Council Votes 8-1 To Ask Feds For Initial Study To See If There's Fed'l Interest In Studying Reconfiguration of LB Breakwater
(July 6, 2005) -- Rebuffing rare Council advocacy by LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, LB Councilmembers voted 8-1 (Colonna dissenting) to ask federal authorities to conduct a reconnaissance (initial) study to determine if there's a federal interest in studying reconfiguration of the LB breakwater.
The item, brought forward by Councilmembers Dan Baker, Patrick O'Donnell and Tonia Reyes Uranga, prompted roughly eighty minutes of Council and public discussion at the July 5th Council meeting.
Proponents argued it was reasonable to explore whether reconfiguring the breakwater might restore wave action, improve water quality...and bring additional tourists and revenue to LB without endangering property.
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Councilman Baker: I think it's important that we take this step and once and for all answer the questions of what the impacts would be if there was a reconfiguration, what the costs would be if we wanted to move in that direction, and just get some very basic answers so that members of our community know once and for all what the risks are, and what the potential benefits are, and what the costs are.
Councilman O'Donnell: We're responding to many residents' concerns about water quality and the desire to return tourism to the beach area...I go down to some of our beaches on days and there aren't a lot of people there; I go to other beaches, there are a lot of people. Why is that? Well very clearly, one of the reasons is because we lack wave activity. What we're not doing, we're not, again, taking down the breakwater; we're not threatening commerce at the Port; and we're not going to threaten beachfront property. We're just asking whether or not the federal government desires to study the alteration of the breakwater...I want to reemphasize: I won't support any action that threatens the safety of Long Beach, the homes or the people on the Peninsula or commerce at the Port...
Opponents countered that LB beaches are well attended now and scored well in recent water quality rankings...and the breakwater protects property owners, LB's offshore oil islands...and the Port of LB.
In a polite but firm dissent, 3d district Councilman Frank Colonna said "my friends at Surfrider, you know, we can respectfully disagree here. I think that they have come a long way [from] their first notion...to sink the breakwater. But I think even reconfiguring the breakwater could bring some significant risk if not enormous property damage unwittingly. And as I mentioned at numerous meetings regarding this item, that I was not going to turn our neighborhoods and our residential beachside community areas into a laboratory that was going to be looked upon to see what could work or what couldn't work."
Councilman Colonna displayed photographs of destructive waves in the period before the breakwater was built. He said LB's beaches are well attended, water quality is good...and pursuing the federal study ducked local responsibility and unlikely to be effective.
Councilman Colonna: Contrary to what some of the popular belief is in our area, that low wave impacting beaches throughout the world are very popular beaches...The Mediterranean area is a prime example of that, and just in my district alone, Mother's Beach, Alamitos Bay, Colorado Lagoon, are constantly visited by hundreds if not thousands of people and actually we have a flourishing community of beachgoers and sailors that are using the waterfront that is the open ocean side with kite sailing and wind surfing and all sorts of other sports...
What the notion is here that...if we wash our hands of this and put it in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers maybe they'll come up with something that will really kind of rescue us from having to understand that we have, as leaders here, to make the right decision, and the right decision actually is for the protection of our neighborhoods, and our waterfront, and the commerce and activity that we've all supported in terms of building a flourishing harbor not to mention the offshore oil operations...
I wanted to just again reiterate that I respectfully disagree with my Council colleagues on this particular subject and I really feel that it's our responsibility as leaders to make the decision. I don't really have the confidence in throwing the football to the Army Corps of Engineers. I really think that they've been in the process, and it's historically known, they build things. They don't bring them down.
Mayor Beverly O'Neill -- who rarely takes a position during Council items -- spent over ten minutes arguing that reconfiguring the breakwater would cost sizable sums of money and would ultimately prove futile. She cited discussions she had in October 2001 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when Councilman Baker first brought the item to the Council. At that time, the feds cited homeland security as among the reasons for maintaining the breakwater, built by the federal government in the 1940s to assure calm anchorage for the Pacific Naval Fleet, no longer based in LB.
