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Judge upholds L.A.'s 'clean truck' initiative

August 26, 2010 |  9:03 pm

A federal judge on Thursday upheld Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to require truck drivers that move through the Port of Los Angeles to comply with rules dealing with hiring, parking and truck maintenance.

In a 57-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder rejected arguments from the American Trucking Assn., which contended that Villaraigosa's "clean truck" initiative ran afoul of federal laws dealing with transportation safety and interstate commerce.

A representative of the trucking organization did not respond to a request for comment. But Villaraigosa hailed the ruling, saying it will finally allow the harbor department to proceed with the unfinished portions of his clean truck program.

"This decision is evidence that we are making real progress on growing and greening our port," he said in a statement.

Villaraigosa's five appointees on the Los Angeles Harbor Commission voted in 2008 to require that each truck driver obtain a concession agreement from the city. Those agreements included a provision, backed by the Teamsters Union, that truck drivers moving through the harbor must be employed by a trucking company.

The Port of Los Angeles has spent more than $57 million to bring new, cleaner-burning trucks into the port, much of it in the form of subsidies for companies purchasing new vehicles, said Tom Russell, general counsel for the harbor department.

Snyder concluded that the concession agreements were a "business necessity" that allowed harbor officials to protect its financial interests. In her ruling, she said that air pollution from trucks had jeopardized the port's future as a commercial enterprise, with lawsuits over emissions stalling growth at the harbor for seven years -- just as other ports were growing dramatically.

"The concession agreement helps the port manage its property and facilities as any private landlord and facilities operator would," she wrote.

Snyder also ruled that the employee provision would ensure that drivers have the available funds to maintain the environmentally friendly truck fleet -- protecting the port's financial investment in subsidized vehicles.

"We've maintained all along that the port is a business," Russell said. "And as a business, it needs to compete in a way that it deems appropriate."

Snyder issued an injunction in 2009 blocking portions of the mayor's clean truck plan from being implemented. City officials said they believe that Thursday's ruling will pave the way for that injunction to be lifted.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall