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    LB Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal on Proposed QW Bay Tidelands Swap

    (August 24, 2001, smoothed transcript August 27) -- We post below comments given to by LB Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal in response rapidly unfolding events surrounding QW Bay.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal began by acknowledging that we had asked him to comment on a proposed QW Bay tidelands swap on July 30 and August 1, at which time he deferred comment until he'd learned more about it. In the intervening weeks, we periodically telephoned his office and left messages. (We also phoned LB area State Senator Betty Karnette weeks ago on another legislative matter and have yet to hear from her.)

    Assemblyman Lowenthal telephoned us at mid afternoon today. He explained that after we'd raised the QW Bay land swap issue with him, he asked his LB office staff (he was in LB during the August legislative recess which ended Aug. 20) to arrange briefings in person or by phone with State Lands Commission Exec. Dir. Paul Thayer, Earth Corps president Don May and LB Assistant City Manager Gerry Miller and these took place over basically the past two weeks.

    [After our August 24 posting, Assemblyman Lowenthal provided us with a smoothed transcript (posted August 27) that makes his extemporaneous words easier to read and follow; it does not change the substance of his comments.]

    We pick up his discussion with us below.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: I learned a lot. I learned that swaps have occurred before, San Diego being the most recent swap. And there's no inherent reason for the state to be against swaps if in fact the state's best interests are served by protection of land. But that's just on the generic question about swaps that has not to do with the specifics of this swap.

    When I was on the City Council, I'd supported the Queensway Bay plan when the Council voted to develop the project with retail, entertainment and theater usage.

    And when it went, in 1995, to the Coastal Commission, I was one of the people on the Council that supported the plan and I think we had unanimous support on the Council.

    After they had broken ground on the Aquarium, I've been very disappointed that this project never moved forward as the Council had directed it to move forward and had envisioned it would move forward.

    Of the last couple of years, since I've been in the Assembly, and as a Long Beach resident now and not as a City Councilman, just somebody who now watching this as a Long Beach resident, I began to have serious reservations about the project. Originally, the project was a consensus project that came out of a lot of community input. And the longer we went, the less the consensus remained. As I talked to people I began to hear reservations and I began to think we were losing the original vision.

    We had some guiding principles when we brought together the Queensway Bay committee to work with us. There were some guiding principles which are no longer valid because they are not adhered to, which is fine, but it means that the city should rethink its decision and try to build new support with a new vision, and I've become more disenchanted personally.

    Does this specific swap meet the state's interests? I'm not sure, I'm not sure.

    The most important properties that I'd like to see protected by the state are the Los Cerritos Wetlands.

    That has tremendous appeal and benefits both the state and local interests and local interests in terms of what needs to be protected. If you're going to do any swaps, then I would certainly start there personally.

    However, I'm going to watch what the Council does, because it's their decision to send the message whether this swap really does meet local and state's interests. And I will follow this from there... In June, at the Pyramid "Day of Listening," we asked if you thought, and I'm paraphrasing now, whether you thought that the Queensway Bay plan as proposed was the best use for the property, and your answer then was you weren't sure...Do you support the tidelands exchange as proposed?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Well, let me step back. Legally, I support the validity of having swaps. I do not see that as a problem. The plan has been approved unanimously by the Coastal Commission as an appropriate use of the land given the zoning and given how they perceived their role in protecting coastal areas. And as such, they voted unanimously in 1995 to support the plan.

    So, should this be used for retail or entertainment with theaters? I that's a legitimate use of the land given the zoning, given all we've done, I think that it's appropriate.

    However, even if it is legal, I'm not sure that I would support the project, and that's a personal and not a legal position. How about a legislative one?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: In the legislature, there's a separation between administrative and legislative functions. I have to be very careful that I do not try to influence either the Coastal Commission or the State Lands Commission as a legislator. Legislators can introduce legislation. They're not empowered to put pressure on state commissions. There's a real separation, and when they do, that has to be reported as ex parte communication ...But I'm not asking that; I'm asking legislatively.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Legislatively, the question is, is this the best use of the land and is it appropriate to do a swap? I've already told you that my priority is to protect, and I support the State Lands Commission obtaining more of the Los Cerritos wetlands. Well legislatively...

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: And I've supported additional funding for the Los Cerritos Wetlands. Legislatively, you and a majority of the Assembly and the Senate could certainly...

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: After the State Lands Commission acts and after the city has a formal position, which they do not, then I will determine what role the ;legislature should have in this matter.

    I will watch very closely to see whether the Council supports or doesn't support the proposed swap and what's the input from the community.

    I watched the beginning of that last meeting [item], when people talked about not wanting to tie the grant proposal to a swap and the Council's position was at that time to send forth the grant application.

    Now the question is, do they want to swap the specific lands proposed by the City Manager.

    I'm not going say anything publicly until I see the [State] Lands Commission decision. I'm not going to try to influence State Lands beforehand because I think it's inappropriate to do that as a legislator.

    I think it is appropriate that if I don't believe the interests of the state were satisfied, after listening to the full discussion at the Council and after testimony before the State Lands [Commission] that an appropriate response is for me to consider legislation. But that's with respect to the specific swap.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: That's right. Just speaking hypothetically, if someone were to propose...something that you would find completely distasteful...

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Which land are you talking about? The Queensway Bay land...Let's say someone were proposing...instead of a retail and entertainment complex, they were proposing a nuclear waste dump.

    Assemblyman Lowental: Yes. At that point, as soon as they proposed it and said we are looking for a swap to in some way facilitate it, my guess is you would probably come out against it regardless of what was being swapped and whether the swap was in the state's interest.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: A nuclear waste dump would not have been approved by the California Coastal Commission, which is mandated through the Coastal Act and local coastal plans to decide what is an appropriate use of that land. And the Coastal Commission has already gone through this process, and unanimously supported an entertainment complex. I do not believe a nuclear plant would be supported in downtown Long Beach by the Coastal Commission as an appropriate use of tidelands. They would not do that.
    ... What you said in June [at the Pyramid "Day of Listening"] was that you wished that, I'm paraphrasing this, you wished that both sides would reassess.

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Absolutely. Does it appear to you from your conversations that the city has reassessed?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: Yes, I think that's what's happening. It's because of input from the community that that is getting closer and closer to happening. Can you speak about that a little bit?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: I don't know of anything [specific], it's just what I've watched and observed. I haven't spoken to anybody, I think that publicly they're moving on this course. As I read the newspapers, as I talk to people, they are more and more talking about reassessing the project. ...Have you discerned [readiness to reassess] at City Hall?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: No, no one at City Hall. Oh, no one at City Hall...

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: No, I'm listening to the community...[and] that's what I'm hearing. Have I discerned any movement at City Hall? Well, I'm going to see this Tuesday... The [State Lands] Commission has postponed their August 29 meeting, rescheduling it for mid-September...they announced the items would [likely] be on their Sept. 17 agenda, again being held in Sacramento. Would you favor having the Commission meet down in the L.A. or Long Beach area?

    Assemblyman Lowenthal: I think it's always important to try to have the most input from all sides, and it's always more difficult, of course, for residents to have to travel other places, [when]...elected officials or hired staff who are paid to go to those, can go as part of their job. I did not know where the meeting was to be held, but I would hope that it is close to everybody.

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