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"King Tide" Arrives Along Long Beach's Naples Island, Shows Some Continued Seawall Seep; See Amnesia File For History Of City Hall Repairs, Delays, Costs



(Jan. 1, 2014, 2:35 p.m.) -- On the first day of 2014 (as previewed days earlier by LBREPORT.com), Mother Nature brought a higher-than-daily-usual high tide to Long Beach, a naturally occurring "King Tide" that produces unusual sights.

LBREPORT.com reader Bruce Tennant captured the scenes below.


Portion of seawall as seen at 61st and Bayshore Walk, Jan. 1, 2014 photo by Bruce Tennant


Sign gulped away at Marina, 60th and Bayshore Walk, Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Bruce Tennant

King Tides occur roughly twice a year when the Earth, Moon and Sun line up and maximize the gravitational forces that produce tides. They're not a tsunami; the water gently rises, then gradually recedes. Today's (Jan. 1, 2014) King Tide reached roughly 6.8 feet at about 8:25 a.m. It wasn't quite as high as a December 2012 King Tide which reached roughly 7.33 feet, but it was high enough.


Seawater bubbling up in front of 61st and Bayshore Walk, Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Bruce Tennant


A little sea-spout coming from 62nd and Bayshore Walk, Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Bruce Tennant

The sight of water percolating onto what are supposed to be dry sidewalks is a reminder of a chronic sore point raised by Naples Island property owners, who for years have urged the City to repair the seawalls. The seepage has occurred before...and LBREPORT.com was to our knowledge the only LB news outlet to report that during the slightly higher December 13, 2012 "King Tide," some seawalls in the Naples area -- at one area along the Naples Canal and we presume a second area south of the Ravenna Fountain -- leaked and/or seeped water visibly onto walkways next to homes along the canals. (For LBREPORT.com Dec. 2012 coverage including photos, click here.)

In mid-2010, the City Council approved a plan to repair the seawalls, approved by the Coastal Commission in October 2013. The delay occurred when the Coastal Commission learned that City Hall's management's proposed repair method would reduce the width of the public canal waterway by roughly 18 inches. In exchange, the Coastal Commission required the City to enable increased public access in one seawall area and some environmental mitigation (planting more eel grass at Colorado Lagoon.)

Under City Hall's now-approved plan, roughly 1/5 of the seawall area will be addressed first at a cost of nearly $10 million; the remaining 4/5 of the seawalls will require additional Coastal Commission approval and City funding [presumably from the city's Tidelands fund.]

At the same time, retired Deputy City Attorney Jim McCabe (speaking in his private capacity) has consistently objected to taxpayers shouldering the cost of seawall repairs, arguing that they mainly benefit a small number of private property owners. Naples property owners respond that they have public walkways alongside their front yards that are used by the General Public all year, and especially heavily used during the Christmas season with many visitors enjoying holiday decorations and an annual illuminated boat parade.


Photo source: City of LB Power Point presentation

Background

2010: In an April 2010 study session, Public Works Director Mike Conway told the Council that part of the Seawall problem results from more intense development on the land (larger homes, some 2-3 stories) and said he believes that if there were a Seawall failure (bolstering against daily tides), it might undermine property fronting land but not cause structural damage (several residents disagreed).

The Seawalls don't directly front the sea but bolster landward public right of way and now-multi-million dollar properties against daily tidal flows. Originally built by the properties' developer between 1905-1923, they were originally made of wood and damaged in the 1933 earthquake. They were repaired by a 1938 Roosevelt-era WPA project, strengthened on top by an added 1.5 foot cap in the 1960s in response to subsidence...and are now deteriorating at lower levels, Public Works Director Conway said.

The seawalls were originally built early in the early 20th century by a developer who helped develop Naples Island, who installed privately built seawalls to keep tidal flows from undermining the properties he was selling. After the 1933 Long Beach earthquake damaged the seawalls, City Hall used public money to rebuild the seawalls and public money has been used ever since try and keep them in repair.

On June 15, 2010, the City Council voted 8-0 (Councilmember Suja Lowenthal absent for entire meeting) to approve spending $9.5 million from the city's Tidelands Operating Fund to repair roughly 1/5 of Naples Seawalls, a NE quadrant that city management says is most in need of repairs.


NE quadrant of Naples Island is area where $9.5 million in repairs will be made now...with 4/5 of the Seawalls remaining to be repaired. Photo source: City of LB

The item, proposing to tap the Tidelands Fund (used to fund beach and shoreline items) to fund the Seawall repairs was agendized by Councilmembers Gary DeLong, Suja Lowenthal, Gerrie Schipske and then-Vice Mayor Val Lerch.

