Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal Mum As Public Speakers Note They Haven't (As Former Coastal Comm'n Member/Alternate) Signed Letter Backing Embattled Coastal Comm'n Exec Dir; Ass'yman O'Donnell Adds His Name To Supporters
|(Feb. 3, 2016) -- Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal offered no public response when two members of the public used both comment periods at the Feb. 2 City Council meeting to note that neither Garcia (as a former Coastal Commissioner) and Lowenthal (as a former Commission alternate) hadn't joined 35 other former Coastal Commission members -- in signing a letter supporting the Commission's embattled Executive Director who faces possible ouster on Feb. 10 allegedly [multiple press accounts] by some pro-development Coastal Commission members.
The letter has been signed by (among others) LB lawyer Mel Nutter (former Coastal Comm'n member and chair) and former Councilman (now Congressman) Alan Lowenthal (former Commission alternate.)
[Scroll down for further.]
Coastal protection advocates statewide consider the matter an emergency and over 70 statewide environmental/coastal advocacy groups have joined in supporting the current Executive Director, who has no vote or veto but but oversees Coastal Commission staff whose recommendations Coastal Commissioners frequently follow but can modify or reject. The CA Coastal Commission, a non-elected body with some members appointed by the Governor and others by state legislative leadership, has land use approval authority over proposed developments and modifications along the hundreds of miles of California's coastline.
Earlier in the day (Feb. 2), Long Beach area Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell issued a statement supporting the Executive Director. "As an Assemblymember representing a coastal district, I am proud to stand with my colleagues in support of our coastline and Dr. Charles Lester...For years, I have relied on proper enforcement of the Coastal Act to safeguard our environment and save the Los Cerritos wetlands for my children, students and community. I believe replacing Dr. Lester to make the Commission more open to the interests of lobbyists and developers would severely undermine its primary mission to protect our treasured coasts for future generations," Assemblyman O'Donnell stated in a release.
And the issue has continued to escalate...with the Coastal Commission (at least report) receiving roughly 11,000 emails on the matter.
Moments before veteran Long Beach coastal protection advocate Gordana Kajer came to the Long Beach City Council speakers podium on Feb. 2 (at about 1 hour, 7 minutes into the Council meeting), Mayor Garcia can be seen on video exiting the Council Chamber, leaving Vice Mayor Lowenthal to preside. [The Mayor receives a list of public speakers who've signed up to speak.]
During her testimony, Ms. Kajer stated in pertinent part: "More than thirty past Coastal Commissioners have indeed commented, and sadly, not including the two that are sitting here tonight at City Council [Garcia and Lowenthal]."
Garcia returned shortly thereafter and said nothing in response; Vice Mayor Lowenthal (presiding during Ms. Kajer's testimony) likewise offered no response.
Both Garcia and Lowenthal remained similarly mum after Anna Christensen, a member of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, used the comment period at the end of the Council meeting and explicitly urged the Council to pass a resolution [as the Council does on many subjects] supporting the Executive Director. "Both our Mayor and Vice Mayor that did not join other former Coastal Commissioners in this week's letter of support for [the Executive Director]," the speaker said, and added "I respectfully ask you in the short term to support [the Exec. Dir] including Mr. Uranga and Mr. Garcia and Ms. Lowenthal...Let's face facts. You know, the real layering and consolidation of power corrupts..."
At that point, as the speaker reached the three minute speakers' limit, Mayor Garcia said "time's up" and swiftly called for a motion to adjourn the Council meeting.
As a coastal city, Long Beach has much at stake...with a large coastal zone that some have long sought to develop further. In 1977, the City enacted low profile planned zoning in southeast Long Beach (SEADIP) while accepting dense development downtown. LB City Hall is currently in the process of updating/revising SEADIP (with some early indications by a City Hall hired consulting firm inviting more intense development) but such changes would ultimately require Coastal Commission approval.
Likewise silent at the Feb. 2 Council meeting was Councilman Roberto Uranga, who is among the Coastal Commission's current members who will vote on the issue on Feb. 10. He didn't exit the Council Chambe [and we're told appeared to be paying close attention to what the public speakers said.]
