Sen. Tom Umberg talks transportation, housing and the Port of Long Beach at Chamber of Commerce luncheon

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By Kat Schuster, contributing writer

Democratic state Sen. Tom Umberg told a room full of Long Beach and Southern California residents and officials that the state could be doing more to support the Port of Long Beach on Friday.

“In terms of promotion, we don’t do a good enough job promoting all of the wonderful things California has to offer,” Umberg said.

Umberg, who represents the 34th district, was this year’s keynote speaker at the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce’s California Visionary Leader Luncheon Series, held at Hotel Maya.

The luncheon had various organizations such as Valero and Southern California Edison seated among such local officials as Bonnie Lowenthol, Vice President of the Harbor Commission for the Port of Long Beach, and John John Howard, chair of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.

After addressing local issues such as the housing crisis, homelessness, conflicts in business litigation and transportation, Mario Cordero, the Port’s executive director, asked Umberg what the state was doing to promote the port and support their goals of reaching zero-emission levels.

“We can’t just simply regulate without providing the resources for research and development to get to a place where we can get zero emissions…” Umberg said in response. “I think that part of this is educating the electeds as well so that when they see legislature, they understand it more.”

Brissa Sotelo-Vargas, director director of community relations and government affairs for Valero, who also holds a seat on the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, commended Umberg.

“There’s opportunity to make sure our ports are thriving and clean because it helps our economy,” said Sotelo-Vargas. “I very much appreciated the fact that he’s in line with that and he’s willing to work with Mario Cordero — that just speaks volumes that they can communicate effectively together.”

He also offered praise for the Port of Long Beach’s rail project, which projects a new on-dock rail facility that could put up to half of the port’s containers on rails, keeping more trucks off Southern California roadways.

“We in California have neglected our rail transport for several decades,” Umberg said.

“There is research and development that needs to go into making sure we have a clean environment,” Umberg said. “It’s significant but it’s worthwhile.”

“Nobody has done more to change the business model than the ports of LA and Long Beach, and yes, the regulatory agencies are always wanting more and wanting it faster,” Lowenthol said. ”So how is the state going to help us with those efforts?”

Lowenthol said she hopes Umberg can help direct funding to the port’s rail project.

“He’s on the transportation committee and the chair of that committee was the author of senate SB 1,” Lowenthol said. “It’s our hope that the development of our rail project here in Long Beach will be a recipient of some of that funding so we can speed up that project.”

Umberg also discussed plans for legislation such as SB 450, a bill that would streamline the process of converting motels into a base for homeless people and SB 400, which would allow Californians to trade in an old car for an electric bicycle.

“We have huge transportation challenges, we’ve got huge education challenges, but we do benefit from having a surplus this year,” Umberg said. “But we’re not always going to be blessed because the economy could turn again.”