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    A Respectable, Not Rubberstamp, Hearing For Mayor's Harbor Nominee

    (June 21, 2005) -- On June 20, stated the reasons why we believe Mayor Beverly O'Neill disserved the public and disrespected the Council in the way she nominated her latest choice for LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners. (For our previous editorial, click here.)

    We explained why, particularly in view of the incumbent Harbor Commission's conduct on Council-declared policies and the magnitude of Port-related issues now facing the city, the Council must take seriously its check and balance role to respectfully question the Mayor's prospective Port appointee.

    The Council, not the Mayor, has the power to decide who does and who doesn't sit on LB Boards and Commissions...and the duty to do so before it gives them the power to impact the public's health, safety and quality of life.

    The Council should not deny the Mayor an appointee lightly. We have no reason to doubt that Mike Walter, Ph.D. is a good man...but in our opinion, he is the wrong man at the wrong time for LB's Harbor Commission.

    By nominating Dr. Walter instead of other LB residents with legitimate environmental and quality of life credentials, the incumbent Mayor has shown the relative unimportance she assigns to the Board of Harbor Commissioners' role in poisoning the region's air while refusing to commit not to worsen it.

    That said, we do not think this by itself is a good reason for the Council to deny Dr. Walter the nomination. (We do think it would be a valid reason for LB residents to vote against Mayoral candidate(s) who say they'd do what Mayor O'Neill did or defend her choice of Walter above all other people in the City of LB.)

    Regarding Dr. Walter's philanthropy to CSULB, we likewise believe this is not -- and simply cannot be - a good reason to nominate or approve him. It invites the highly offensive notion that someone unable donate $2 million is less deserving to serve on LB's Harbor Commission.

    We presume Dr. Walter himself would be offended by the notion that his personal philanthropy somehow entitles him to the post. We presume he wishes to be evaluated on his merits as a nominee...and we say that is what the Council should do and vote accordingly.

    As to his nominee merits, we don't know if Dr. Walter affirmatively called the Mayor's attention to his (now-former) stock holdings in ConocoPhillips (a partner through a subsidiary in a development deal for a proposed LNG terminal in the Port) and BP (a Port tenant). We do know that Mayor O'Neill didn't conduct due diligence in this nomination, treating it more like a yacht club honorarium than a serious civic post.

    Instead, was first to report Dr. Walter's relevant stock holdings, which were a matter of public record on a form properly filed by Dr. Walter in connection with his current Water Commission post.

    If Mayor O'Neill had done her job, she or the City Attorney would almost certainly have spared Dr. Walter and the public a major problem: if he is confirmed, he will be disqualified for nearly a year from voting on whether to allow 80+ million gallons of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) within roughly two miles of downtown LB.

    In our opinion, when this became known Dr. Walter should have voluntarily withdrawn his nomination. If he didn't, the Mayor should have withdrawn his nomination.

    Neither did. Instead, Dr. Walter apparently gave the stock away in another philanthropic act. That may satisfy the minimum requirements of the law, but it will also deny the people of LB a voting Harbor Commissioner for almost a year on one of the biggest issues ever to face the Port and City of LB.

    In our opinion, that alone is sufficient cause for the Council to deny this nominee the Harbor Commission post.

    And there may be other reasons. Before they vote, Councilmembers should summon Dr. Walter to the podium and ask him at least two questions to which they and the public deserve straightforward, "yes" or "no" answers.

    If you are confirmed to the Board of Harbor Commissioners, will you vote to approve projects or pursue legislation counter to publicly voted policies of the City Council?

    Do you think the Port of Long Beach should grow if it worsens air pollution?

    If Dr. Walter answers "yes" to either question, we believe the Council should deny him the Harbor Commission post. Councilmembers should not vote to empower a non-elected, non-recallable individual who makes clear that he would vote against the interests of the City of LB as determined by its publicly elected City Council.

    There is only one instance in which we could support such a vote: if a Councilmember publicly declares his/her support for a ballot measure -- which can be placed on the Nov. 2005 ballot with five affirmative Council votes -- that will finally give LB residents the opportunity to replace LB's non-elected, non-accountable Board of Harbor Commissioners with a publicly-elected, publicly recallable Board, accountable to the people at the ballot box.

    Councilmembers need not waste time asking Dr. Walter general questions (useless) or what he thinks of former Assemblyman, now State Senator Alan Lowenthal's former AB 2042 reincarnated as SB 764 (no increase in port air toxics with port growth). What Dr. Walter says now is very murky to us after the Press-Telegram attributed to him, we presume accurately, two positions on LNG in the PoLB (dunno and opposed) within 24 hours.

    The Council is entitled to know if the Mayor's latest choice for the Harbor Commission, like her previous ones, will vote against what the Council says is the policy of the City of Long Beach. That's the Council's check and balance duty.

    It's not personal. It affects Dr. Walter, but it's not about him. It's about the Council...because what they do affects us.

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