To hear the Council proceedings on-demand, click sections below:

Following a city staff presentation by Public Works Director Mike Conway, Councilman DeLong moved to support management's $9.5 million "long term solution" (Seawall replacement with roughly 70 year useful life) instead of a roughly $2.2 million short term 10-15 year alternative that DeLong called a poor investment (throwing good money after bad).

Citing a city management report that said the NE Naples quadrant most needing repairs had about four years expected remaining life, was deteriorating and might collapse in a seismic event or under its own weight, Councilman DeLong said there is an imminent danger now and the Council should fund repairs to the NE 1/5 quadrant now (but left open the possibility of alternate funding sources for the remaining 4/5s).

Then-Councilwoman Rae Gabelich (who exited the Council in mid-2012) offered a substitute motion to have adjacent property owners repairs pay some portion of the cost, possibly a 50-50 "fair share" amount. She noted that the City faces other funding needs from the Tidelands Fund, saying Naples residents should at least consider paying some fair share cost allocation formula, suggesting a possible 50-50 split (used for some sidewalk repairs) as a starting point for discussion...and Councilwoman Gabelich ultimately made this as a substitute motion.

Councilman DeLong responded by saying the Seawalls are a citywide asset and that he'd be open to discussing having Naples residents pay for Seawall repairs if/when City requires residents in other parts of the City to pay for sidewalk repairs, trimming trees and street repairs.

During Council discussion, Councilmembers Robert Garcia, Dee Andrews and Gerrie Schipske indicated they supported DeLong's motion and not Gabelich's substitute.

In city management's presentation, Public Works Director Conway didn't mention that the City could legally require residents to pay for repairs (under state law treating the Seawalls as sidewalks) and didn't offer funding alternatives (assessment districts and the like) that involved payments by residents.

When asked directly by Councilwoman Gabelich if it was true [as stated in an LBReport.com opinion piece by retired Deputy City Attorney Jim McCabe] that state law treats the Seawalls as sidewalks, enabling the City to charge for repairs, City Attorney Bob Shannon acknowledged that it is true.

A number of Naples area residents in the audience testified in support of DeLong's motion and against Gabelich's cost-sharing suggestion. Several residents called the Seawalls a citywide asset and said they bring tourists and visitors from all parts of the city and beyond. Councilman (now Vice Mayor) Robert Garcia echoed that view in supporting Councilman DeLong's motion.

Councilmembers Dee Andrews and Gerrie Schipske also voiced support for DeLong's motion. Councilman Andrews said, "I don't care whether it's in the 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd district. If there's a problem, we should try to fix it the best way we can, not wait until afterwards." Councilwoman Schipske said she believes the City could face liability if the Seawalls collapsed after the City had been forewarned that they required repairs, making it a taxpayer issue.

Retired Deputy City Att'y McCabe supported Councilwoman Gabelich's position, noting that the Seawalls provide benefits that go beyond sidewalks in providing increased property values for adjacent property owners.

Faced with a Council majority supporting DeLong's motion, Councilwoman Gabelich withdrew her substitute and asked DeLong verbally if he'd support some type of cost-sharing; DeLong replied "probably not" and an awkward pause ensued.

Then-Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga (who exited the Council in mid-July 2010) offered a different substitute motion that incorporated DeLong's motion to spend $9.5 million from the Tidelands now but included a request that city staff draft an item for future Council consideration including possible cost-sharing or increased slip fees by area residents.

The Uranga substitute carried 8-0 (Lowenthal absent for the entire meeting).

[updated text] At the start of the item, Vice Mayor Val Lerch announced that Mayor Foster "has had to recuse himself from this item because his house is in Naples next to the Seaw--, by the Seawall so he's had to leave the room."

2011: In January 2011, retired Deputy City Attorney Jim McCabe [speaking in his individual capacity] testified to the CA Coastal Commission that he considers the City Council's June 2010 approval of roughly $9.5 million in Tidelands funds to repair roughly 1/5 of bulkhead/seawalls in the Naples/Peninsula area a gift of public money.

Mr. McCabe (who for years handled Tidelands related matters for LB City Hall) stated:

Mr. McCabe: ...The Tidelands Fund of the City of Long Beach is the principal resource for the protection and maintenance of coastal Long Beach. And indeed the Coastal Commission's website indicates that it is charged with the protection of coastal resources.

The $9.5 million is sought to repair bulkheads that benefit private property owners whose private yards are held up by these bulkheads, whose private boat slips are attached to these bulkheads and whose property value is vastly increased by being on the water protected by these bulkheads.

Thus one of the principal coastal resources of the City of Long Beach, its Tidelands Fund, is being sharply reduced instead of being protected.

