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    No On Kell For Vice Mayor

    (July 18, 2004, text updated to include quotes) -- After the July 20 inauguration of new Councilmembers Patrick O'Donnell and Rae Gabelich, the newly constituted City Council will turn to its City Charter task of electing a Vice Mayor.

    The Vice Mayor title is more ceremony than substance, but we hope Councilmembers will treat it substantively this time. We urge a "no" on 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell for Vice Mayor.

    If this were a personal matter, we would not write this editorial. We like Councilwoman Kell and her husband, retired Mayor Ernie Kell.

    We have previously acknowledged Councilwoman Kell's praiseworthy actions. Her finest moment came when she told the public that City Auditor Gary Burroughs told Councilmembers behind closed doors that the city could in a worst case face court intervention and bankruptcy if the Council didn't follow management's deficit reduction strategy.

    But we believe it's important to hold Councilwoman Kell accountable for conduct we would find unacceptable for any Councilmember when she now aspires to a citywide title.

    These are not disagreements on policy. Reasonable people can disagree over policies. We cite below actions we find unacceptable regardless of the policy.

  • 1. Kell made the motion for a now notorious Council action that hoodwinked the public, risked LB's Airport noise ordinance and escalated nearly every major Airport problem facing LB today.

    In May 2001, Kell (who frequently boasts that the Airport is in her district) moved to change LB city law to make it easier for air carriers to take LB Airport flight slots before flying them. That Council action (8-1, Carroll dissenting) wasn't required by any court order or by the FAA.

    Within days, JetBlue took every then-vacant large aircraft flight slot -- fully 27, instantly maxing out our Airport noise ordinance for large aircraft -- and only later did the public discover "the rest of the story." LB city officials met in advance with JetBlue about what the Council ultimately did before the Council did it.

    City Hall didn't bother disclosing the latter point to the public whose interests and investments could be affected. There was no serious public discussion of the potential consequences -- immediate and long term -- of the Council's foolhardy action, only reassurances of what City Hall claimed wouldn't happen.

    What did happen is that Kell's reckless and needless motion risked LB's Airport noise ordinance (that she publicly claims to support). It triggered litigation threats. It brought FAA involvement (for which Kell then tried to duck responsibility although her action triggered the involvement).

    It prompted calls now to expand LB Airport's terminal facilities. It brought LB more pollution. It hastened deterioration of the aging main runway. It brought much of her own district -- without opposition from Kell -- diversion of half of this summer's Saturday's large commercial flights onto a shorter runway that LB's noise ordinance is supposed to protect from such flights.

    These are the type of impacts that smarter cities fight, not invite. This, from the Councilwoman who sought public office on the slogan "our neighborhoods always come first."

    Councilwoman Kell acknowledged the change could bring more flights, allowing "airlines to gradually increase the number of their flights up to 24 months, which will give the city, neighborhoods and community more time to adjust to the frequency of additional flight operations." She said the the then-current system (which had kept LB Airport quiet) "caused us to attract under capitalized start up airlines with older, noisier aircraft in their fleet" and by changing LB's slot allocation system "we'll be working to encourage airlines to slowly build a modern fleet of the quietest, state of the art aircraft available. These newer aircraft have better climb rates to get up and over our neighborhoods quieter and quicker with substantially lower emissions and with the least amount of impact on our surrounding communities."

    Kell declared confidently, "As long as long as this City Council adheres to our current restrictions of 41 commercial flights, we are in control of our airport." [The ordinance actually allows 66 daily commercial flights, 41/day over 75,000 pounds + 25/day under 75,000 pounds.]

    So eager was Kell to do the deal that she voted against a substitute motion by then-Councilman Dennis Carroll, supported by then Councilmembers Rob Webb and Ray Grabinski, to postpone a vote for two weeks so City Hall could hear from neighborhoods and vice versa. (When the substitute motion failed, Webb and Grabinski switched sides, leaving Carroll the sole dissenter.)

    We believe one doesn't put neighborhoods first by treating them as bystanders to a done deal. If Kell defends what she did and how she did it to her own constituents, then thoughtful Councilmembers should not name Kell their Vice Mayor...where she could facilitate doing the same type of thing in their districts to their constituents and citywide.

  • 2. A year later in May 2002, while Mayor O'Neill was seeking reelection, Kell (who didn't explicitly endorse O'Neill) joined Councilmembers Carroll and Webb (since denied a second term by their constituents) and Colonna in agendizing a request for a report on the effects of 41 daily flights on LB residents and their property values. The report was eagerly sought by Airport impacted residents...many of whom hold the key to election to any citywide office.

    After O'Neill was safely reelected, the requested report wasn't produced...yet Kell did not publicly object. It took then-activist (now Councilmember-elect) Rae Gabelich to continue pressing for it. Over a year later, in response to Gabelich's passionate advocacy, a report on citywide air quality from various sources was sought by Councilwoman Laura Richardson. We are concerned that city management is turning the forthcoming report mainly into an underfunded rehash of old data, but regardless: what Richardson requested and obtained is not what Kell promised and failed to deliver.

