Port Security Concerns Raised in California

Feb. 15--The state Senate's top Democrat on Tuesday told Silicon Valley leaders that a bond package to pay for new roads, schools and levees must also include funding for port security and other post-Sept. 11 security improvements.

Senate leader Don Perata's comments to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in Santa Clara appeared to drive a new wedge between Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration over the scope of the bond -- just days before the first scheduled legislative negotiations on the plan.

Schwarzenegger has proposed borrowing $68 billion in general obligation bonds as part of a massive $222 billion, 10-year "strategic growth plan." Perata has proposed a much smaller, $10 billion infrastructure plan. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, weighed in Tuesday, telling reporters a $25 billion to $30 billion bond over three or four years would be more reasonable.

"I'm surprised they turn you upside down and shake you like a bat" to get on a commercial airliner, Perata said, "while you can drive a truck loaded with any kind of explosive in . . . and shut down the Port of Oakland for months. I'm surprised, candidly, that we haven't seen something like this before."

Stresses port security

Perata, D-Oakland, said $750 million in his bond proposal would go for security, mostly at ports. His comments echoed those he first made Monday in a conference call with reporters, but Tuesday they drew a sharp response from state homeland security officials.

"This is very serious to us if Senator Perata is saying you can blow up a port," said Chris Bertelli, deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security, noting that the state has secured $132 million in recent years for port security, including millions from federal grants. "I'm not aware of any port that has identified any need anywhere close to that amount of money."

Perata also drew heat Tuesday from the Schwarzenegger administration for reiterating his stance that any infrastructure bond should not include money for new jail construction or courthouse renovations, as the governor's plan has called for.

"If we are talking about security, there are major issues regarding the physical security in courtrooms that needs to be addressed," said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Schwarzenegger's Finance Department. "You're only one bad incident away from having the state very much focused on that."

Ironically, the flap over whether to include security funds in the bond package came as Perata repeatedly stressed Tuesday that he thought a deal between lawmakers and the governor is "within reach."

Praises openness

Perata lauded the governor for being open in recent meetings to consider including money for affordable housing and other projects in the bonds. Perata also said that although he did not think lawmakers would reach a compromise in time for the June ballot, he was ready to go the extraordinary step of putting bonds on the November ballot, forcing Democrats to campaign with Schwarzenegger for their passage in the midst of a contentious governor's race.

"It's not lost on any of us Democrats that if this qualifies for the November ballot, as I think it would, we would be campaigning together -- that's a huge thing," Perata said.

Perata spoke in Silicon Valley, where Schwarzenegger had appeared a week earlier. Business leaders who attended both presentations said they were encouraged that there seemed to be so much common ground between Perata and the governor, especially on important local issues such as transportation.

"What they agree on," said Carl Guardino, head of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, "we'll take it."

[San Jose Mercury News (CA) (KRT) -- 02/16/06]