Here’s how California can help fix America’s broken supply chain

By Danny Wan, Special to CalMatters
The global supply chain crisis is daunting. Congestion and bottlenecks across the West Coast have left large cargo vessels stranded at anchor for weeks on end. Across the country, our supply chain has faced major disruptions, driving up costs for consumers and inevitably causing major delays on delivery of essential goods.

Last week, I testified before the Senate & Assembly Select Committees on Ports and Goods Movement to offer policymakers solutions to address these challenges.

Early last year – during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – California ports saw significant decreases in trade with record breaking impacts. But demand rose for medical equipment, along with home improvement items, exercise equipment and office furniture as consumers grappled with adapting to a new world that revolved around remote work and virtual learning.

The surge in cargo has created unprecedented challenges across our state’s coast. California ports stepped up and took action to help address supply chain disruption.

Operationally, California ports have proactively taken steps to alleviate supply chain congestion. These steps include: creating policies that incentivize terminal operators to move trucks faster and more efficiently, extending operating hours at port terminals and implementing best practices to make use of existing cargo capacity.

While the steps taken by California ports are significant, addressing the global supply chain crisis demands intensive public policy initiatives and reform at every level of government.

As president of the California Association of Port Authorities, I’ve asked how the most consequential system of ports in the nation could receive so little resources from the federal government. Over the past decade, the federal government has invested roughly $11 billion in the eastern Gulf coast ports, but only $1 billion in the West Coast ports.

I urge the Legislature, governor and federal policymakers to work with California ports to advance initiatives to mitigate supply chain disruption. This includes:

  • Ongoing long-term funding for projects that address land capacity challenges and infrastructure;
  • A designated supply chain czar within state government to work with the industry to create and implement a state freight and goods movement policy; and
  • Identifying incentives for American companies making equipment like chassis and containers to allow the ability to move containers currently clogging port property.

The issues facing our global supply will not disappear overnight. Our elected leadership must take action to help get goods moving. That requires a holistic policy approach that addresses the consistent underfunding of California ports and a reinvestment in infrastructure, technology and data-driven methods that will get us back on track.

Last week’s Legislative hearing on the ports and goods movement was a significant step in addressing these goals. The California Association of Port Authorities stands to work as a partner with these leaders to address and advance solutions.

Home to our nation’s three largest container ports and responsible for handling 40% of containerized imports in the nation, California should play an important role in fixing America’s broken supply chain. But to do that, our state must take immediate and bold action by embracing the maritime industry and commit to ongoing, critical investments in the global supply chain. At the California Association of Port Authorities, we look forward to working with the governor’s office and the Legislature to meet this moment with long-term solutions.

Danny Wan is the executive director of the Port of Oakland and the president of the California Association of Port Authorities.

Read the full op-ed by CalMatters here.