The Capitol Hill office of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R., HB-LB-PV), whose district includes the Port of LB, confirmed via a press aide a report in the Press-Telegram that quotes the Congressman as saying federal funding for a breakwater study will be a low priority...coming after other issues including air pollution and keeping shipping channels open.
Public speakers at the Council meeting included Peninsula (bayfront) resident Agnes Mulhearn, an attorney, who said:
Ms. Mulhearn: The city's request for such a study would not be a neutral matter. The line has been "so what, it's just a study." We'll be asking for $100,000 from the federal government. That's a big step. Any such request will be perceived in Washington, D.C. as an expression of the city's desire to modify the breakwater...
The fifth amendment to the federal constitution provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. Federal and California courts have made clear that a physical invasion of private property for public use attributable to governmental action is a taking under the fifth amendment requiring compensation for the loss to the property owner. Invasion by water is a physical taking...
The proponents of this request ask for nothing less than our city ask its waterfront property owners to undergo an experiment with our homes and commercial properties...Marine engineering, however, is both science and art. Even the most sophisticated testing of a proposal is no guarantee that changes to the breakwater will not pose an increased threat of saltwater invasion of homes.
If flooding were to occur, I imagine the City of Long Beach, which would have been the sponsor for the breakwater modification request, would be a target of lawsuits by property owners whose homes and other properties had been taken.
Neither I nor anyone I know want taxpayer funds spent in the defense and possible payment of sizable sums to those whose property is taken. Yet when asked about potential harm to people's homes, proponents of the modification have been heard to answer, "Well, those homes never should have been built there in the first place."
I hope you share my astonishment at the mean spiritedness of such a statement...Homes have been in place for many, many years behind the breakwater as it is currently configured. I am no more willing to offer my home as a potential sacrifice to bigger surf than I imagine the proponents would be willing to offer their homes for a "study" of a crosstown freeway on their doorstep...Nor do I imagine that a proponent of this study who lives under the takeoff or landing pattern of Long Beach Airport would offer his or her home for a federal "study" of an increase of flights at the airport.
3d district Council candidate Charles Legeman (who noted he was not a Peninsula resident) argued that the breakwater makes LB's beaches more attractive by eliminating potentially treacherous surf.
Mr. Legeman: I ask..that this matter be referred to the city manager so a study could be done to see what kind of financial impact it would have on our marinas, the proposed rebuild of the marinas, the Belmont Pier renovation and any additional expense we'd have to have for lifeguards and also beach expense to build the berms in the winter months to protect the houses...I think we have a wonderful resource as it is now that's available to all the residents of all the districts that can come down to a safe, quiet water...I think if the breakwater was modified, it would provide a not-so-inviting environment to all the residents of the city with riptides and high surf..."
Joe Geever, southern California regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said a federal study would have nationwide benefits.
Mr. Geever: We'll learn a lot about coastal and near-shore processes and impediments that manmade hard structures in the near shore create. And so this goes beyond just Long Beach. Even if at the end of this study you decide not to do anything about the breakwater, there will be inherent value in the study, and so we're strongly in support of this and we'll work along with the Army Corps of Engineers, contributing in-kind services and anything we can to this study because we see the value of science...
Bob Barnett, part of the LB Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said "the City of Huntington Beach has, their recent Convention Center studies [show] they have received a direct windfall of over $10 million a year from surfing related activities. This year at the U.S. Surfing Championships they expect to make over $4 million in a week from surfing. We put on swim meets here and lose $2 million. Something's wrong with the ocean here."
Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Rae Gabelich commented on a statement by a public speaker that she felt had been directed toward her. "I ran on Neighborhoods First, that that's my priority. Whether it be those families that live underneath the Long Beach Airport who have demanded health risk assessment and an adequate environmental impact report so that they know what they're living with. Or it be the Port and 710 freeway residents that are impacted by growth of our Port. Or it's the beachfront neighborhoods. You deserve the same representation but you can't just guess at it, so we do the study, we get the facts, and we move forward from there."
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