|(Oct. 4, 2012) -- In an unusual development, the City Attorney's office has given permission to Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske to release information on certain actions that occurred during an Oct. 2 closed City Council session concerning the City's acquisition of the U.S. Army surplus Schroeder Hall (Willow/Grand) for an East Division police station.
The acquisition became a hot button issue when City Hall cited federal base realignment/closure process (BRAC) rules to acquire the property in a transaction that includes a legally binding agreement letting a privately run non-profit (Mental Health America of Los Angeles) use a location in a nearby industrial park on Burnett St. or if that site isn't available on the Schroeder Hall site itself to serve mentally ill homeless persons during daytime hours.
Homeless service site is boxed area at lower left on Burnett St., southwest of Schroeder Hall, behind Health Dept. Image source: City of LB staff report, Exhibit A. To view this document in pdf (enlargable) form, click here.
The City Attorney's action comes after Councilman Patrick O'Donnell issued a release yesterday (Oct. 3) stating that [O'Donnell release text] "[b]ehind-the-scenes efforts, which may have moved a mentally ill homeless facility away from eastside neighborhoods, have been halted due to a service provider’s unwillingness to move forward."
Councilman O'Donnell's release said the "City Council has been apprised that the discussions have been brought to a halt by the service provider, effectively ending efforts to place the facility elsewhere..." In his release, Councilman O'Donnell states, "I am very disappointed that efforts to move this facility away from people’s homes has not been successful. The service provider has changed their minds about protecting our community."
At midafternoon today (Oct. 4), Councilwoman Schipske issued a release stating that she had conferred with City Attorney Robert Shannon and "was told that she is free to disclose the action that the City Council took." In her release, Councilwoman Schipske says while the City Manager continues to talk with MHA about alternative sites (including yesterday [Oct. 3] prior to O’Donnell's release), the Council voted in closed session to authorize initiation of an Environmental Impact Report (2) directed staff to continue to identify other potential alternate sites, and (3) directed staff to prepare an initial list of operating restrictions applicable to the MHA facility, regardless of the ultimate location.
Schipske's release says that after the Council vote, the City Manager again contacted MHA about seeking an alternative site...and says she hopes [Schipske release quote] "O'Donnell’s inaccurate and inflammatory comments will not derail the progress that has been made in working with MHA to find a more suitable location and our efforts to protect the neighborhood" (further below).
On receiving Councilwoman Schipske's release, LBReport.com separately sought information from city management on what took place. Tom Modica in the City Manager's office emailed us the following staff summary of what the City Council instructed city management to do:
"(1) Authorize the initiation of the EIR showing the Burnett location as the preferred alternative and the Schroeder Hall location as the alternate location (as recommended by staff), and (2) should additional sites be identified, staff will evaluate their feasibility, and (3) direct staff to prepare an initial list of operating restrictions applicable to the MHA facility, no matter the ultimate location."
For its part, at late afternoon today (Oct. 4), Mental Health America of Los Angeles President/CEO Dave Pilon, Ph.D, issued the following statement:
[MHA release text] The staff and Board of Directors of Mental Health America (MHA) are surprised and disappointed by Councilmember O'Donnell's statement regarding our efforts to work with the City to find a mutually agreeable site for our Homeless Healthcare Access program.
Mr. O'Donnell’s statement is factually incorrect. Most city officials, both elected and unelected, are aware of MHA's sincere efforts during the last several years to work with the City to find an alternative to the Burnett Street property. MHA has in no way backed away from this process. Our staff continues to explore the availability of properties that could meet the program’s service needs as outlined in the Legally Binding Agreement, approved by the City in 2008, as well as be more appealing to the City.
As recently as Sept. 11, 2012, MHA's Board passed a resolution in which we re-affirmed our commitment to work with the City to find an alternative to the Burnett Street property. However, our Board requires that any agreement for an alternative site must provide MHA with the same rights to develop the new site that currently exist in connection to the Burnett Street property. The Board's resolution is a restatement of a provision in the Legally Binding Agreement. Without the assurances that are guaranteed through the Base Re-Alignment and Closure (BRAC) process, we believe that it will be impossible to find a site to which all parties will agree.
If Mr. O'Donnell would like to offer a site in his district as an alternative to the existing agreement, MHA staff will be more than happy to consider it. However, lacking any such offer, we will continue to move forward with our plans to provide services at the Burnett Street site.
Contrary to Mr. O'Donnell’s statement, MHA has not "changed (our) mind about protecting the community." We remain committed to the safety, health and welfare of all the members of our community, including those without a permanent place to call home. We believe that our programs that provide healthcare services to those in need greatly contribute to that effort.
