In the News

Mark Walker

SAN DIEGO — Slower vessel and crew clearances combined with backlogs in cargo inspection and release for shipment could soon hit San Diego’s waterfront, officials said Monday.

Port security could also be threatened if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal to stave off massive federal budget cuts set to kick in March 1.

Those warnings came from Rep. Scott Peters and Port of San Diego officials as the countdown begins for the start of a decade-long, $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts stemming from the 2011 “sequester” agreement between the White House and Congress.

Barring another last-minute deal, which appears increasingly unlikely, at least initial cuts are going to take hold.

Peters, D-San Diego, is calling called for a more reasoned approach, saying a scalpel and not a meat ax is what is needed.

“Our debt is a serious issue that we have to deal with,” the former port commissioner said during a bay-side news conference at the agency’s 10th Avenue Terminal. “But the way to deal with it is not through these indiscriminate cuts that happen right away and hurt our economy just as we’re coming out of a national recession.”

As Peters spoke, a nearby cargo ship, the “Dole Ecuador,” was unloading containers of fruit, a process that Port Commission Chairwoman Ann Moore says is threatened.

“We have to make sure that federal spending cuts don’t hamper the ability to move our cargo in and out of out of our two terminals in the safest and most efficient way,” she said.

Moore also said cancellations or lack of new work for the shipbuilding and repair industry would ripple throughout the region.

“The greatest potential for new jobs is along the working waterfront here on San Diego Bay,” she said.

Economists have warned the looming cuts could reverse the ongoing recovery from the Great Recession, leading to both government and private sector retrenchment.

While neither Peters nor port officials were able to put a price tag or job loss figure on the immediate effects of sequestration, they worried those developments are inevitable.

“It will hinder, not help our ability to be globally competitive and will cost San Diego countless jobs by taking away critical federal funding,” Peters said.

San Diego’s defense sector has warned for more than a year that the cuts could result in thousands of layoffs and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost contracts.

A recent George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis study projects California could lose 225,464 jobs with more than half coming from defense.

Peters said he and most of the 84 other freshman members of the House from both parties are willing to work together to stave off the cuts.

“Eighty-five of us heard the message that it’s time to stop fighting and start fixing,” he said. “If we can hold on to those instructions and that mood, I think we can have a big effect.”

Peters later said that with no clear way emerging to avoid the beginning of the sequestration, the White House has to act.

“If the president would get involved, that would be helpful.”

Peters plans to highlight potential cuts in the bio-tech and defense sectors later this week.

His drumbeat comes after House Democratic leadership urged members to highlight the effects of sequestration while they’re home this week.

“The fact we are in recess is surprising and disappointing,” Peters said.