By Tiffany Rider, July 2, 2013
Following an inauguration gala last week, LaDonna DiCamillo launched her one-year term as chair of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on July 1.
Born in Iowa, DiCamillo said she was drawn to the small town feel and big city assets of Long Beach. She recently moved to "Iowa by the Sea" and brings her passion for the community and experience in public policy to her new role with the chamber.
In addition to her service with the Long Beach Chamber, DiCamillo is also a member of the State Bar of California, the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors and the Los Angeles Chamber Board of Directors. She holds a juris doctorate from the University of La Verne College of Law and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
In an interview at the Business Journal offices, DiCamillo discussed her experience, goals for the chamber and even gave us an update on the controversial BNSF Railway project.
Part of the interview:
DiCamillo: Would you like to know about the railway project?
LBBJ: That's up to you? (Note to readers: In May, the Los Angeles City Council approved BNSF's proposal to build its Southern California International Gateway intermodal facility, to be located near the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, thus shortening the distance container trucks must travel on the 710 Freeway before transferring their cargo to rail, from 24 miles to less than four miles. Several lawsuits have been filed, including by the City of Long Beach and the Long Beach Unified School District.)
DiCamillo: I really feel that we have a great project. It is something I have been working on personally for almost 13 years. It takes trucks off the 710 Freeway. We have a local hire program so it is an opportunity for us to work with Long Beach and the workforce investment bureau to put a jobs training program in place. Long Beach still has high unemployment, so it is an opportunity for us to help do some training. There are a lot of good trade jobs very close to this city and we need to build on that. It improves the air quality for the residents, and so on. Although I'm disappointed we are in litigation with the city, I am hopeful that it will be resolved. We anticipated litigation. It seems to be part of the CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] process. I don't know any major project that has totally avoided it. That said, I still have great relationships with all of the councilmembers and see no interference with what is going on in the background.
LBBJ: From what we understand, they are not opposed to the project, it's more the concern they have about the environmental impacts.
DiCamillo: I think overall I hear good things about the project. Like I said, I think it is a good project.
LBBJ: You mentioned job creation. What about the argument that we're going to be losing jobs from the businesses that are located there now; upward of 1,000. What's going to happen with those businesses?
DiCamillo: We've made offers to work with each of those businesses to find new sites and give them moving expenses and some rent subsidy for a period of time where there is a differential.
LBBJ: But they all sued, didn't they?
DiCamillo: They all sued.
LBBJ: So do you think you're going to be able to do that, to find the sites and accommodate them in this area?
DiCamillo: I don't know specifically where they are going to end up, but they are more flexible in the sites that they can go to than we were. We had logistical issues. We had to be close to a railroad. We had to be close to freeway access.
LBBJ: Is the next step mediation?
DiCamillo: No. There will be mandatory settlement conferences as part of the CEQA process.
LBBJ: Back to jobs, we know the mayor has been a proponent of technical schools. Is there anything your company can do to ensure local jobs by creating a training school?
DiCamillo: That is something that we have offered and put on the table. We have initiated some discussions a few years ago with the workforce investment board and have an outline, but we certainly can build on that. We are also, as you know, closer to the unions. We are predominantly a union company ourselves. I think over 80 percent unionized. We have a project labor agreement for the project. That was really a natural for us.
LBBJ: Best case scenario, what do you think you're looking at as far as breaking ground? Are we talking months? Years?
DiCamillo: It will probably take a couple years to get through all of the litigation.
LBBJ: How many trucks are you going to take off the Long Beach Freeway? Is there a number? A percentage? What is it?
DiCamillo: Well, we said millions of truck miles a year. . . . right now all of those trucks go up the 710 Freeway to Commerce.
LBBJ: One of the complaints we've heard is that, because the project is in L.A., Long Beach will be impacted by the negative environmental issues but will not get the benefits of jobs and help to the local economy. That money is going to L.A.
DiCamillo: We will be leasing the land. But the benefits of the project I think are largely for Long Beach because of the removal of the trucks from the 710 Freeway. We will do a local jobs hire and workforce training program. We do support the Port of Long Beach. Historically, almost 60 percent of the containers that we handle at our facility in Commerce are Port of Long Beach origin/destination containers. We will be supporting the terminals at Long Beach with our facility. So there is benefit on the City of Long Beach side.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
DiCamillo: I am honored to serve the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. I'm going to give it my best. I love Long Beach. I love the diversity of Long Beach. I think we have a lot to build on in the industries we have here. We have a great downtown that has a lot more potential. We've got beach communities and neighborhoods that all have unique personalities. I love that about Long Beach. I think we've got the small city personality but big city potential and I want to help build on that in any way I can.