|(Jan. 25, 2017, updated 10:24 a.m. from 8:25 a.m. and Jan. 24 front page summary) -- In a four-hour City Council item that drew an estimated 500+ residents to City Hall in opposition, significantly outnumbering JetBlue executives, employees and downtown and some LB business interests in support, the City Council voted 8-1 (Andrews dissenting) on Jan. 24 to "receive and file" (take no further action at this time) a city management agendized item that sought Council approval to proceed with actions prerequisite to allowing a federal customs facility at LB Airport that would have allowed international passenger and/or cargo operations and effectively changed the city's domestic serving facility to an international airport.
The action came on a motion by Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, seconded by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price. Councilwoman Mungo had previously made the motions on July 7 2015 to authorize a "feasibility study" on a customs facility and on December 7, 2016 to schedule the issue for a Jan. 24 decisional vote, on both occasions over the objections of three other Councilmembers (Austin, Uranga and Supernaw.)
Hundreds of residents, organized through multiple online methods as well as old-school fliers and yard signs by Neighborhoods First (led by Joe Sopo) supported by LBHUSH2 (led by retired Councilwoman Rae Gabelich), descended on City Hall for the Council meeting. The lion's share of residents in opposition weren't traditional civic activists; many were newcomers to Long Beach and relatively new homebuyers; some in the audience took time off work to attend. Public speakers from overflow areas had to be let-in in groups as space permitted.
Speakers in support included Randy Gordon of the LB Area Chamber of Commerce and Craig Kojian of the Downtown LB Alliance and JetBlue officials and a number of its employees.
[Scroll down for further.]
The decisional item (the only one on agenda apart from a consent calendar) opened with a roughly 20 minute city staff/Airport management presentation (began at 5:22 p.m.) Mayor Garcia (who throughout the process didn't take a public position on the issue but said he wanted a transparent process with all sides heard) gave the floor to Councilwoman Mungo, who then asked Airport management a series of questions related to economic matters and costs/benefits of the facility...and then made the motion to "receive and file" (take no further action at this time) on the item.
Councilwoman Mungo's motion caught the capacity crowd in the Council Chamber off guard, some not believing what they'd just heard, and once it had sunk in, set off cheering audible from overflow areas outside the Council Chamber. Councilwoman Price followed by seconding Councilwoman Mungo's motion, praising Mungo for her motion and for what Price said had been thoughtful, if not always publicly clear, reasoning throughout a bruising, polarizing nearly two-year public proceeding.
Public testimony followed for over two and a half hours, with many speakers praising Councilmembers Mungo and Price for their action, several calling it courageous. Retired Councilwoman Gabelich explicitly thanked Councilmembers Mungo and Price for their motion and second, thanked Councilmembers Austin, Uranga and Supernaw for "keeping this in the light" and added that she loves JetBlue as a domestic carrier, a viewpoint stated by several speakers opposed to customs facility. Ms. Gabelich ended by saying "thank you" on behalf of LBHUSH2 and Neighborhoods First...and added that [after retiring from the Council in mid-2012 under term limits] she hopes she can begin her retirement now.
At the speakers' podium, JetBlue Sr VP/Associate Gen'l Counsel Rob Land said the "feasibility study" speaks for itself, said the customs facility cost to the city would be zero, contended it would bring economic benefits...and said that if the Council approved the customs facility, JetBlue wouldn't cut or eliminate any domestic routes ("every market we serve we'll continue to serve.") Mr. Land didn't respond explicitly to the Mungo-Price motion, but in a cryptic reference said that JetBlue "has been a strong corporate citizen, up till now, working in the community, active in the community."
[Update] In a Jan. 25 statement emailed to LBREPORT.com, Mr. Land stated, "We are profoundly disappointed that after years of delay and a city-mandated study validating the safety, security and economic positive nature of the project, that the City Council would reject the development of a Federal Inspection Station at Long Beach Airport. JetBlue will evaluate its future plans for Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area and California." [end update]
JetBlue's Manager of Airport Operations, Rob Mitchell, also testified, reiterating Mr. Land's points, and said JetBlue believes the customs facility is in the interest of its customers and the community.
