Photos by Brian Addison.
Mayor Bob Foster, in his final stretch as Keeper, gave his final State of the City address to hundreds last night. Though addressing the Port and the controversial Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, he remained entirely mum on bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
In fact, Foster—a self-proclaimed biking advocate who oversaw during his tenure the official Long Beach endeavor that is becoming the “nation’s most bike friendly city”—shockingly failed to mention even once the words “bike” or “pedestrian” or “complete streets” in his entire address.
“Long Beach deserves meaningful environmental progress and quite simply, deserves better from the City of Los Angeles and BNSF.”
Foster the Poet largely dictated both the introduction and the epilogue, describing his experience as mayor both exhilarating and exhausting, though not necessarily without his regrets at having to leave the post.
Many had speculated that the incumbent would run for a third term as a write-in—and many believed he would have easily won were he to do so. However, he has opted to “return to the plow” now that “crisis has been averted.”
“Nearly everywhere I go, someone will thank me for serving and invariably shake their head and say, ‘I don’t know how you put up with it all,’” Foster said. “Trust me: there were moments—but I can tell you without question it has been every minute.”
Foster went on to note that he is leaving the City behind with its first surplus in a decade, worth some $3.5M—something he largely attributed to one of the pinnacles of his mayoral run: his massive pension reform success.
Continuing on the track of fiscal bonuses, Foster noted the $51M in one-time revenues—and it is here that Foster finally addressed, albeit all too briefly, how this has helped infrastructure improvement projects.
Equally all too brief was his address of SCIG, the massive rail yard project being funded and backed by rail giant BNSF within the borders of Los Angeles. Given his impassioned plea back in August speaking out against the project, Foster said last night that the project is “not going away” and neither is “the threat to air quality.”
“The Harbor Department has opposed it,” said Foster. “This City Council, the Long Beach Unified School District, the Air Quality Management District and 15 other organizations have come together to file suit in court to stop that development. This community and the stakeholders at the port have worked too hard over the past 7 years at improving the air we breathe to see a project in Los Angeles take that back. Long Beach deserves meaningful environmental progress and quite simply, deserves better from the City of Los Angeles and BNSF.”
Other environmental highlights the Great Wall of Mulch along the truck-congested, polluted Terminal Island Freeway to which Foster joked, “Isn’t it amazing how much attention a compost pile can get in this town?” The Mayor’s Water Quality Task Force, which oversaw the trapping of some 12,000 drains, bumping up 90% of our coastal waters to A and B grades from Heal the Bay. And some 200,000 gallons of grey water have been diverted.
The vast majority of his attention, however, was on the City’s always-one-eyebrow-raised relationship with the Port of Long Beach. Foster, for the most part, applauded the Port for two major reasons: one, in the past six years—despite cargo growth—diesel pollution is down nearly 81%; and second, the clean trucks program which Foster claimed benefitted multiple drivers with the moniker of “proud small-business owners” despite controversy over these programs.
“In sum, we can all breathe a little easier,” Foster said, “as these changes should produce an improvement in our collective health. We should see fewer asthma cases, fewer missed work and school days, and much healthier 10 years olds.”
“The Port will continue to be a great asset and will be an even better City partner in the future. Yes, there may be controversy, but let’s remember the dangers of confusing the ‘loud’ with the ‘important.’”
Bold words from the Mayor, especially given that directly following this, he noted the “blind chase of increased cargo volume” followed by the largest expansion of the Port—$4B over the next decade—which has “substantial environmental health impacts on our residents.”
That’s a little bit hard to breathe easier over.
However, Foster remained almost dogmatic that the Port and City can work mutually for and with another—a “simply [smarter] way to do business.”
“Everything the Port does affects the City,” Foster said. “The City should be able to work with the Port for their mutual benefit… It is my responsibility to assure that Port governance is effective and responsible to the City. A cultural antipathy toward the City is unhealthy and the lack of effective oversight can, and has, led to complacent financial management.”
This echoed to Foster’s recent firing of former Harbor Commission President Tom Fields through the City Council after it was uncovered that Fields had spent nearly double his fellow commissioners during his travels, in addition to being dismissive and “immune” to suggestions or advice.
The move puts a heavy burden (and grip of power) within the hands of Foster, who will appoint the new Harbor Commission President before he leaves. This effectively provides the legacy of Foster to linger far past the end of his tenure—and also largely directs precisely how the Port will do business with the City.
Controversial, the Port’s operations? Yes, Foster noted. But not impossible to work with.
“The Port will continue to be a great asset and will be an even better City partner in the future,” Foster said. “Yes, there may be controversy, but let’s remember the dangers of confusing the ‘loud’ with the ‘important.’”
Speaking of important, what about those things called streets and the people on them?