(p. A17) The backup of container ships at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports has grown in recent weeks despite President Biden’s intervention to get terminal operators to move goods 24/7.
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The two Southern California ports handle only about 40% of containers entering the U.S., mostly from Asia. Yet ports in other states seem to be handling the surge better. Gov. Ron DeSantis said last month that Florida’s seaports had open capacity. So what’s the matter with California? State labor and environmental policies.
Some 20 business groups recently asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency and suspend labor and environmental laws that are interfering with the movement of goods. Opening the Port of Los Angeles 24 hours a day “alone will do little without immediate action from the state to address other barriers that have created bottlenecks at the ports, warehouses, trucking, rail, and the entire supply chain,” they wrote.
One barrier is a law known as AB5. Before its enactment in 2019, tens of thousands of truck drivers worked as independent contractors, which gave them more autonomy and flexibility than if they were employees. As contractors, truck drivers can work for multiple companies, which allows them to nimbly respond to surges in demand.
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Another problem: a shortage of storage space. “There is absolutely no available capacity in the warehousing sector due to the difficulty in developing any new capacity,” the businesses noted in their letter. The vacancy rate for warehouses near the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports was a mere 1%, compared with 3.6% nationwide.
If warehouses don’t have space in their facilities or parking lots to unload goods, drivers can’t make deliveries. Some truck drivers are leaving container boxes along with the chassis outside storage facilities and are picking them up later, but that results in a shortage of chassis at the ports. (About half of chassis are leased to truckers from a common pool supplied by private companies.)
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. . . in California warehouse growth ignited opposition from environmental groups, which complain of pollution and noise. Many cities have limited new logistics facilities.
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(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 4, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)