News / In Detail / Perspective

BNSF Gave Money To Every Current Long Beach Councilmember And LB's Mayor (via their officeholder and/or campaign accounts) Who'll Meet Behind Closed Doors Today (Aug. 5) On City's Lawsuit Challenging EIR To BNSF-Sought WLB-Adjacent SCIG Railyard

(Aug. 5, 2014, 11:35 a.m.) -- At 4:00 p.m. today (Aug. 5), after legally-allowed public comment, LB's non-voting Mayor and as many as nine of Long Beach's policy-deciding City Councilmembers (including five new members as of July 15) will exit the Council Chamber and enter a room from which the press and public will be barred.

Outside of public and press view, they will discuss a lawsuit filed by the City of Long Beach (one of several plaintiffs/petitioners) challenging the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), approved by the Port/City of Los Angeles, a document necessary to enable a BNSF-sought WLB impacting railyard ("Southern CA Int'l Gateway" or "SCIG.")

BNSF is listed in campaign and officeholder reports as having given money to Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and every current Long Beach Councilmember, either to their campaign committee accounts and/or to their officeholder accounts (the latter not for campaign purposes but for incumbents' expenses (events, refreshments, some travel, etc.)

Corporate contributions are lawful, protected by the 1st Amendment. To our knowledge, is the only Long Beach news outlet to use the 1st Amendment to report them in detail we do below for our readers in connection with today's Council session on BNSF's proposed railyard.

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In the Secretary of State's database, BNSF is listed as having given sums to multiple elected officials and candidates (from both parties, and winners and losers) at various governmental levels: state, county and local. To view its contributions as listed on the Secretary of State's website, click here (2013-2014) and click here (2011-2012)'s information below re Long Beach's current Councilmembers and Mayor is from the Secretary of State's listed sums and materials filed by candidates/officeholders with the Long Beach City Clerk's office. BNSF is also listed as having given sums to (among others, not a complete list) unsuccessful LB Mayoral candidates Damon Dunn, Doug Otto, Bonnie Lowenthal and Gerrie Schipske and Council candidate Carl Kemp. Dunn, Lowenthal and Schipske have previously indicated that they returned the contributions. [Aug. 6 clarifier: Schipske notes that she returned the BNSF check during the campaign.]

In a March 23, 2014 article, LBRegister's Joshua Stewart noted that during a Mayoral candidate forum, Garcia said he thought he'd received $200 in sums from BNSF when in truth he had actually already received quite a bit more (mainly to his officeholder account.) (In addition, just one day before Mr. Stewart's article ran, BNSF gave Garcia's campaign committee $750; after the June 3 runoff election, BNSF gave the Garcia campaign committee another $500.)

Below are sums publicly listed on the government sources above:

12/06/2011Robert Garcia Officeholder Account (#1321604)$500.00
08/03/2012Robert Garcia Officeholder 2012$500.00
02/06/2013Robert Garcia Officeholder 2013 (#1314062)$500.00
09/20/2013Garcia for Mayor 2014 (#1359161)$250.00
04/22/2014Committee to elect Robert Garcia for LB Mayor 2014$750.00
06/18/2014Committee to elect Robert Garcia for LB Mayor 2014$500.00
11/12/2013Lena Gonzalez for Long Beach City Council 2014$350.00
04/14/2014Lena Gonzalez for Long Beach City Council 2014$400.00
02/16/2011Suja Lowenthal Officeholder Account Account (#1299837)$500.00
11/07/2011Suja Lowenthal for City Council (#1339814)$350.00
02/19/2014Suzie Price for City Council 2014 (#1362379)$400.00
03/20/2012Patrick O'Donnell for City Council 2012$350.00
05/24/2012Patrick O'Donnell for City Council 2012$350.00
11/12/2013Stacy Mungo City Council 2014 (#1358238)$350.00
04/14/2014Stacy Mungo for City Council 2014 (#1358238)$400.00
07/11/2012Dee Andrews Officeholder Account (#1304600)$500.00
11/12/2013Roberto Uranga for City Council 2014 (#1360366)$350.00
03/27/2013Al Austin City Council 2012 Officeholder Account$500.00
11/12/2013Rex Richardson for Long Beach City Council 2014$350.00

BNSF has proposed to build/operate a 24/7 railyard on land owned by the Port (City) of Los Angeles adjoining/nearby a West Long Beach neighborhood that includes homes and schools. A number of WLB neighborhood groups, as well as environmental and health groups regionally, oppose building the railyard in BNSF's desired location. They argue that railyards belong in the Port(s), not next to neighborhoods. They favor on-dock rail instead of trucked-to-dock rail. And, in a key difference from the City of Long Beach's position, they say the proposed RR's negative impacts can't be "mitigated" at the BNSF-desired location.

Others, including some labor unions and cargo/maritime interests, and some neighborhood residents, support the BNSF proposed project. They and BNSF say it will use the cleanest possible current technology, will allow only cargo carried on "clean" trucks that will be routed away from neighborhoods, will mean jobs for residents and bring cleaner air regionally by using rail to move cargo instead of freeway-congesting trucks. The Port of Los Angeles has said putting the proposed railyard in the Port is infeasible on grounds including a lack of currently available land in the Port.

To date, despite (or perhaps because of) the polarizing controversy, the Long Beach City Council (under now-exited Mayor Foster) has avoided taking an up-or-down publicly recorded vote on whether to support or oppose BNSF's proposed railyard outright. Instead, a now-former Long Council majority authorized city staff to submit objections (some quite strongly worded) to the Environmental Imapct Report (EIR) alleging it doesn't fully describe the proposed railyard's negative impacts and fails to require sufficient "mitigation" for those impacts. LB's Harbor Commission has also voted to support City Hall's EIR appeal.

LB City Hall's position has effectively allowed Council incumbents (and candidates) to say they oppose the railyard "as currently proposed" (or words to that effect)...leaving open the possibility that they might support it, or at least accept it, with additional "mitigation." This position is substatively different than that of a number of WLB grassroots groups and project opponents who say the project can't be mitigated where it's been proposed and should be moved elsewhere.

Now-former Mayor Bob Foster has said publicly that he met with BNSF representatives and unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the matter based on BNSF providing unspecified additional "mitigation" (which BNSF at that time declined.)

The L.A. Harbor Commission approved the railyard EIR; the L.A. City Council upheld its Harbor Commission action and the LB City Council authorized LB's City Attorney's office to file a court-challenge (under the CA Environmental Quality Act or CEQA) to the adequacy of the EIR. The Long Beach Unified School District has separately filed a legal action challenging the adequacy of the EIR (also not opposing the project outright.) Other groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, are purusing their own separate challenges to the EIR and there is other litigation pending related to the proposed railyard (and the actions have all been consolidated.).

Today (Aug. 5) will be the first time LB's new City Council majority takes up the matter collectively. Under LB's City Charter, the Mayor can speak and attend but has no vote.

If the Council in closed session takes a voted "reportable" action (specified in the Brown open meetings Act), the City Attorney will report the results of that vote after the closed session. If the Council were [speculation only here] to vote in closed session to settle litigation, that vote would also have to be taken in a subsequent public Council session.

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