(June 7, 2005) -- Tonight, Long Beach City Councilmembers -- elected to protect the health and safety of people who live here -- will show whether they will govern this city...or will let others manipulate, mute and moot them.
These two visions of LB's future are visible in two competing agenda items. One proposes an action that LB's City Attorney has indicated the Council can legally take on LNG and is advanced by Councilmembers Colonna, Lowenthal and Gabelich.
It stands in stark contrast to a depressing, de facto INaction item proposed by Councilmembers Reyes Uranga and Lerch...which we consider tantamount to telling a patient with an advancing tumor to ignore professional advice.
LB's City Attorney -- who has not taken a policy position on the underlying LNG issue -- has publicly advised Councilmembers that advancing federal legislation could strip the Council of its current Environmental Impact review authority on the LNG matter.
If you hear Councilmembers claim they're waiting for Environmental Impact documents, you will know they're only showing their ignorance. By August, the federal legislation could make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the entity that decides the adequacy of the LNG Environmental Impact documents...without appeal to the City Council.
We suspect most Councilmembers (except perhaps Reyes Uranga and Lerch) realize this...but some may be afraid to take meaningful action and may try to get away with doing something less. We urge readers not to be fooled by this. If Councilmembers don't vote to do something meaningful, they are doing something meaningless.
The circumstances now facing the Council are dramatically different than what the Council saw two years ago. The advancing federal legislation frees the Port from having to decide the adequacy of the LNG project's Environmental Impact documents while cutting the Council out of the picture. That will leave the Port with all of its powers as landlord to say "yes" or "no" to the project...while the Council is left virtually impotent.
A good outcome for non-elected Harbor Commissioners chosen by the Mayor and approved by the City Council...but a disaster for Councilmembers and the people they were elected to represent.
The Port of LB chose to tilt toward federal supremacy in the LB LNG matter from the start. The Port let the LNG applicant seek approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) without insisting that the applicant also seek permission from the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) under state law.
CPUC is part of the state constitution. LB Harbor Commissioners, LB Councilmembers, LB's Mayor and other city officials swore an oath to defend that constitution...yet not one rose to object to the Port effectively thumbing its nose at CA law that the constitutionally empowered CPUC has tried to uphold...and no court has yet overturned.
Instead, the CPUC had to go to court to defend CA law against a FERC decree that CA law doesn't apply. Perhaps because CPUC's lawsuit has merit, FERC moved to avoid the result by asking Congress to rewrite federal law entirely...which is the legislation that's now advancing to LB's detriment.
In other U.S. cities, someone who wanted to put 80+ million gallons of Liquefied Natural Gas roughly two miles (in some areas less) from a densely populated downtown area in a major port complex that's already assumed to be a terrorist target would first seek approval from elected officials.
In LB, this did not take place. Some people consider this old way of doing business acceptable. We do not...and we believe a growing number of people in LB also consider it no longer acceptable.
We believe Councilmembers Colonna, Lowenthal and Gabelich are on the right side of history. What they propose is not a "rush to judgment." In our view, it was the Port of LB, and others wedded to the past, that rushed to cut the Council out of the picture two years ago.
In March 2003, LBReport.com reported that the Port issued a press release announcing its entry into discussions with the LNG applicant. No, the Port didn't seek Council approval first...but yes, the Port's release prominently featured supportive quotes from LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill. "This proposed project could be a major benefit to the Long Beach environment and the economy, while giving us the potential for lower natural gas costs for our residents and business," the Mayor declared.
Two months later on May 12, 2003, again without seeking Council input, the Port entered into an MOU with the LNG applicant. After the Port acted, the Council was offered a seat at the back of the bus with a separate MOU on possible future long-term city utility gas deal and connecting pipelines to the proposed facility.
Mayor O'Neill told Councilmembers, "I think Liquefied Natural Gas is of great interest, so there doesn't need to be a extensive report." [We have no idea what the Mayor meant.]
Following a quick staff report and a memo of a few paragraphs, Mayor O'Neill asked for Council comments. There were none. The Mayor advised, "This agreement is a good agreement."
In June 2003, Mayor O'Neill wrote U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in June 2003, seeking her help in speeding the project with federal authorities. After LBReport.com published the Mayor's letter, the Mayor acknowledged to Councilmembers that her correspondence was premature until they set policy.
That was two years ago...and since then, thoughtful Councilmembers and LB residents have learned much about LNG (as well as on other federal failings from the 9/11 Commission Report and multiple reports about Port insecurity).
A January 2005 request by Councilwoman Rae Gabelich for an LNG study session within sixty days produced a half-day event on April 2. On April 22, 2005, the Council's Federal Legislation & Environmental Affairs Committee heard testimony from top LBPD and LBFD officials -- LB's first responders -- who returned from a visit to the Boston area LNG facility with stark descriptions of potential costs and risks that speak for themselves. To view their testimony, click here.
The LBFD/LBPD fact-finding mission contrasts with the non-fact finding junket orchestrated in 2004 by the Port of LB...with Commissioners James Hankla and Mario Cordero at the helm and Councilwoman Reyes Uranga in tow. Commissioner Hankla returned to opine during a Harbor Commission meeting, "[O]ne of the big criticisms that is leveled at this potential [LNG] project, proposed project [in the Port of LB] is that it's a target for terrorists, which I think was somewhat debunked by our recent visit to Boston, where we met with Coast Guard representatives."
We're not surprised that during their visit, the Port of LB delegation didn't bother meeting with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, formerly president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the same post to which Mayor O'Neill will soon ascend. Mayor Menino has tried to close the Boston area LNG facility as a post 9/11 security risk.
Tonight, following a Port rush to judgment two years ago that has put the City of LB in a disadvantageous position now, LB residents will clearly see who among their elected representatives will send LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners a meaningful message...or a CandyGram.