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Council Majority Shifts, Blocks Mayor's Move To Gain Retroactive Power To Name Possible Pivotal Redevelopment Agency Boardmember
(July 23, 2003) -- In a reversal that left Mayor Beverly O'Neill stunned, sent her allies Vice Mayor Frank Colonna and Councilman Dennis Carroll into strategic retreat and left 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson isolated, the City Council voted 8-1 at its July 22 meeting to block a Mayoral-sought change in city law that would have given her retroactive power to fill a Redevelopment Agency Board seat with an appointment that could prove pivotal in a high stakes city management desired merger of Redevelopment Project areas.
The Council voted 8-1 (Richardson dissenting) a substitute motion by Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga that deleted language that would have given the Mayor retroactive power to name the possible pivotal RDA Boardmember. The result now effectively requires the Mayor to do what current city law requires her to do for now: choose an appointee for the Redevelopment Agency Board from among the names sent to her by the Central Project Area Committee. The Central PAC previously voted to nominate Don Darnauer and Alan Burks. The ordinance change approved by the Council requires that PACs send the Mayor four prospective appointees in the future.
The Council shift on a usually routine second reading of the ordinance came just days after the election of Lewis Lester as vice chair of the Central Redevelopment Project Area committee. As previously reported by LBReport.com, Mr. Lester has publicly vowed to lead a high visibility campaign to stop the merger...and made two high visibility moves on July 21 (details below) just one day before the Council vote.
Councilwoman Richardson, who last year publicly suggested a merger of Redevelopment Project Areas, didn't mention Mr. Lester by name, but said:
Councilwoman Richardson: Over the last month and several meetings that we've had, it has become very evident to me that there are multiple questions arising regarding the central PAC's redevelopment election process. Given that, I would like to make the following two motions...The first motion would be to lay over [the proposed ordinance with the retroactivity provision] until August 19...[and] the second motion would be to conduct a second central PAC RDA Board election and that prior to that election, both the RDA, staff and the city attorney would have an opportunity to review with CPAC the appropriate procedures for the RDA PAC elections. My whole concern in this entire discussion is that the process that took place with the election itself.
...I'd like to say that prior to that election, all pending legal reviews regarding candidate qualifications would also be resolved, and so that that way we can ensure that the final names that come to this Council we won't have to go back and forth...
Councilwoman Richardson made the first motion and indicated her second motion would be tied to the first. Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga was incensed:
Councilwoman Reyes-Uranga: This is crazy. I don't see what this has to do with item 32 [the ordinance with retroactivity]. Are you saying that the CPAC did something illegal? Are you putting forth the innuendo that there was something illegal or improper done at CPAC, because I have not had anything, any evidence, or anything come to my attention that says that.
...To be honest with you, what it looks like is that it's not about the process but it's about the results. Well we can't change the results. This is a community organization that has done whatever they needed to do...
[The proposed ordinance] stands alone. We need to either vote it up or vote it down. Bringing all this other garbage into it I think is insulting...and that because you don't like the results, you're putting forth innuendo that they did something illegal, that they did something that was not proper...
And I don't know anything about a pending legal question. Is there something you're not telling us, City Attorney?
Assistant City Attorney Heather Mahood: Madam Mayor, members of the City Council. We have received a letter that questions the qualifications of Mr. Alan Burks for membership on the PAC, not for membership on the Redevelopment Agency Board.
Councilwoman Reyes-Uranga: Well that has nothing to do with [the proposed ordinance]...[The proposed ordinance] stands alone and all this other stuff is a bunch of B.S. that we're clouding the issue with and I think it's personally insulting...Vote it up or down. Extending it three weeks? Why? So we can cause more pain and division in the community? That to me is wrong.
Councilmembers Dan Baker and Bonnie Lowenthal then announced they had reconsidered their positions on the retroactivity provision...delivering the five votes necessary with Councilmembers Val Lerch, Rob Webb and Tonia Reyes-Uranga to block the Mayor's desired amendment.
This suddenly shifted the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Councilmembers Carroll and Richardson to the losing end of the coming vote. The Mayor continued to insist she was motivated for a desire to promote diversity, but Colonna and Carroll [who supported the retroactivity provision but previously kept their distance from the Mayor's diversity arguments] swiftly moved to change the terms of the debate, acknowledging that the controversy over the RDA Board appointment reflected controversy over the proposed merger.
Colonna and Carroll signaled a future fight if a PAC nominated RDA appointee didn't pass muster with them. Councilman Carroll noted -- accurately -- that the Council has the last word on who is and isn't confirmed to sit on the RDA Board.
Councilman Carroll said, "It's my view the PACs have too much authority over this process. It unduly restricts the discretion of both the Mayor and the Council..." and noted that at the July 1 meeting he had offered a substitute motion to give the Mayor the choice to appoint any person in the City of LB, not just PAC-selected nominees, for the RDA Board. (Carroll withdrew his July 1 substitute motion before it was voted on.) Carroll said he would not make a substitute motion for this approach at present "but to me that's where the Council should ultimately be heading with this."
Carroll reiterated that the Council retains ultimate authority over who sits on the RDA Board "and if we can't find between the two nominees the Mayor gives us if this ordinance is passed tonight,...we will then go back and sort of have to reinvent this process..."
