(August 23, 2005, updated Aug. 24) -- Despite being explicitly told by City Manager Jerry Miller and City Attorney Bob Shannon that their action would result in LB missing a deadline for exercising its right under the federal Energy bill to comment on the "need to encourage remote siting" of a proposed LB LNG facility, the City Council voted 5-4 to approve a motion by Vice Mayor Jackie Kell that effectively discarded that opportunity.
Vice Mayor Kell's motion, seconded by Councilman O'Donnell, says the Council "reserves the right to take a position on the siting of an LNG terminal in the Port of Long Beach as appropriate and in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act" (which Kell said implies waiting for a forthcoming Port-produced EIR)...but remained silent on whether to encourage remote siting...but remained silent on whether to encourage remote siting for communication to the major federal regulatory body.
The vote on Kell's motion was Yes: O'Donnell, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch; No: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna and Gabelich.
Kell offered her motion as a substitute to counter a motion by Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Dan Baker, Frank Colonna and Rae Gabelich to oppose the Port site and to communicate to the CA Energy Commission that LB encourages remote siting.
After some Councilmembers portrayed the Lowenthal-Baker-Colonna-Gabelich motion as a replay of a June Council vote (Councilman Lerch likened it to breaking the Council's word), City Manager Jerry Miller pointed out that after the Council's June vote, Congress voted in July to enact a federal Energy bill that includes the procedure on which Council action was required...and if the Council didn't weigh in on favoring remote siting, that opportunity would be lost.
Vice Mayor Kell did not change her substitute motion in response. Councilwoman Gabelich later reiterated, "If we do not state a position, it can be interpreted that we are not concerned. The Sept. 6 deadline is the deadline for recommendations to [the CA Energy Commission]. [Cites Federal Energy bill category seeking city input on "the need to encourage remote siting."] They don't know how we feel about the safety issue of the siting of it in our city, and I believe that this did not come back because we wanted to have another on LNG. It came back because of the Energy bill....We have to take a position on location, that's why it came back."
In a last ditch effort not to lose Long Beach's opportunity to encourage remote siting, Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal offered a substitute to Kell's motion removing language that explicitly opposed the Port site. "It's important to note that the City has a very, very short window of opportunity communicate our wishes to a very large federal agency that may have the ability to influence the siting of a potential LNG facility on the west coast," Councilwoman Lowenthal said and stated her motion:
"Request the City Manager to communicate to the California Energy Commission, pursuant to the requirements of section 311 of federal Energy bill, the position of the Long Beach City Council that there is an overriding public safety need to encourage remote, offshore siting of Liquefied Natural Gas plants away from urban areas."
Councilwoman Lowenthal added, "It stops right there and it does not say "opposing siting in the Port."
Councilwoman Laura Richardson then asked to hear the text of a motion approved by the Council (motion by Reyes Uranga) a week earlier on August 16. The August 16 Council action communicated to the Port that public safety be its overriding consideration in any decision concerning the proposed LNG facility (carried 9-0)...and was separate from communicating the city's views on remote siting to the CA Energy Commission.
"So for comments that have been said that this City Council has not taken a position as safety being the number one issue for this City Council and our residents, I strongly oppose," Councilman Richardson said, continuing "We've taken a position. We've acted on it. Public safety is our number one priority, Madame Mayor I call for the question with no further comments." "Second," said Vice Mayor Kell.
Five Councilmembers voted against Lowenthal's substitute motion: O'Donnell, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga and Lerch. The same five then voted for Kell's motion.
Prior to the vote, Councilman Dan Baker noted that (as reported by LBReport.com), lawyers for the LNG project applicant, Sound Energy Solutions, had sent City Attorney Bob Shannon a letter claiming their client would incur nearly $40 million in damages if the Council approved the agendized motion to oppose a Port site for the project. Councilman Baker asked City Attorney Shannon for his legal opinion "as to that threat and if the City Council takes the suggested [original Lowenthal-Baker-Colonna-Gabelich agendized action] how likely that is."
City Attorney Shannon repled, "In my legal opinion, as we've repeatedly advised you, beginning as early of July of the year 2004 and again in a memo of 2005, you were well within your rights to take action. Tonight, most specifically and most immediately because that federal Energy Act, which allegedly was not going to impact state law, created a very short deadline for local entities to submit their public safety concerns through the state. As you'll recall the colloquy last week, the [city staff] report that was prepared [for submission to the CA Energy Comm'n] contemplated a response within what was a thirty day deadline. Now one of the six items in the response is comment on the need "to encourage remote siting." So basically what's happening is the federal Energy Act is saying, if you have concerns relative to "the need to encourage remote siting," you have to make them known from the date that the [federal Energy] bill is signed; they have to be communicated through the appropriate state agency [CA Energy Comm'n] and they have to be directed to FERC [Fed'l Energy Regulatory Comm'n] no later than thirty days after the bill was signed. Now that deadline is September 7, so you're well within your rights to do or not to do the action contemplated tonight."
Prior to the Council vote, LB's first responders also amplified on parts of the report (previously posted in full by LBReportl.com) listing LB's safety considerations. City staff transmitted the report to the CA Energy Commission on August 19...but left room for a Council position on encouraging remote siting.
Prior to the Council vote, Fire Chief Dave Ellis told Councilmembers that said a number of LB firefighters would be working within the danger zone of the LNG facility. He added that resources and training would also be required to deal with the LNG operation.
Deputy Police Chief Tim Jackman noted that in the City's August 19 report, "many of the security issues that we looked at and that we have been involved in have fallen under classified information and we aren't able to go into specifics..."
Present in the Council chamber for the agenda item were construction union members, who stood to receive temporary jobs in building the plant and favored "waiting for the EIR," and residents who were mainly (though not uniformly) opposed to the LNG project.
Among those speaking during public testimony was Kathleen Hollingsworth, district director to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R, HB-LB-PV). As previously reported by LBReport.com, Congressman Rohrabacher sent a letter dated August 18 to LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill saying a Council vote to oppose the Port site prior to the EIR and a site specific safety analysis would be "ill-advised and will diminish the credibility of the City of Long Beach." The Congressman's letter referred to the agendized Council motion as "the worst form of NIMBY-ism."
The remarks went on draw negative responses from the audience and a Councilmember.
LB writer Bry Myown of LB Citizens for Utility Reform said, "I submit that since the time of Attila the Hun, humanity has not concentrated so many dangerous cargos in one choke hold and allowed them to intrude on and be surrounded by neighborhoods and that is what is terrorizing our community." [applause]
Joan Greenwood, President of the Wrigley Association, said an EIR "is an advocacy report. It does not give you all information. It simply represents a range of alternatives or a range of options. Two reports have come out in the last year. One is the Sandia report, which obviously no one in Congressman Rohrabacher's office has read [laughter]. This was a report done by a government agency, and also the testimony of the world expert in this field [Richard Clarke] which came out in June regarding the siting of the [LNG] facilities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and these information contain sufficient, factual, scientific, technical information for you to state your preference this evening. You do not have to wait for the EIR..."
Councilwoman Rae Gabelich read part Congressman Rohrabacher's letter aloud, including a section in which he wrote, "Rejection of the LNG facility means that Long Beach squanders a tremendous source of income. Should Long Beach spurn new sources of revenue such as this one, do not expect the federal government to provide comparable funding in the future for Long Beach projects."
The Congressman's words prompted audience boos...and the Councilwoman continued rhetorically, "Do we cave to the comments of losing federal revenue? I am sorry. I am not here to do this. [loud applause.]"
She continued, "Fear-mongering? No, it's not fear-mongering. It's responsible long-range planning for the future of the residents of this city. [applause]."