    The report on the Airport's health impacts and home values, if honestly done, would show the real world impacts on LB residents and taxpayers of their own city's Airport. Kell could have -- and didn't -- deliver some substantive balance to the mindless drumbeat of Airport boosters (mainly those who profit from it and their enablers) who continue claim its supposed local benefits.

    Not one penny in airport landing fees and direct airport revenue goes to help any LB neighborhoods. Under federal law, airport revenue (which Kell's May 2001 vote helped increase) can only be used to feed -- or expand -- Airport operations. Apart from indirect revenue from transient travelers in taxicabs and whatever percentage of Airport users stay in LB or spend money here, LB homeowners -- whose property tax revenue provides City Hall's first or second revenue source depending on budget figures -- get nearly nothing beneficial. That's despite the fact that LB residents are saddled with all of the congestion, pollution, health, safety, and home impacts.

    What LB's seaport did to West Long Beach and beyond, LB airport could do to East Long Beach and beyond. Yet with so much at stake, Kell failed even to deliver a report that she publicly sought which could have quantified these impacts on her own constituents. If she was willing to do that to her own constituents, what would stop her from doing that citywide with a citywide title?

  • 3. Kell committed an act which we believe should have triggered her censure by Councilmembers. She falsely agendized an item of City Council business, that is, the public's business.

    In 2003, JetBlue Airways hired some outfit to ask voters a series of carefully formulated questions about their attitudes toward LB Airport. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

    Kell then cited misleading pretenses and misused the city's legislative body to stage what amounted to a corporate press event/infomercial, using taxpayers' Council Chamber and TV channel as foghorns to amplify JetBlue's hired survey. JetBlue should not be blamed for any of this. It was Kell who misused her Council office to agendize the following item:

    In an effort to make even more information available to residents and the City Council, I am asking for a [sic] update from JetBlue on their Operations and Community Outreach efforts.

    As we editorialized at the time:

    With that verbiage, Kell showed she thought it was appropriate to use the City Council to apply the "mushroom treatment" -- keeping the public in the dark and fed manure, a way to ambush her constituents...and the constituents of other Councilmembers.

    ...The City Council has called for transparency. Councilwoman Kell has misused the Council proceedings for opacity.

    The Council must distance itself from Kell's conduct or her actions will make a mockery of their words...

    For Councilmembers to reward Kell's conduct by naming her their Vice Mayor will make them look even worse.

  • 4. Kell facilitated storage of 200,000 gallons of jet fuel -- the material that melted NYC's World Trade Towers -- in four new above ground tanks just west of Lakewood Blvd. between Wardlow Rd. and Conant St. near runway 25R. It's a little over 1,000 feet west of a helipad used by LB police and L.A. County rescue helicopters.

    Previously, most of LB Airport's large fuel storage was underground...but that's more expensive and requires careful monitoring to prevent leaks.

    Fire experts say jet fuel doesn't explode but combusts (burns) if ignited by something at a high temperature...and burns much hotter than gasoline. Like any liquid, jet fuel rolls downhill. Although the tanks are surrounded by a birm, under the standard "fire code" it's sufficient only to contain roughly 70,000 gallons of the 200,000 gallons of jet fuel.

    We're not a hydrologist, but it seems to us like downhill from the tanks are the main LB Airport terminal, perhaps several parked planes containing jet fuel...and further south the city's new Emergency Communications and Operations Center on Spring St.

    Also nearby is a major storm drain leading into the Spring Street flood control channel that runs eastward along Spring St. to Woodruff Ave., then south from the 5th Council district through parts of the 4th and 3d districts and out to sea.

    City management (via LBFD) required some additional fire suppression methods but in our opinion, for Kell to have facilitated those tanks -- especially after Sept. 11 -- spoke volumes about what she really thinks of putting neighborhoods first.

    In our view, Kell's first Council duty is supposed to be protecting public safety and property...not increasing the fuel handling capacity at the Airport for the comfort level of some its tenants.

    She didn't have to facilitate a City Hall amended contract that allowed the tanks. She could have warned impacted residents about the plan so they could be heard. She could have moved (and still could) to toughen city law to require underground fuel storage at the Airport. (Airport management supports the less expensive above ground tanks and has indicated there'll be more...unless the Council says otherwise.)

    And astute observers can't help but notice: the new above ground tanks effectively increase the fuel and flight handling capacity of LB Airport.

    Councilwoman Kell may think being named Vice Mayor may lead to higher office (although several previous Vice Mayors can attest otherwise). What matters in elective office are votes of the public, not the Council. No candidate for citywide office can win citywide office without carrying significant parts of the 4th, 8th, 5th and 3d Council districts.

    To us, the Vice Mayor title amounts to a vote on whom Councilmembers consider the best example of how they think the public's business should be conducted in Long Beach. By their Vice Mayoral selection, they show whether it's acceptable to do public business in the dark, with motions made and promises unkept...or in a public process done openly that delivers what it promises.

    This is so regardless of the policy involved...but we can't help but notice that after gaining office on a promise to put neighborhoods first, Councilwoman Kell put neighborhoods second to other interests...especially Airport interests.

    In the end, it won't be five Council votes that advances her to higher office. Only the public's votes can do that.

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