Councilman Carroll asked Assistant City Attorney what would happen if the Council rejected the two nominees forwarded by the Mayor. Ms. Mahood said, "In that event, we would go back to the PACs and ask for brand new names...presently as the ordinance stands, two more names, at least two more names..."
Vice Mayor Colonna was equally blunt, indicating that with nearly $100 million at stake, he intends to use his Council vote on the RDA Board appointment to do what he feels is best for the entire city.
Vice Mayor Colonna: Myself for one, who is not as closely involved as all the others but I will tell you this is my city, just as much as it is everyone else that has an interest in what's going on here. And I'm very much concerned because hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake here, so this is no small game to be played. It's very clear to me, and I will go on record, that if there isn't what I feel to be the right thing accomplished through this entire process, I plan to make a very strong statement as to how this is brought forward when this item comes again in terms of the nominations, because I really support and maintain the integrity and the position of the Mayor to have the desire of what the Mayor would like to see, not creating or being forced into a situation that continues to move in a direction where I think some members want it to go just because it's a matter of technicality, and I think it's got to go beyond that...
I am very clear in my statement as to what my discussions will be when those PAC members come forward here, that hopefully the process will regain what I would consider to be a flawed integrity as to how it has been conducted, and I'm very much concerned about that. As I indicated, there is contrary to what's being discussed, I really feel that...this is a Central PAC representative and yet the west and north PAC are taking a very very interesting position in terms of the membership of the central PAC...
My concern is about what's the best for what's going to happen to our city as whole and that's what is important to me as a third district Councilmember, and so I want to try to do the right thing, but I will not be drawn into a corner and be forced to do something that I think is against the best interest of our entire city.
A few years ago, the Council amended city law to require the Mayor to appoint (subject to Council confirmation) a minimum number of PAC-nominated persons to the Redevelopment Agency Board. The RDA appointment rule, which doesn't apply to any other city board of commissions, reflects the fact that RDA Boardmembers get powers that members of other city boards and commissions don't have: eminent domain.
Once it became clear there were five Council votes to block her desired retroactivity provision, Mayor O'Neill said, "I thought maybe this would not be a long discussion this evening, which ever way it went. I was very optimistic in this and I'm certainly wrong." The Mayor asked to take a break. After roughly six minutes, the Council returned...and nothing changed.
The Council shift came just five days after the July 17 election of Lewis Lester (right, in July 17 photo) -- an avowed opponent of the proposed merger -- as Vice Chair of the Central Project Area Committee. As previously reported by LBReport.com, Mr. Lester said after his election that he would lead a campaign to stop the merger.
On Monday July 21, a display ad by Citizens Against the Redevelopment Merger (a group formed by Mr. Lester) appeared in the LB Business Journal, targeting Councilwoman Richardson and charging the merger would "doom efforts to revitalize Long Beach neighborhoods."
Simultaneously, Mr. Lester filed a formal written request with the City Attorney's office, asking the City Attorney or Council to "conduct an investigation and make a finding with regard to the validity of the procedures and results surrounding the election of Alan Burks" as the Central PAC's new chair.
Mr. Lester came within two votes of Mr. Burks in the election of Central PAC's chair and questioned in his letter whether Mr. Burks owned residential property in which he resided within the Central PAC area. Reached for comment by LBReport.com Mr. Burks said he does...and said the issue had been previously raised and disposed of in the early 1990s when Mr. Burks was previously elected and served a term as Central PAC chair. Mr. Burks said that at the time, the City Attorney's office deemed his qualifications sufficient.
Mr. Lester's written request, now pending, effectively requires the City Attorney to issue a formal ruling on the matter. When it does, LBReport.com will report it.
When the public weighed in, Central PAC member Faith Palermo said, "Mayor O'Neill, you cannot have absolute power over everything." The Mayor (who realized she was about to lose a vote) quipped, "I wish I had any." Ms. Palermo continued: "You have enough power, Mayor O'Neill, and that's why PACs and committees from citizens are put there..."
And Mr. Lester came to the podium, literally in Councilwoman Richardson's face, and went further:
This conversation is very bothersome in a number of respects because in my way of thinking you shouldn't be voting on this motion of amending an ordinance at all. You should be voting on whether or not to censure Councilwoman Richardson. This proposal and all this angling over redevelopment and merger has been the most divisive issue in our communities, as she says, in sixty years.
The Council shift may have been foreshadowed at the July 17 meeting of the Central Project Area Committee (PAC)...when the PAC deferred action on providing the Mayor with additional nominees names for the RDA Board. At the time, outgoing PAC chair Andy Kincaid noted the PAC didn't have to act on July 17...and quipped that there was always a chance "sanity" might return at the Council's July 22 meeting (that might not require additional names.)
The Council's July 22 vote means the Central PAC is not legally required to submit any additional names to the Mayor now (but will be, with other PACs, in four years).
Following the Council vote, Mayor O'Neill announced that she intends to send the PAC a letter to request (though not require) the PAC to provide her with additional nominating names. "As we have had all of this discussion for probably a month and half, and...from now on, there will be four names from each PAC [submitted to me for possible appointment], I am going to politely request the Central PAC [provide] more than two names. They don't have to comply, but I am going to ask them for three to four names when I write them the letter."
As noted above, names chosen by the Mayor from the PAC's prospective nominees must be approved by a majority vote of the City Council to gain a position on the RDA Board.
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