LB Harbor Dept. Used Hardball Tactics On Longtime Berth 55 Businesses (Seafood Market + Restaurant + Sport Fishing)
Supporters of the businesses plan to address Harbor Commission on Monday (Sept. 10)
|(Sept. 9, 2012) -- Letters and email obtained by LBReport.com show that LB Harbor Dept. staff delivered an ultimatum in seeking to oust the Port's last remaining publicly accessible commercial businesses (Berth 55 Seafood, Queens Wharf Restaurant, Long Beach Sport Fishing) before the matter was discussed in an agendized closed session this year by the Long Beach Harbor Commisssion...and the hardball continued even after the item became a matter for Harbor Commission discussion in closed session.
On April 19, 2012 -- nearly a month before Harbor Commissioners' first closed session on the item this year -- Port of LB Executive Director sent a letter to the Maehara family (legal tenant) reciting that their long-term lease expired in 2008 and notifying them that the City had elected "to terminate their holdover tenancy effective 180 days from the date of this correspondence."
Citing previous discussions, the letter indicated in pertinent part that the City would spare the Maeharas the requirement that they demolish their improvements [structures] on the property...and the letter sought their signed concurrence to this and other terms.
On May 8, the Maeheras' attorney emailed Port of LB Leasing Officer Larry Ditchkus, indicating agreement to termination of the lease with 180 days notice but [salient summary] sought an amount equal to three months wages -- roughly $25,000 month -- for the Maehara's (tenant's) 16 employees as part of the lease termination settlement.
As previously reported by LBReport.com, on May 14 the Harbor Commission held an agendized closed session with its real property negotiator Karl Adamowicz (Director of Real Estate) "to discuss terms of mutual termination of the lease at 555 Pico Ave." While exactly what took place in that closed session isn't known, the net result isn't a secret.
In a letter dated May 16, the Port of Long Beach rejected the Maeharas' request. A letter signed by Mr. Adamowicz said the Port's April 19 Termination Notice had offered terms more favorable than those in the Maeharas' lease, and the "additional conditions" sought by the Maeharas "unacceptable to the Port." The letter continued:
Upon direction of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, the offer of more favorable terms in the April 19, 2012 Termination Notice will remain open until 3:00 p.m. on May 25, 2012, at which time it will lapse. If the April 19, 2012 Termination Notice is not accepted by May 25, 2012, the Port will issue a 30 day termination consistent with the terms of the lease.
Faced with that ultimatum, on May 22 Rebecca Maehara signed in concurrence with the terms of the April 19 Port of Long Beach Termination Notice.
Some additional discussions apparently followed. A letter dated May 27 from the Maeharas' attorney to PoLB Leasing Officer Ditchkus refers to subsequent discussions with Port staff. The Maeharas' attorney proposed additional terms and also asked "if the Maeharas would be eligible for any relocation or termination assistance. As we have discussed before, upon termination of the tenancy, there will be a substantial number of employees with families that will not have a source of income for living expenses."
As LBReport.com has previously reported, on June 4, 2012, the Harbor Commission held another closed session to confer with Director of Real Estate Adamowicz "to discuss terms of mutual termination of Lease at 555 Pico Avenue" with the Maehara family. We're not privy to further communications between the parties at this point.
On the morning of August 29, LBReport.com reported that Vice Mayor Robert Garcia (in whose 1st Council district the Berth 55 businesses are located) had taken part in a mid-August meeting with Port officials and a representative of Berth 55 businesses...and was allegedly less than helpful to the businesses in that meeting. Emails obtained by LBReport.com indicated that Garcia didn't plan to attend a well publicized community meeting on the issue, scheduled for Aug. 30.
Within hours of the LBReport.com report, Vice Mayor Garcia sent Port Executive Director Lytle a letter (reported by LBReport.com) posing three questions about the Port's position on the matter. LBReport.com has now obtained Port Executive Director Lytle's reply to Vice Mayor Garcia's letter. Written on the same day, it reiterated the Port's then-position and said "no" to the three questions posed by Garcia.
At the August 30 community meeting, Port Executive Director Lytle fielded pointed audience questions, at times receiving scornful responses from the overflow crowd. Vice Mayor Garcia attended the community meeting, watching but not speaking. West Long Beach Association boardmember John Taeleifi closed the meeting by asking PoLB Exec. Dir. Lytle to extend an approaching Port-set October deadline for the businesses to exit. Mr. Lytle said he appreciated the public dialogue but offered no direct response to the request.
On September 4, the City Council was poised to discuss the Port's FY13 (Harbor Commission approved) budget...but Councilman Gary DeLong indicated the Port preferred to delay the item until Sept. 11, saying it "wasn't ready." [The Habor Commission had approved the Port's FY13 budget months earlier.] Berth 55 attended the meeting and spoke, using the period for public comments on
On Monday September 10, the Harbor Commission is scheduled to meet in closed session to discuss the lease and/or purchase of a location for a new Harbor Dept. HQ, a big-ticket item that has polarized LB's Mayor-appointed, Council-approved Harbor Commissioners and could have major financial consequences for proponents of dueling locations.
The fate of the community businesses at Berth 55 isn't on the agenda...but members of the "Save Berth 55" campaign plan to address the Harbor Commission during the period allowed for public input on
Further as it develops on LBReport.com.
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