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Statement: “It takes six days of waiting before you can get into L.A. or Long Beach,” Congressman Bob Filner said Aug. 30 in an interview with NBC 7 San Diego, referring to how long ships wait before docking in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Determination: False

Analysis: Along the campaign trail for mayor, Bob Filner has put a proposal to boost San Diego’s commercial shipping hub at the forefront of his plan to improve the local economy.

He repeatedly proposed expanding the port in recent interviews with the Union-Tribune, CityBeat, San Diego Newsroom and a couple of local TV stations.

Each time, Filner argued that there is room in the market for San Diego’s port to expand, saying the city need only build the infrastructure to attract more ships and create more jobs. The port lacks multiple large cranes, for example, that are necessary to move lots of freight cargo — the heavy, boxed containers carried by trains across the country.

Most cargo in Southern California currently goes through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While San Diego loaded or discharged four million tons of cargo last year, the two other ports moved nearly 200 million tons, according to the Pacific Maritime Association, a regional trade group.

During an interview with Filner two weeks ago, NBC 7 news anchor Mark Mullen suggested that attracting ships from the two larger, more established ports would be a difficult sales pitch. Filner replied: “It takes six days of waiting before you can get into L.A. or Long Beach. I like to say we could live on the droppings.”

But there’s not a long line of ships waiting in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Filner’s description of wait times in the two ports is long outdated.

A Port of Los Angeles spokeswoman said there are no waits today. The Port of Long Beach directed us to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, the nonprofit that tracks shipping traffic across the region and manages the shipping lanes at both Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Capt. Dick McKenna is organization’s executive director. Filner’s claim infuriated him.

“I don’t want to call a congressman a liar,” McKenna said, “but that’s just not true.”

For about five months in 2004, labor shortages at the two ports and connecting rail yards caused a steep backlog in shipping traffic. McKenna said ships might have waited in the harbor up to eight days, but delays tended to fall around three or four.

The congestion rippled across the country by increasing shipping costs and leaving some store shelves empty. Major companies such as Nike and Hewlett-Packard diverted their ships to other ports. The Port of Long Beach even said the harbor looked like the invasion of Normandy because so many ships lined the coast.

To curb its financial losses, the railroads and two ports hired thousands of more workers. The delays vanished by the end of 2004. Only the reputation for long lines lingers today.

“It has stayed into the vernacular that these ports are congested and nothing could be further from the truth,” McKenna said. “It’s amazing to me how longstanding this has become. There’s no waiting here.”

Though ships might have waited six days in the ports seven years ago, Filner’s statement is False because current conditions are a crucial part of his argument. He cited nonexistent delays to bolster his push to expand San Diego’s port and compete for ships that now go to Los Angeles and Long Beach.

We first notified Filner’s mayoral campaign of this Fact Check Sept. 2 and requested an interview with the congressman so he could clarify his statement. After a week and repeated calls, Filner still didn’t call back.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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