But what can the California ports do? Floating cargo from Asia to the east coast by boat will always be cheaper, concedes Christopher Lytle, the executive director of the Port of Long Beach. But unloading in Long Beach and taking the train to New York can be faster by a week, he says. So California’s ports must compete on speed, which is increasingly important for time-sensitive goods such as fashion wear or consumer electronics. Let the lawn chairs go and keep the iPads, he reckons.
A lot must happen to keep that advantage in speed, however. One bottleneck is that short truck ride to the railway yard. Not only do the trucks account for much of the port’s air pollution (even though they are dramatically cleaner than just a decade ago), but they clog up stretches of the I-710 freeway, wasting precious time. One of the port’s plans is therefore to build a new, better and closer railway yard…
David Pettit, a lawyer at the National Resources Defence Council and one of those environmentalists who so frustrate Mr Baker, says that he fully understands the threat posed by the canal. But moving the railway yard to another community, and thus polluting it, is not the answer. Better, he says, to put the railway yard right on the docks. That would take up too much space, replies the port. The combatants have only until 2014 to work out their answer and build it.