Some members of the public have separately told LBREPORT.com that Commissioner/Councilman Uranga has been inaccessible to them in efforts to speak to him about the Executive Director matter. A Coastal Commission Public Information Officer has told LBREPORT.com that Commissioner Uranga is free, but not required, to hear communications from members of the public pro or con on the publicly agendized item (which would become ex parte communications he'd have to publicly disclose.) However, neither he (nor any Coastal Commissioners) can legally discuss or disclose matters that came up during a closed Commission session on the Executive Director as a personnel matter.
Councilman Uranga was named to the Coastal Commission by the state Senate Rules Committee in March 2013 in a non-agendized proceeding from which the public and press were barred and no record disclosed [the Committee's long-time procedure on Coastal Commission appointees.] Uranga was appointed after Garcia -- appointed in 2013 when he was a Councilmember/Vice Mayor -- was forced to exit the Commission within 90 days of taking office as Mayor in mid-July 2014 under state law, since Garcia's eligibility as a Commissioner was based on his status as a voting Councilmember, which he lost in becoming LB's non-voting Mayor.
As LBREPORT.com was first (again) to report in October 2013, that Garcia's Mayoral campaign sought sums at a San Fernando Valley fundraiser at the home of CA Coastal Commission member Wendy Mitchell. The political event invitation told recipients that Garcia is "the pro-business candidate, and wants Long Beach to strengthen it's [sic] name, 'The International City,' by making it an economically booming, world-class city that businesses want to be a part of." [The fundraiser was privately organized and to our knowledge didn't use any state or public resources.]
Garcia's entry in 2013 onto the powerful state body was controversial:
(1) While a voting member of the LB City Council, Garcia was in the minority in voting to approve a proposed development at 2nd/PCH [Seaport Marina hotel site] that the Coastal Commission's LB office staff had urged City Hall in writing not to pursue as it considered the action procedurally defective under the Coastal Act. The development was separately opposed on its merits by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust (represented by LB attorney/former Coastal Commissioner Mel Nutter.]
In 2013, LBREPORT.com made a request under the CA Legislative Open Records Act to view materials that Garcia submitted to the Committee in pursuit of his Coastal Commission appointment; Committee staff declined to release any materials.
Following Garcia's 2014 election as Mayor (roughly 52% of the vote), efforts were made to try and change state law to let Garcia remain on the Coastal Commission. Garcia traveled to Sacramento for what his office said was a meeting with Governor Brown and mayors of CA's nine largest cities...and also scheduled meetings with outgoing pro Tem/Rules Committee chair Darrell Steinberg (D;, Sacramento) and incoming President pro Tem-elect Senator de León (D, Los Angeles) as well as Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D, San Diego). Garcia's office didn't disclose the subject matter of Garcia's discussions with the Dem legislative leadership but a few days after his Sacramento trip, some of Garcia's allies took action to "gut and amend" a bill (erasing text from one bill, dropping in new verbiage that avoids normal hearings) in a way helpful to Garcia.
On August 28, 2014. CapitolWeekly.net reported that Garcia's "allies in the state legislature were pushing what it called the "hastily amended bill" and said critics note that Garcia "has received campaign donations from lobbyists, land-use experts, developers and others. CapitolWeekly.com said state Senator Ricardo Lara (D., Long Beach/Huntington Park) is reportedly the "driver behind the bill." The bill drew press attention and then-Dem leadership declined to advance the bill, which failed passage, requiring Garcia to exit the Coastal Commission...and Uranga was named by the state Senate Rules Committee to fill the vacancy.
In 2015, a more open legislative effort succeeded (SB 798, an omnibus bill on many items that included verbiage applicable to all Mayors who lack voting power.) While the legislation was pending, Coastal Commissioner Uranga candidly acknowledged at the July 8, 2015 Coastal Commission meeting that he tried to appoint Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia as his voting Coastal Commission alternate his attempt to do so was in a "holding pattern" pending enactment of the legislation. "As a consequence of my being here [resulting from Mayor Garcia having to step down], I did nominate the Mayor to be my alternate, and there is a holding pattern on that until we see what results from [SB 798]," Commissioner Uranga stated. The Coastal Commission voted to support the legislation and it became law...but Commissioner Uranga has (thus far) not named anyone to serve as his Commission alternate.
Developing...and LBREPORT.com plans to carry live video of the Coastal Commission proceedings on our front page on Feb. 10 starting at 10 a.m.
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