Asked for comment on the developments, Joe Sopo, a veteran neighborhood advocate [and ELB realtor and longtime LBReport.com advertiser] who has been strongly critical of the City-offered Burnett St. and Schroeder Hall locations for the mentally ill homeless facility, told LBReport.com: "This isn't a fight between two Councilmembers. This situation is unfair to the neighborhoods and to the mentally ill homeless. I believe the City Manager could solve this within a day if he was motivated to do so."
In her release, Councilwoman Schipske stated:
[Schipske release text] ...In order to be open and transparent to the public about what really occurred, I would like to detail what the order in which discussions occurred in closed session yesterday when the City Council met to discuss the status of the US Army and US HUD’s transfer of military property at Schroeder Army Hall located at Willow Street and Grand Avenue.
City management briefed us on the fact that the federal agencies want the City to move forward to take the property. In order to do so, the Council had to indicate on which site the homeless services provider (Mental Health America) would be located. Federal law requires the City of Long Beach to accommodate a homeless services provider in order for the City to receive Schroeder Army Hall.
In a prior City Council closed session, the Council unanimously directed the City Manager to meet with MHA to discuss the offer of cash in lieu of property so that MHA could go to another location other than on or near the site of Schroeder Army Hall.
The City Manager reported to the Council that he had met and talked with MHA and that there was an expressed interest in cash in lieu of property, provided that the City could ensure that if MHA bought another property they would be allowed to locate there. There was discussion about a potential piece of property which could be purchased by MHA and the City Manager was requested to continue talking with MHA about moving from the Schroeder Army Hall area.
At no time did anyone present in the closed session state that "negotiations had been brought to a halt" or that MHA "has changed their minds about protecting our community." In fact, the City Manager continues to talk with MHA about alternative sites (actually talking with MHA yesterday prior to O’Donnell’s news release) and the City Council actually engaged in lengthy discussion during closed session about how the neighborhood would be protected including stating that the MHA site should not be located near homes.
Management then presented to the City Council two locations for MHA: 1) behind the Long Beach Public Health Department which provides a buffer from the neighborhood or 2) on the southeast section of Schroeder Army Hall up against the wall directly adjacent to homes.
As the first Councilmember to speak on this issue in the closed session, I strongly expressed my disagreement with any location that is directly behind residences and then stated that I was concerned it had not been made clear with the US Army, US HUD or MHA that a list of restrictions would be placed on any location MHA would occupy and that fact needed to be discussed prior to any EIR or lease.
A discussion continued with several Council members participating, including O’Donnell and me, that those restrictions would include that all clients would have to be transported via van and not public transportation and that the facility would operate from 8 am until 4pm. City staff was directed that these restrictions need to be discussed with MHA prior to the approval of an EIR. Staff indicated that they understood and that any restriction proposed would have to be agreed by MHA and would be included in the EIR for public comment.
Staff also iterated that in order for Schroeder Army Hall to be reused as an eastside police substation and MHA to operate a homeless treatment center, that there would be extensive community meetings on all issues concerning the properties and that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would need to be approved.
Council continued to ask how legally the City could enforce any restrictions so that should an alternative site not be found, MHA would make certain that their operations did not impact the neighborhood. The City Attorney’s staff responded that MHA would have to abide by the terms of the lease and the City could enforce the lease.
The vote taken by the City Council -- which O’Donnell voted against included: (1) Authorize the initiation of the EIR ; (2) direct staff to continue to identify other potential alternate sites, and (3) direct staff to prepare an initial list of operating restrictions applicable to the MHA facility, no matter the ultimate location.
After the vote, the City Manager again contacted MHA about seeking an alternative site. I am hopeful that O’Donnell’s inaccurate and inflammatory comments will not derail the progress that has been made in working with MHA to find a more suitable location and our efforts to protect the neighborhood.
Councilwoman Schipske added in her release:
I am saddened by Councilman O’Donnell’s inaccurate and inflammatory comments about what occurred in closed session. The motion that he voted against included moving the homeless facility to be operated by MHA away from homes in Artcraft Manor which is in the 5th District. Staff had offered that site because of Council concerns that another site be found for MHA and council by a vote of 8-1 (with O’Donnell voting against) directed staff that placing MHA on the southeast corner of Schroeder Hall up against the wall that separates the property from the homes would not be compatible with the neighborhood.
Why O’Donnell chose to distort what took place in closed session is anyone’s guess. But it is clear he issued the press statement to distract from the fact he was the only councilmember who apparently didn’t mind putting MHA on the Schroeder Hall site right beside the neighborhood. He also voted against directing City management to develop restrictions for use of any site by MHA and for directing the City Manager to continue working with MHA to find an alternative site.
Councilwoman Schipske also took issue with Councilman O'Donnell's description of the proposed MHA facility as on "City land near the Stearns Park area." Schipske called this misleading on grounds that the proposed location on Burnett is [Schipske text] "1.4 miles from the nearest point of Stearns Park and is sheltered by an industrial area."
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