There was an extensive discussion at the City Council meeting on June 15 that under no circumstances would the property owners agree to contribute to their repair of their own bulkhead even though the City Attorney said that was possible.

Simply, the City seeks to make a gift of public funds, coastal resources, for the pleasure and convenience of private, waterfront owners.

Coastal Commission Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth replied:

Mr. Ainsworth: I'm not familiar with the Tidelands Fund specifically and what those funds can be used for, but they should be used also for public improvements, and in this case the improvements to the seawall or the repairs to the seawall, do support the public sidewalk along the bulkhead in the Naples Island area. Also, it supports, it provides for the channel areas all open to the public, and the public uses those channels for kayaking, gondola rides and other recreational uses, so there is a public component for these improvements.

There were no follow up Commission comments, and the Commission voted without dissent to approve the City Hall requested permit.

2012: In July 2012, Mr. McCabe sent the letter text below to the Executive Directors of the CA State Lands Commission and CA Coastal Commission, alleging that the June 2010 City Council action which approved spending nearly $10 million in Tidelands money to repair a portion of Third Council district Naples seawalls is in his view overwhelmingly a private, not public benefit that amounts to a gift of public money prohibited by the state constitution and the state legislature's Tidelands grant to the City of Long Beach.

[McCabe letter text]

Curtis Fossum
Executive Officer
California State Lands Commission
100 Howe Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95825-8202

Charles Lester
Executive Director
California Coastal Commission
45 Freemont Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-2219

July 27, 2012

Re: City of Long Beach Seawall Restoration Project.

Gentlemen:

I am a resident of the City of Long Beach. For years, I was the Long Beach Deputy City Attorney charged with dealing with matters involving City Tidelands including the seawalls in the Naples area of Long Beach. My understanding is that the above captioned matter is presently before the Coastal Commission. The subject matter discussed below is also within the ambit of the State Lands Commission.

Sometime in the 1990s, the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Marine together with the office of the City Attorney met with Councilman Doug Drummond and Naples waterfront homeowners to try to figure out a way to finance the repair of the Naples seawalls. That meeting took place at the Naples Elementary School. The writer was present as the Deputy City Attorney charged with handling Tidelands matters for the City.

City staff suggested to the homeowners that they could expedite the repair of those, already old, seawalls by the implementation of a modest increase in the fees paid by those owners for their boat slips situated over the City owned canals. Several weeks later, Drummond came back to City Hall with the message that the canal front homeowners would not "pay a dime" towards the repair of their seawalls.

On June 15, 2010, the City Council considered a motion to pay $9.5 million for the repair of a small portion of those seawalls most in need of repair. Over my objection (as a retired Deputy Attorney), the Council approved the payment of that money from the Citywide Tidelands Fund, a fund dedicated by law to the public benefit of all taxpayers and citizens. Contrary to the intent of settled law, the expenditure of this fund of taxpayer's money was approved for the private use of the relatively small number of private, and wealthy, homeowners in Naples.

It is apparent that public money spent on Naples seawall repair is money spent overwhelmingly for private, not public, benefit. Those seawalls keep private residences and their yards from falling into the canals. The private homeowners' private floating boat docks are attached to the sea walls. The market value of those private homes is benefited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each residence. The private homeowners get the benefit of a "water view" and access for their back yard private boats to Alamitos Bay and the ocean.

Any benefit of the seawalls to the public is minor by comparison. A very small portion of the public, outside of Naples, actually take walks along or boat along those canals. If it were up to the homeowners, Naples would be a gated community specifically excluding the public. That request has actually been made in the past.

I respectfully suggest that beyond the shadow of a doubt, that these expensive repairs of the Naples area seawalls solely from the City of Long Beach Tideland Fund amounts to a gift of public funds from the public at large to a very few Naples landowners. Such a gift is prohibited by the Constitution of the State of California as well as the Grants of Tidelands to the City of Long Beach.

At the June 15 City Council meeting, Councilwoman Gabelich moved an amendment, which was adopted, which directed the City Manager to look into and report to the Council on what methods might be available for the private canal side homeowners to contribute to the $9.5 million being spent in large part for their private benefit. City Attorney Shannon noted, at that meeting, that the City could legally assess the owners for all or part of the expense. Councilwoman Gabelich herself noted that the Naples homeowners were paying, for the right to have their private docks on public water, about one twelfth the price of what marina rents were paying for less desirable docks. For that small fraction of the public marina charges, the Naples residents get a private dock in their backyard. They don't have to drive to a Long Beach public marina and dock with those boat owners at twelve times the expense.

