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    Fairness Flouted

    (June 21, 2006) -- You don't have to be a lawyer to answer the following questions. They deal with basic fairness.

    Suppose you schedule a debate. You give both sides a chance to present their positions...but then you direct friendly, manipulative questions to one side, allowing it to state (and restate) its position with no opportunity for the other side to reply. Does that sound fair?

    Or suppose you go to court to collect money someone owes you. The judge lets you and the debtor present your evidence...but then proceeds to ask the debtor a series of friendly, manipulative questions that lets the deadbeat state a number of half-truths inviting entirely false conclusions. The judge gives you no opportunity to collapse the claims or say anything...and gavels you down when you try to put an objection on the record. Does that sound fair?

    Such was the level of fairness dispensed soon-to-be-former LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill and ratified by Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Jackie Kell, Laura Richardson, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch on June 20, 2006. It occurred at a public hearing on LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities...whose consequences could make it harder to protect the City of LB's Airport noise ordinance (which the EIR pretends isn't an issue).

    The hearing began June 13 with 49 listed appellants (apparently a record number for the City of Long Beach). Not all showed up...but those who did came prepared. They had legal expertise and the facts. They cited flaws in the EIR's reasoning and conclusions. They alerted Councilmembers to long-term consequences of building the Airport on a flawed EIR. They cited risks to city. They offered to help fix the flaws. They sought common ground.

    Their presentation made points on the merits. Mayor O'Neill and Councilmembers Lowenthal, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch were determined not to let that happen again. That's what happened on June 20.

    As reported:

    At the June 20 proceeding, Mayor O'Neill declared that the public would not be permitted to speak further.

    She then proceeded to read a "question" from what appeared to be a prepared text, framed so as to invite city staff to reiterate its previously made arguments (instead of responding to specific points raised by the appellants).

    "Is the proposed project size based on the level of support necessary to handle the number of flights allowed under the city's noise ordinance, or is there [appears to lose her place in text] or base for the future?" the Mayor asked.

    [The point had been stressed by staff in its June 13 presentation at which the Mayor presided.]

    LGB EIR June 20, 2006
    Screen capture: LBTV 8

    City Engineer Mark Cristoffels then proceeded to re-state (as city staff had stated on June 13) its mathematical methods for calculating its proposed sizes for the terminal and parking lot...although the appellants didn't question the mathematics but the potential consequences of the sizes. The city management staffer went on to portray the EIR's 103,000 sq. ft proposed terminal size as a "reduction" from 133,000 sq. ft. (recommended by an Airport-retained firm) but didn't mention that city management had proposed a 93,000-98,000 sq. ft project in Sept. 2003. [Staff has elsewhere said the higher figures reflect updated load factors and new aircraft designs.]

    This brought Prof. John Eastman from Chapman University's School of Law to the podium...and the following ensued [not an official transcript, prepared by us from the Council telecast.]

    LGB EIR June 20, 2006
    Screen capture: LBTV 8
    Prof. Eastman [politely]: We need to note an objection right now.

    Mayor O'Neill: [curtly, sternly] Sir, thank you....

    Prof. Eastman: [cross talk] I want it noted for the record...

    Mayor O'Neill: [cross talk]...I'll call on you later. [She never does]

    Prof. Eastman: No, you said the public hearing was closed.

    Mayor O'Neill: That's right, it is closed.

    Prof. Eastman: This is a statement that is a rebuttal, he specifically noted it was a rebuttal...

    City Attorney Shannon: Counsel...

    Prof. Eastman: The agenda said, the agenda said [applause]

    Mayor O'Neill: Sir...

    Prof. Eastman: Wait a minute

    Mayor O'Neill: No no...[cross talk]

    Prof. Eastman: The agenda said that there would be an opportunity for appellants to rebut and he made it specific.

    Mayor O'Neill: Mr. Shannon, is there any place for an appellant to rebut?

    City Att'y Shannon: Well first of all, counsel's out of order. If you want to make a statement for the record, you can make it for the record.

    Prof. Eastman: [off mike] I did.

    City Att'y Shannon: Don't interrupt the Council, you know better than that. Alright? Now there are rules that we need to follow here. I think that it's perfectly appropriate for staff to respond to questions directed to them by the City Council. We need to be careful though that if it assumes the appearance of a full rebuttal, then the appellants will have a brief opportunity to respond, so we're going to have to play this by ear. I don't know what questions they're going to be asked if any at all, but I think we need to be very careful.

    In the proceedings that followed, the appellants were not given even one opportunity to be heard...

    On June 17, a few days before the continued hearing, Mayor-elect Bob Foster commented to (consistent with what he'd said in his campaign) that he felt important matters weren't properly addressed in the EIR. He advised better analyzing those issues in the EIR and resolving them before the Council voted to certify a document serving as the basis for major Airport decisions. (To read Mayor-elect Foster's comments in full, click here.)

    The Council majority snubbed him, too.

    We expect some people will justify what was done. They will attack those who cited the facts because they can't answer the facts on the merits.

    That's the real reason LB City Hall prevented a fair hearing on the Airport.

    We think the City of LB needs to be better protected than Mayor O'Neill and five Councilmembers left it on June 20.

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