Bonnie Lowenthal's Assembly Bill 14 looks unnecessary, but is actually quite relevant

Never judge the chickenshitedness of a bill by its advisory committee

With few exceptions, things in the Legislature are at least as chickenshit as they appear. Usually more.

No matter how petty the motivation for some legislative act seems, the real cause is pettier. A “no” vote is less likely to be sparked by some lofty ideological schism than the author of the bill neglecting to compliment the other legislator on their latest dye job.

Too many bills sound swell but don’t do anything. Like one this year that encourages school districts to buy California produce. There are plenty more equally impotent measures hurriedly being passed in the closing days of this year’s legislative session that will regrettably be signed into law.

But occasionally—to quote John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party—a bill that looks like a “jack-off deal” actually affects many thousands of Californians. Sometimes positively.

Such a bill is Assembly Bill 14 by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat. Establishing an advisory committee to help create a state freight plan, as her bill does, seems to readily qualify as a “jack-off deal.”

Is another advisory commission needed? California is awash in scientific panels and peer reviewers and revision commissions. There’s an advisory committee on everything from the plight of the yellow-bellied fart catcher to standards for hygienic trimming of nostril hair.

More fundamentally, why is a freight plan needed at all?

Because of what legendary Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh calls the “mother’s milk” of politics:

Moola. Greenbacks. Simoleons. Seriously dead presidents.

Without a freight plan, California doesn’t get as hefty a slice of the federal money pie for transportation projects designed to move goods from here to anywhere in more efficient and environmentally thoughtful ways.

That’s way big, particularly for California’s ports, where an almost morbidly obese amount of this freight enters the state.

The economic vitality of California’s principal ports—Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland—isn’t as widely fretted over as the propriety of twerking, even though Los Angeles and Long Beach are the largest port complex in the country, generating $14.5 billion in trade-related wages.

If the amount of cargo coming here goes south—literally and figuratively—then there’s going to be some major fretting—and layoffs.

The Port of Long Beach is responsible for one in eight jobs in that city—about 30,000. Throughout Southern California, Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles support 500,000 jobs and more than 1.5 million trade-related jobs nationwide.

What’s called the logistics industry is tied directly to the ports. Lots of folks in the Central Valley make a comfortable living unloading the 40-foot-long cargo containers from ships and shoehorning the contents of five of them into four 53-foot standardized intermodal containers used by the United States and Canada to more swiftly disperse more stuff across North America.

But everything isn’t shipshape for California’s ports. Doing business in the Golden State is costlier than other places. To save money, some shipping lines are weighing anchor for Canada and Mexico.

Those crazy Panamanians are also dropping $5.25 billion to widen the canal to allow the monster ships that carry 12,000 or more cargo containers to pass through to the Gulf or the Atlantic rather than dock at Long Beach, thread the containers through congested freeway to antiquated rail yards, reload them into the 53-foot containers and send them on their way.

A supersize canal means a 40 percent loss in volume for California’s ports, according to the direst statistic. That could happen even with the most righteous freight plan on the planet.

Signing Lowenthal’s bill and creating a plan—with the valuable input of an advisory committee—demonstrates at the very least the state wants to stay competitive and, at best, snags millions for environmentally sound improvements on how goods move through California.

Moral of the story?

Never judge the chickenshitedness of a bill by its advisory committee.