September 13, 2006

Viillaraigosa, Harman call for passage of ports measure
In seeking Senate OK on funding and security, L.A.'s mayor says legislation is "absolutely critical" for city.

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rep. Jane Harman joined Tuesday in pressing for Senate approval of a House-passed bill to improve security at the nation's seaports, stressing the importance of the Los Angeles port to the national economy.

Harman, D-El Segundo, said she was pleased that Villaraigosa was visiting on the day "when we find out whether the Safe Ports Act ... will have traction in the Senate."


The ports security bill, introduced by Harman and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, would guarantee an increasing level of funding for port security, financed mainly by customs fees, and would mandate security improvements, including increased inspection of the thousands of shipping containers that pass through the major seaports daily.

Villaraigosa said the issue of security "is absolutely critical to the citizens of Los Angeles," citing the capture six years ago of the "millennium bomber" who planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and the more recent discovery of a homegrown terrorist cell in the city.

He praised Harman for the "critical role" she played in helping the city get an increase in homeland security funding when other cities were getting cuts. Both also noted the importance of increased security at the Port of Los Angeles, which, along with the neighboring Port of Long Beach, handles 43 percent of the nation's foreign trade.

After a 25-minute meeting in Harman's office, the two Democrats went across Capitol Hill to the Senate to meet with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was pushing for passage of the Safe Ports Act.

One of the Democrats' moves that could hold up Senate passage was a proposed amendment by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is in a tight campaign, seeking 100 percent inspection of all the shipping containers entering from overseas. Fewer than 10 percent currently are checked by X-rays or other methods.

Villaraigosa and Harman both said they support 100 percent inspection but were willing to accept less than that to get an improvement in port security.

The two also discussed the effort to extend the Los Angeles rail system's Green Line to Los Angeles International Airport, which Harman said is one of her priorities.

Villaraigosa said he supports the Green Line extension but noted that there were "technical issues" that had to be resolved, which Harman said included the requirement to run the rail line under the airport's runways.

Both said they were confident those issues could be resolved.

Earlier in the day in a speech to the Golden State luncheon, Villaraigosa described his effort to gain control over the Los Angeles public school system, which he said was failing its students and their parents.

The mayor said a key to improving the schools was to get greater parent involvement.

He said he was "going to spend a lot of money" to give parents a greater voice in how the schools run.