In January 2011, I submitted a Public Record Act Request to the City of Long Beach, regarding Item #29 at the June 15 Council meeting, asking for any documents or electronic messages from city staff reflecting the Council's charge to the City Manager to "provide a report to the City Council on funding alternatives, including a possible change in slip fee rates, for repair of ... seawalls in the Naples area." (See minutes to Item #29.)

The City's response to my Record Act Request was that not even one slip of paper had been generated in response the mentioned mandate. Nothing has been done to identify "funding alternatives." The private canal front homeowners will still "not pay a dime" toward the repair of their seawalls.

In fact the wide differentiation in charges for pier space over public waters at the City run municipal marina on the one hand and the dramatically lower charges for pier space over public waters conveniently adjacent to Naples landowners property owners appears to be a clear violation of the proscription of "discrimination in rates, tolls or charges" for pier usage found in Chapter 158, Statutes of 1935 in the Grant of Tidelands to the City of Long Beach, Section (d.)

It has been estimated that, in the next few years, as much or more than fifty million dollars will have to be spent repairing these seawalls. Assuming that the private canal front homeowners will still pay nothing of this cost, all of that money will be taken from the Tidelands Fund, a fund intended for the benefit of all taxpayers and citizens.

Respectfully, the City of Long Beach has no legal right to spend money intended for the benefit of all the citizens of the State of California for a purpose that is overwhelmingly to the benefit of a handful of privileged local citizens without some meaningful contribution from the benefited group.

Again respectfully, I thank you very much for your consideration in this matter...

2013: The city's plan for the "long term" solution hit choppy water with Coastal Commission staff, which objected on grounds the repairs (made to the seaward side of the seawalls) would narrow the public waterway by about 18 inches. (In presenting that recommended action to the Council for approval in 2010, city management didn't mention this.)In October 2013, the Coastal Commission approved City Hall's plan to start repairs on roughly 1/5 of the seawalls after the City agreed to plant more eel grass at Colorado Lagoon and provide increased public sidewalk in the area of E. Sorrento Drive.

And in a collateral condition that addresses a point previously made by Mr. McCabe [without crediting him personally], the Commission required that city staff agree to the following condition applying to canal-adjacent homeowners:

[Condition 10] Prior to the placement of any dock floats into Rivo Canal after the completion of the approved Phase One seawall repairs, the applicant [City of Long Beach] shall institute a lease program for the project area (at a minimum, the Phase One area), with appropriate prices established in relation to the lease area and temporal length of each lease. The lease program shall allow for the limited term private use and occupation of state tidelands for development associated with recreational boating activities (i.e., private docks and piers). [Editor's note: This hasn't been free but critics have contended the status quo enabled a deep discount for property owners.] The money generated by the leases shall be deposited into the City's Tidelands Fund to be utilized for public access improvements, including the public walkway required by Special Condition Fourteen of this coastal development permit, and future seawall repairs.

By its approval, the Coastal Commission accepted Long Beach City Hall's favored method for repairing the seawalls by constructing a new steel sheet-pile seawall seaward of the existing concrete seawall (in the canal)...which would result in filling-in (consuming area with) coastal waters...something Commission staff said wouldn't typically be allowed unless an applicant had demonstrated no feasible alternative that would avoid seaward expansion (e.g. in-alignment replacement or landward replacement). Long Beach City Hall said it considered an in-alignment/landward placement option and contended it was infeasible because of the higher costs.

Coastal Commission staff recommended approval of City Hall's preferred method of construction of the new seawalls in the canal) with Coastal Commission staff special conditions to mitigate the projectís impacts on coastal resources.

The amendment, offered orally by Garcia with details contained in a document (not online but apparently shown to and approved by to city management, the Sorrento Drive Homeowners Association representative and Coastal Commission staff) added what Garcia called a "public input process" to include the Sorrento Dr. Neighborhood Association, members of the public and interested stakeholders. Garcia said that public input meetings will be noticed and open to all interested parties, with the purpose of such meetings to facilitate communication and feedback on the design and implementation of public walkway improvements and associated elements. (Garcia said an accompanying document includes non-substantive changes to Condition 14 to reflect the community process.)

Sorrento Dr. homeowners had objected to an aspect of the City Hall-Coastal Commission agreed version of the repairs that included construction of a "Sorrento Alamitos Bay Shoreline Trail" enabling increased public access in the Sorrento Dr. area (in the NE corner of the Naples area, some distance from the seawall repair area.) Sorrento Dr. Neighborhood Association representative Sherman Stacey called it a "project within a project" of which homeowners had only recently became aware...and noted that the proposal hadn't received prior public discussion by the City of Long Beach.

