In her fourth year on the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, environmental lawyer and Long Beach resident Tracy Egoscue has taken up the reins as board president during one of the harbor department’s most pivotal periods.
In Fiscal Year 2019, the Port of Long Beach is expected to close out construction of the replacement for the Gerald Desmond Bridge, the third phase of redevelopment of its middle harbor, and its new headquarters at the Long Beach Civic Center. The port is also gearing up to move forward with its Pier B on-dock rail expansion and an update to its master plan.
Tracy Egoscue, owner of Long Beach-based Egoscue Law Group Inc., was elected president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners by her peers in late July. She takes on the role at a time when the Port of Long Beach is approaching multiple significant milestones, such as the completion of its new headquarters, a new bridge over its harbor, and a years-long terminal redevelopment project. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)
While some harbor commission presidents develop a list of their own priorities, Egoscue said she prefers to facilitate crucial projects and enhance existing efforts by the port. “We have a lot on our plate. We have the civic center, we have the bridge and middle harbor that we’re finishing, and we’re getting ready to sort of roll out what we’re doing on Pier B. That’s enough,” she said.
Egoscue brings a breadth of experience in environmental litigation to the commission, which is often tasked with creating or updating policies meant to progress the port’s efforts toward greener operations. She studied law at George Washington University and took her first position shortly after graduating with the Connecticut nonprofit Save the Sound, where her work mainly pertained to Clean Water Act-related cases. In 2001, Egoscue and her husband moved back to her home state of California, where she accepted a position as a deputy attorney general. “I was in the natural resources division,” she said. Egoscue represented departments such as parks, and fish and wildlife, in environmental cases.
In 2004, Egoscue was recruited to lead the Santa Monica Bay Waterkeeper, now known as the Los Angeles Waterkeeper, an organization dedicated to protecting the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays. Three years later, she became executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, one of nine such boards overseen by the state water commission. Due to pay cuts and furloughs spurred by the recession, Egoscue went into private practice in 2010 and started her own firm two years later.
Egoscue is a Long Beach resident, and has raised her family in the Bixby Knolls area where her law firm is also located. She focuses on air quality, wetlands permitting, water quality and other areas of law related to the environment.
“If you think about it, why is a water lawyer at the port instead of at the water department, for example?” Egoscue said in an interview at the port’s satellite office in the World Trade Center downtown. “I shared this vision with the mayor and he shares this vision with me, too: That we can do both – we can have a flourishing business at the port and we can also have a sustainable environment and community.”
Although Egoscue has served in the public sphere in various capacities in her career, her involvement in the harbor commission is her first foray into public service in Long Beach. “It’s really an amazing [way] of giving back to the community that sustains me and sustains my children,” she said. “It was a great way for me to reconnect back into where I originally was with my intentions as an attorney and a professional, which was to be a public servant.”
Harbor commissioners are paid $100 to attend two meetings per month. They also participate in port-related events and trade missions to foreign countries. It is a demanding role, according to Egoscue. “We can typically spend 20 to 40 hours a week getting ready for meetings and trying to be informed on decisions,” she said. “This is a major enterprise, and a very important enterprise for the City of Long Beach. Every single commissioner takes that very seriously.”
One of Egoscue’s priorities on the commission has been to expand upon the community mitigation grants program, which provides funds to organizations that work to address the impacts of port operations for community benefit. “What I noticed right away was that there were some very simple procedural fixes that we could work on,” she said. For example, in 2016, the commission worked with staff to expand the mitigation grants program to benefit areas that are not directly adjacent to the port but are still impacted by its operations, she noted.
Egoscue said she works well with her fellow commissioners, and is appreciative of their unique perspectives. “We listen to each other,” she said. “We’re not always in agreement about a particular decision, but we are always in agreement about what’s best for the port and for the city.”
Egoscue has taken part in trade missions to visit port customers in Asia and in South America, although she noted that she hasn’t done much traveling due to her responsibilities at home and at work. “I am the primary breadwinner, so the travel takes away from client work,” she explained. As commission president, she expects to do more traveling.
“Something that’s difficult to translate is why we’re doing these trade missions. There was a perception for a while that the harbor commissioners were traveling all over the place,” Egoscue said. “[Customers] really appreciate seeing not just staff, but also the commissioners. It shows the importance of our efforts and that we take their business seriously,” she explained. “Also, we get feedback that we wouldn’t necessarily get if we weren’t meeting [in person].”
Egoscue noted that, on the occasions that the mayor takes part in these trips, customers are extremely appreciative. “It is an international asset in our city and the mayor has shown it that respect, for sure,” she said.
Asked about her experience on a majority-female harbor commission in a male-dominated industry, Egoscue responded that, through her work as a lawyer, she is accustomed to working in such an environment.
“The mayor making the appointments that he has made has sent a message that one of the most important seaports in the world can change the dynamic, the culture and the impression of what this business is,” Egoscue said, referring to Garcia’s appointments of women to the harbor commission. “I would say that there are countless girls and women who are right now thinking about their futures and looking at the example of trade differently because they’re seeing that example that we’re providing.”
Egoscue noted that the culmination of the new bridge and redevelopment of the port’s middle harbor will be the result of decisions made years ago by former harbor commissioners. “What I always like to remind my colleagues, the public and our staff is that we are enjoying the fruits of the labor from 10 or 20 years ago, and sometimes longer,” she said. “However, we are now making decisions about the next 20 years. . . . And that’s an immense responsibility and a continuation of the legacy of this port.”
A current challenge for the port is the shifting of shipping alliances – partnerships between shipping companies that share assets to distribute goods – which has caused changes in which ports and terminals certain shipping lines visit. “Instead of saying it’s a challenge, I would say it’s an opportunity for the commission and the staff to really consider what we think the future of the port will look like,” Egoscue said of the situation. “Will there always be six terminals? Will they look like they do now? . . . Would there be a benefit to having more on-dock [rail] facilities in existing terminals now if we had the opportunity? Those are the kinds of opportunities that the [shipping] alliances, and the shifting in how that business is run, are providing for us.”
Egoscue continued, “We have some competition. We have other ports on the West Coast that have been hungry for more business. So we also need to keep an eye on what are the decisions that will allow us to leverage what we have now. . . . What’s our 20-year plan, and what are the decisions that we’re making now so we can remain agile to keep the business and grow the business?”
The most rewarding aspect of her role on the commission is representing community members of Long Beach, Egoscue said. “The idea is that you live in this community, so hopefully you are making decisions that are benefiting the community you live in. And there is definitely a responsibility to do that,” she said.
“I’m committed to the port, I’m committed to the city,” Egoscue reflected. “I live here, I own a business here, I am raising children here, and I own a home. I really believe in the integrity of public service, and I believe in that aspect of it [in regards to] what am I bringing to the port, not what the port is giving to me.”