"Chicago By The Sea"
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(May 25, 2005) -- On May 24, 2005, LB residents witnessed what we consider a Chicago-style machine maneuver executed by Mayor O'Neill, enabled by ill-advised assistance from LB's City Manager and City Attorney.
We consider what took place an affront to open government that goes beyond the underlying issue. For two years, LB has ensured willful Council inaction on an issue that will affect residents and taxpayers citywide: a proposal to put 80+ million gallons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in the Port of LB roughly two miles from downtown LB.
That's quite a proposal for a city now cutting downtown fire services that can't afford enough first responders to handle 4th of July fireworks.
Much to their credit, the City Manager and City Attorney jointly agendized an item calling for Council policy direction on the subject.
However, at least one Councilmember objected strenuously to discussing the matter on May 24 and wanted it delayed.
What should have happened is that the Councilmember should have been required to make a motion to hold the matter over, get a second (if there was one) and win a Council vote on the delay after public input.
Instead, here is how the Mayor of CA's fifth largest city, the incoming president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said government should work:
Mayor O'Neill: I couldn't make this announcement earlier because it wasn't determined exactly what the procedure was going to be but I want to tell you about the change in the agenda...Number thrity [the LNG item] and many of you have signs for thirty will be withdrawn from this evening and agendized for the 21st of June. [audible audience consternation]
There were too many questions, there were too many questions that the Council had, the people that wanted to have some decisions this evening, we could not come to without staying here for three nights answering questions and they have to find out some things on their own...
Consider the Mayor's breathtaking assertions:
- "It was determined exactly what the procedure was going to be?" Who determined it? When? With how many Councilmembers present? With what vote?
- The action "will be agendized for the 21st of June." Who decided this? When? Where? With how many Councilmembers present? With what vote?
- "There were too many questions" that would require "staying here for three nights" and they have to find out things "on their own." If the Council had questions, they should have asked them and received answers before their now-notorious 87-second agenda item authorizing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the LNG applicant (details below). We don't think having Councilmembers "find out some things on their own" is an adequate replacement for public discussion and testimony. We hope the Mayor will let us know from whom she so quickly acquired her knowledge about LNG.
In May 2003, LB's Mayor had already concluded -- without public input or safety or anti-terrorism or fiscal cost analyses -- that a Memorandum of Understanding with the LNG project applicant was smart. "This is a good agreement," she declared publicly, the only words spoken by any LB elected official during the 87 second Council item.
(The MOU, which didn't commit to the project, was driven by the prospect of future pipeline fees and possible cheaper natural gas costs for LB's natural gas utility, a potential revenue stream to help bail out deficits from previous Council overspending.)
In June 2003, again without the benefit of substantive public hearings, Mayor O'Neill wrote U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging her to speed the project with federal authorities. After LB activist Bry Myown uncovered that letter using the state's freedom of information law and LBReport.com published it, some rankled Councilmembers expressed concern that the Mayor would presume to state LB LNG policy before the Council had set that policy.
The Mayor responded by acknowledging the obvious: yes, the Council is the body that sets policy.
And since then, the Council has not set Council policy on LNG.
On May 13, 2004, Councilmembers Lowenthal and Baker jointly agendized an item with the following accompanying memorandum:
In light of the ongoing concerns expressed by the public regarding the approval processes related to the Sound Energy Solutions’ LNG project, it is our opinion that any existing negotiations between the city and SES should be terminated, and that any deal points that may have been agreed to up to this point should be vacated.
We hope that our colleagues will support us in this opinion, and direct the City
Prior to the meeting, Lowenthal and Baker abruptly withdrew their item.
Asked at the time what happened, Councilman Baker's chief of staff, Mark Taylor, told LBReport.com that multiple Councilmembers had expressed concerns about a lengthy May 18 agenda with numerous time-consuming issues. Councilwoman Lowenthal's chief of staff, Niki Tennant, said "Unfortunately, when we submit agenda items for agendizing, we often do not know the makeup of the upcoming agenda. We inadvertently chose a very busy agenda upon which to post this item. We've conceded to our colleagues' request that this item not be discussed, due to a very heavy and time-consuming agenda for May 18th."
The May 2004 item never returned.
A year later on May 24, 2005, the Council chamber was filled with speakers, many of whom were opposed to the LNG project. We're told they were people who've not previously been heard, who don't usually take part in such meetings. As Ms. Myown put it, by preventing their opportunity to be heard, the Mayor and Council spat in their faces.
We're told that the project applicant was also present. The firm was apparently prepared to speak to the issue being considered. We presume they were as stunned by what took place as we were.
Censorship always has two sides. It prevents speakers from conveying information AND it prevents listeners from receiving information. .
The public remains in the dark over which Councilmembers backed the delay; there was no vote. The public also doesn't know who decreed that the LNG item would be delayed until June 21; there was no public discussion.
Although the City Manager and City Attorney are the ones who actually removed the LNG item they agendized, we will not let them fall on their swords for the Mayor. Messrs. Miller and Shannon deserve credit for agendizing the item...and they didn't remove it because they wanted it delayed; they removed it because others wanted it delayed.
We want these maneuvers stopped. Elected officials hold their offices with the consent of the governed. That doesn't mean devising techniques to circumvent the governed.
We urge Councilmembers themselves to reagendize the Miller-Shannon item for the June 7 Council meeting. If the Mayor resists, Councilmembers should schedule a special meeting even sooner.
Every revolt requires a spark. We think that happened last night regarding LNG.
We recall when a certain 2002 City Council meeting, full of finagling, helped launch LBHUSH2.
We wonder how long it will take for signs to begin popping up in the Port-impacted 1st, 2d and 7th districts (similar to those in the Airport-impacted 4th and 8th districts) that say things like "Say NO to Port Expansion and LNG" and "Stop LB's Out of Control Port; Support An Elected Harbor Comm'n."
We sense this issue isn't over. We think it's just begun.
Contact us: mail@LBReport.com