Assistant City Manager Suzanne Frick and Mr. Stacey publicly both assented to Garcia's amendment to Condition 14. Called to the podium to address the proposed amendment, Assistant City Manager Frick said the city is "prepared to embark upon a process where we will engage the community and design a walkway that will be publicly accessible and include the community and then also go through the process for issuing a coastal development Permit that the city will issue and...would be appealable to the Commission if necessary."

Homeowners' rep Stacey said "the neighborhood association, if the city has the discretion to do the design that the city determines to be appropriate to accomplish the same goal that is set forth, subject to the Commission having the right to review it, we would find those changes that I reviewed, that you showed me earlier today, to be acceptable."

In a release, the City of Long Beach said its seawall repair process will "install a new cantilevered sheet pile wall that will not require any tie back anchors, and provide maximum protection to adjacent infrastructure.

[City release text] Additionally, the City will construct the Sorrento Alamitos Bay Shoreline Trail, a public walkway on the northwestern shoreline of Naples Island. Through the community input process, the City shall consider the trail alignment, privacy walls, vertical accessways to access the path, a signage plan, the width of the walkway and appropriate materials, a lighting plan, ADA access, and restrict the walkway to existing filled areas as it designs and approves the walkway.

"I'm pleased the Coastal Commission voted to approve the permit for the rebuilding of the Naples seawalls," said 3rd District Councilmember Gary DeLong. "The seawalls must be repaired quickly, and I appreciate the Coastal Commission listening to the concerns of 3rd District residents who wanted a say in the construction of a walkway so close to their homes."

The City has been working to finalize construction plans and prepare bid documents in order to expedite the project once all approvals are obtained. The following is the project schedule:

  • Project plan check at the end of October
  • Project goes out to bid-early November and closes December
  • City Council award of construction contract January
  • Construction begins February

Coastal Commission approval was also subject to the following staff specified conditions:

[Coastal Commission staff text] The special conditions require several forms of mitigation. In order to mitigate for the fill in the canal, the applicant is required by Special Condition Six to replace (create) new subtidal soft bottom habitat at a 2:1 ratio. The soft bottom habitat mitigation would be carried out by excavating and enlarging Colorado Lagoon.

Eelgrass impacts in Rivo Alto Canal will be mitigated by growing eelgrass at the Marine Stadium Eelgrass Mitigation Site (Special Condition Three).

Adverse impacts to public access and recreation must also be mitigated. The construction of the new seawalls in the water narrows the canal by three feet and fills public trust lands, thus adversely affecting the publicís ability to access the water for water-oriented recreational activities. In order to mitigate for the impacts associated with filling of public trust submerged and historic tideland and narrowing the canal, which will limit the channel area available for the public to enjoy public trust lands, in a manner that ensures that the mitigation accommodates, promotes and fosters the publicís enjoyment of public trust lands, the Commission staff, in cooperation with the applicant, has developed a public access enhancement and mitigation plan that will improve public access along the northwestern shoreline of Naples Island in an area where private encroachments currently discourage general public use of a public right-of-way that provides access to public trust resources in Alamitos Bay.

The mitigation plan, as required pursuant to Special Condition Fourteen, provides for a five-foot wide ADA accessible public walkway along the filled portion of the Cityís public right-of-way known as the Alamitos Bay Shoreline Trail. This walkway would provide for both lateral access along the bayfront and connections to vertical access points from East Sorrento Drive. This walkway will provide for pedestrian access to the public trust lands, including the bay waters and bay shoreline which will, in turn, provide improved access to launch points along the northern bayfront for non-motorized boats such as stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. Local residents have registered their opposition to Special Condition Fourteen.

The Commission has the authority to impose requirement to provide a public trust use as a condition of approval of the proposed development since the development would be inconsistent with Section 30210 of the Coastal Act without the imposition of such a condition. The applicant agrees with the staff recommendation, except for Special Condition Eighteen which requires the applicant to reimburse the Commission for attorney's fees.

The staff recommendation also includes special conditions relating to protection of water quality, protection of nesting birds, dock leases, no future seaward extension of the development, and the applicantís assumption of risk.

2014: To date, plans to begin repairs on roughly 4/5 of the seawalls haven't yet received Coastal Commission approval...or (to our knowledge) specifically allocated Council budgeted funding. To our knowledge, no City Councilmember (since Gabelich in 2010] has proposed that the affected private property owners contribute some sum ("fair share" or otherwise") to the multi-million public repair cost [possibly via a "Special Assessment District" or a "Property Based Improvement District" (PBID) or the like.] The 3rd Council district area is among the city's higher propensity voter-turnout areas.



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