again that she was looking for a “win-win,” and that the chance to bring 500 to 1,000 jobs to the port was too good to pass up.
If Hahn could have pulled it off, it would indeed have been good for her constituents and good for her. (In addition to all the economic benefits, a successful shipyard would have been a source of campaign cash for years to come.) But when the Port of L.A. indicated it couldn't be done without threatening the dredging project, Hahn didn't back off. At that point it became a contest of wills between Hahn and the port.
Hahn brought the issue to the council not so much to win on the substance — even if the council had agreed with her, the port could have deliberated the proposal to death — but to make a point. Ultimately, the rest of the council opted to side with the port and bring the whole thing to an end.
“This is a sad day,” said Ben Reznik, Gambol's chief lobbyist. “You had two years to make this work, and you've blown it. You blew it… Who is really running this show?”
At today's meeting, speakers who have fought against Hahn on the shipyard plan lined up to praise her commitment to the Harbor area and to jobs. Rudy Svorinich, a former councilman, laid it on the thickest, saying that Hahn had “moved from councilwoman to stateswoman.”
At that point, a longshoreman leaned over and whispered, “From chicken to turkey.”