Joe Sopo of Neighborhoods First commended JetBlue as a domestic carrier, but commented that the evening's result might be different if the carrier hadn't continued to transgress late-night operating hours in the city's Airport ordinance (for which JetBlue has agreed to a continuing consent agreement with the LB City Prosecutor's office, in which JetBlue pays sums larger than ordinance-prescribed fines to LB's Public Library Foundation for late night flights (unscheduled, mainly attributed to weather.)
Council comments followed, including a lengthy statement read by Councilwoman Price, explaining her reasoning in terms one might expect from a judge's court opinion. Councilwoman Price said she had weighed real-world resident impacts and fears, and the concerns of three of her Council colleagues, against what she vi wed as relatively few predicted future benefits. Price added that she was taking this position although most of her district isn't directly Airport impacted, saying she had taken to heart residents' pleas and the concerns of three of her Council colleagues (Austin, Uranga, Supernaw) who consistently opposed international operations.
Councilman Al Austin (whom Gabelich endorsed as her successor in 2012 but then supported an opponent in 2016) thanked Ms. Gabelich for her consistent advocacy for neighborhoods on the Airport issue. Councilman Uranga thanking his colleagues for putting "residents and communities first" and in a written statement after the vote said having a customs facility "just did not add up, economically. Not pursuing an FIS facility offers other opportunities to strengthen the Airport and continue to make it our local economic engine."
At 9:23 p.m., the vote was 8-1 (Andrews dissenting, saying he supported JetBlue as a jobs creator.)
Immediately following the Council meeting, Councilwoman Mungo sent a mass emailing of her periodic "Neighborly News" that led with the following statement.
[Councilwoman Mungo "Neighborly News" statement] I was elected by and for neighbors to serve our community's best interest. As one of nine policy makers in the City, I strive to do what I believe is right, prudent and fiscally sound. Tonight's vote with respect to the establishment or construction of a Federal Inspection Service (FIS) facility at the Long Beach Airport (LGB) is one that has weighed heavily on my heart, and I know you feel the same way as that came through in the hundreds of calls, emails and correspondence I received.
The customs facility was publicly requested by JetBlue (LB Airport's largest tenant) in Feb. 2015, but internal Airport documents (obtained and published in early 2014 by LBREPORT.com) showed that now-former Airport management had worked closely with JetBlue representatives throughout 2013 to advance the process without publicly voted Council authority or public discussion. Now-former Airport management informed Councilmembers by memos in August 2013 and November 2013 of what was taking place -- and JetBlue cc'd now-former 5th district Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske in a letter to LGB's Director explicitly describing the company's goal -- but no Councilmembers moved to stop Airport staff's actions or pressed for a Council vote that would have disclosed what was taking place to the public entering the 2014 election cycle (in which Garcia and Schipske were both running for Mayor.)
The 2014 election cycle brought Councilmembers Mungo, Price, Gonzalez, Uranga and Richardson to office, and with a new Council majority in place (including Garcia as non-voting Mayor), JetBlue formally made its request for a customs facility in Feb. 2015. The result was like cold water hitting a hot pan, sparking grassroots opposition from residents concerned over more flights and increased risks to LB's Airport ordinance that protects Long Beach from unlimited flights at all hours at all noise levels on all runways.
Long Beach Airport is at the city's center, initially a modest airfield that former city officials expanded to suit the desires of the now-former Douglas Aircraft plant. Long Beach, L.A. County's second largest city, currently bears regional transportation burdens that have brought some Long Beach neighborhoods high levels of toxic air contaminants adjacent to the nation's largest port complex (LB and L.A.) encircled by four freeways carrying diesel cargo trucks and sliced by two cargo carrying rail lines, with Airport operations producing lead and jet fuel fallout over homes and schools
JetBlue became the LB Airport's largest tenant, attracted by city officials, knowing that LGB was a domestic-serving facility. The City, at JetBlue's urging, built a new, expanded Airport terminal facility. In compliance with its Airport ordinance -- considered among the most progressive nationally for allowing increased flights as collective noise decreases with improved technology -- the City has allowed additional flights now numbering 50 per day for large commercial aircraft plus unlimited general aviation activities.
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