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Four Councilmembers Leave (One Texts/Types) During Public's Sworn Hearing Appeal Testimony On Toxic Contaminated Soil From City Owned Property


(Nov. 19, 2010, 4:20 p.m., updated Nov/ 19, 8:07 p.m. and Nov. 22, 3:40 p.m.) -- During an appeal in which LB residents/taxpayers presented sworn testimony -- that city staff didn't dispute as to the seriousness and risks that need to be dealt with properly from toxic contaminated soil to be unearthed and transported from city owned property -- four Long Beach City Councilmembers left the City Council Chamber, including two for extended periods, during appellants' sworn testimony.

One of the four Councilmembers was also observed visibly texting or typing during the appellants' presentation of testimony.

At the end of the Nov. 16 hearing, all of them (and four other Councilmembers) would vote to overrule the appellants' appeal and accept city staff's position on the matter.

To view LBReport.com's video portion of this story, click here.

LBReport.com attended the Nov. 16 hearing with a video camera and recorded reverse angle video -- not shown on the City Hall Council webcast -- to document what LB Councilmembers did while LB taxpayers presented their testimony. A formal hearing of this nature differs from other Council items. In such a hearing, the Council acts basically as a judge/fact finder, taking testimony from both sides (in this case, city staff and appellants) as well as public testimony pro and con, and then is supposed to render a decision based on the evidence presented.

Eight of LB's nine Councilmembers voted on the item. (Councilwoman Rae Gabelich was absent for the entire item as required by state law since she has a property interest in the affected area).

Councilmembers Gary DeLong, Patrick O'Donnell, Gerrie Schipske and Steve Neal were present throughout the hearing item.

Regarding the other Councilmembers hearing the case:

  • 6th district Councilman Dee Andrews was present during city staff's presentaton but left during Ms. Aley's testimony. Councilman Andrews' absence continued for roughly 38 minutes. During this period, he was absent for all of the testimony of a second appellant and also missed some non-appellant (pro and con) public testimony..

  • Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal also left during lead appellant Kerie Aley's testimony. Vice Mayor Lowenthal's absence continued for roughly 37 minutes. During this period, she was absent for all of the testimony of a second appellant and also missed some non-appellant (pro and con) public testimony.

  • 7th district Councilman James Johnson left the Council Chamber for a little over six minutes

  • 1st district Councilman Robert Garcia left the Council Chamber for about four and a half minutes. Councilman Garcia is visible on the video texting or typing as the lead appellant, Kerrie Aley, begins her testimony. During other portions of the hearing item, Councilman Garcia appeared to be viewing a laptop type computer or some other type of digital display.

LBReport.com sought comment on November 17 from Councilmember Dee Andrews and Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal in emails directed to their Chiefs of Staff.

[Nov. 22, 3 p.m. update] Seeing Councilman Dee Andrews at a Nov. 22 public event, we asked about his over half hour absence from the Council Chamber. Councilman Andrews replied that he was in the Council lounge but was listening to the hearing; he said someone had ordered pizza it was his first opportunity to have something to eat, noting that the Council began its open Council meeting immediately after a closed session. [end Nov. 22 update]

On November 18, Broc Coward, Chief of Staff to Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal emailed that she left the room with a splitting migraine that the lights make worse, but heard every word of testimony while resting in the council lounge.

Shortly after 3 p.m. Friday (Nov. 19), we emailed Councilman Robert Garcia, said we'd noticed that he was texting or typing during the City Councilís Nov. 16 hearing and asked him what he'd like us to tell our readers about this. [Nov. 19 8:07 p.m. update Nov. 19] Councilman Garcia emailed us: "I may have sent a couple texts for probably no longer than 1 or two minutes total. It is common for me to send messages to my staff, or respond to them during a council meeting. They provide us with information and vice versa." (His email added that he'd left the Council Chamber to use the restroom; we didn't ask him about that because his absence was short (the shortest of all four Councilmembers)].

We also didn't query Councilman Johnson about his roughly six minute disappearance; we didn't see him texting or typing while he was in the Council Chamber.

The Council ultimately voted 8-0 (Gabelich absent/legally required recusal) to deny the appellants' appeal and sustain city management's planned action (approving an addendum to a previously certified EIR).

In her sworn testimony, Ms. Aley discussed the extent of the toxic contaminated soil and how it is supposed to be handled. In LBReport.com's next segment, we'll let readers hear her testimony in full on demand, as well as the response of city staff.

That's coming in the next segment of this Special Report...on LBReport.com.



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