The Busiest Port in the U.S.

The Port of Los Angeles plays a major role in the global supply chain. Here’s what has gone wrong.,


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The Port of Los Angeles.Credit…Dean Musgrove/The Orange County Register, via Associated Press

When you think of Los Angeles, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a massive, industrial shipping hub.

But despite its glitzy image, L.A. is home to the busiest port in the Western Hemisphere. It plays a major role in the global supply chain, the disruption of which by the pandemic has led to shortages of computer chips, diapers and pet food, as well as inflation and price hikes that are expected to worsen as holiday shopping kicks off.

In a bid to ease the backlog, President Biden announced last week that the Port of L.A. would start operating 24/7, as the adjoining Port of Long Beach began doing last month.

Together, the two maritime gateways account for 40 percent of all seaborne imports to the United States. Biden’s involvement in the ports’ operations speaks to just how crucial they are to the health of the American economy.

This weekend, I drove down to the Port of Los Angeles, which is 25 miles south of downtown L.A. in a community called San Pedro.

As I approached the coastline from the freeway, a tangle of cranes emerged on the horizon. Entering the port felt like descending into another world, a sprawling complex of colorful containers as big as railway cars and stacked taller than multistory buildings.

The port, which spans 12 square miles on sea and land, moves nearly $300 billion of cargo each year, largely to and from Asia. Its biggest trading partner by far is China, followed by Japan and Vietnam.

Demand for goods has been higher than ever this year, as Americans’ buying habits have shifted during the pandemic, spending more on products — new desks and stationary bikes — than services, such as going out to dinner or a movie. L.A. officials say that 2021 is on track to break the port’s annual record for imports and exports.


People riding on a tour boat beside cargo ships at the Port of Los Angeles.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

As I scanned the shoreline, I spotted ships docked at the port as well as several barges stationed farther out, waiting to approach.

Before the pandemic, ships typically arrived and immediately began unloading their goods. But the logjam has forced ships to line up at sea for days. As of Friday, 29 barges were waiting for a berth.

This bottleneck has consequences beyond the economy. The ships are pumping out pollutants as they idle, clogging the air with smoke. Plus, one of their anchors may have caused the recent oil spill off the Orange County coast.

The new expansion of hours at the L.A. port is aimed at getting these cargo ships in and out faster. The move will probably help reduce congestion, but it’s no silver bullet.

Americans’ relentless purchasing has created shortages at the factory level, restricting what products can even be made and shipped. Coronavirus surges worldwide have closed manufacturing plants and limited the number of workers who usually toil along different parts of the supply chain.

In L.A., even if barges are unloaded more quickly onto the docks because of round-the-clock operations, there aren’t enough truck drivers and available warehouses to prevent bottlenecks from forming elsewhere.

After all, it’s a supply chain, and the port is just one link.

For more:

Why is the city of L.A. shaped so strangely? Because of the port.

Supply-chain snarls delay books.

Germany’s economy is particularly vulnerable to shortages.

If you read one story, make it this

In much of California, reminders abound that water is in short supply. But not in San Diego County.


Elizabeth Holmes, center, the former chief executive of Theranos, leaving court in San Jose last week.Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via Shutterstock

The rest of the news

Theranos: What you missed in the sixth week of the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial.

Clinton’s hospital stay: Former President Bill Clinton was released from a California hospital on Sunday after being admitted for a urological infection that developed into sepsis.

Threats and resignations: A Times examination of hundreds of health departments shows the nation may be less prepared for the next pandemic than it was for the current one.

Hospital strikes: Long-simmering disputes with unions over staffing at California hospitals are reaching crisis points, CalMatters reports.

Anti-vaccine walkout: Some California parents are planning to keep their children home from school today in protest of the state’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, KRON4 reports.


IATSE agreement: A Hollywood crew strike scheduled for today has been averted.

Santa Barbara fire: After burning for nearly a week, the Alisal fire has been 78 percent contained, The Associated Press reports.

Vaccination deadline: About 97 percent of teachers and administrators met the Los Angeles Unified School District deadline to be vaccinated against Covid-19, The Los Angeles Times reports.


A threat to ancient trees: Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks have some of the highest ozone levels in the nation, thanks to smog that blows in other areas, Wired reports.


The Giants: San Francisco had a 109-win season dissolve at the hands of a bitter rival, but they still view their future as bright.

Lake Tahoe: The lake’s water supply is so low that it is no longer flowing into the Truckee River, keeping kokanee salmon from spawning in a major tributary, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Credit…Gentl and Hyers for The New York Times

What we’re eating

Three ways to roast squash.


Credit…Eric Grigorian for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Melissa Roghani, who recommends the Huntington Library:

“A beautiful estate with a museum containing “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” historical documents, and gorgeous Japanese, Chinese, Cactus, Rose, and Shakespeare gardens. Multiple restaurants and gift shop are also included. Much research is conducted there and many lectures are provided to the public on-site and online.

It’s my happy place.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What we’re recommending

I’m a tad late to the party, but HBO’s “White Lotus” is incredible.

Tell us

I’m headed to San Diego soon to do some reporting. What should I write about?

Email me suggestions at

And before you go, some good news

The Marin Independent Journal recently asked its readers for six-word stories about endings.

As you might expect during a society-disrupting pandemic, many of the submissions were tales of woe, of lives and friendships lost.

Yet there were also some of hope:

“Marriage ended long ago; I began.” — Penny Crow, Mill Valley

“Accounting career ended. Grandparent role started.” — Pat Hager, Mill Valley

“Quit the phone games, regained life.” — Janice Kohnhorst, San Rafael

“Met, married another. Met again, married.” — Maria Hilakos Hanke, Ignacio

Thanks for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Classic arcade game where you have to avoid colliding with the wall (5 letters).

Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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