Restoring Rights Lost
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(February 13, 2006) -- An item appeared on the January 24, 2006 City Council consent calendar -- not scheduled for discussion unless a Councilmember or member of the public wanted it heard. The item (at the final Council meeting where Dan Baker voted as a Councilman) sought routine approval for minutes of the Jan. 9 Harbor Commission meeting at which LB's Mayor-chosen, Council-approved Harbor Commissioners extended an engineering contract for what looks like work related to putting an 80+ million Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the Port roughly two miles from downtown LB.
While worded in weasely-language that invites confusion, it basically applies to already-funded work that will be necessary only if the LNG project is approved.
So...why would LB's Harbor Commissioners do this for an LNG project whose draft EIR they haven't certified and whose final lease they haven't approved?
This got the attention of 2d district advocate Bry Myown...who pulled the item for discussion, came to the microphone, explained what was taking place...and called on the Council to give LB voters a chance to approve a Charter amendment giving the Council veto powers over Harbor actions and restoring the public's right to recall Harbor Commissioners.
Holding a copy of PoLB's staff memorandum, Ms. Myown acknowledged that the engineering contract pertained to a planned but unleased liquid bulk import terminal adjacent to the proposed LNG site as well as the LNG berth itself...but said the memo made clear that its extension and the additional $550,000 staff/consultant EIR allocation are exclusively related to the LNG project. (Total Port spending on the combined contracts amounts to $4.9 million.)
Ms. Myown noted that the engineering contract, which would have lapsed without the Harbor Commission action, has already been funded for "remaining future activities once--and I repeat, not if but once, project approvals are received."
We quote extended portions of her testimony here:
I and many others have often complained about Harbor Commission activities which I think are contrary to either your voted actions or the public safety, and the minutes you are about to receive contain what I think is another. That is the extension of the consulting engineer contract for the Pier T Liquid Bulk Import Terminals and staff allocation for additional EIR work.
I'm sure the Port and the Commission may say that some of the work this firm has performed is necessary for Pier 126, that all are entitled to vote without conflict because it is not about LNG but in anticipation of a vote on LNG and that they are bound by a letter of intent to do this--which, of course, would be part of the problem.
However, the backup memorandum furnished to the Harbor Commissioners makes clear that the sole reason for the time extension on this project is for work related to the LNG terminal, that the staff allocation is entirely for work related to the EIS and that this contract has already been funded for remaining future activities once--and I repeat, not if but once, project approvals are received.
Regardless of the explanation, and I'm not here to split legal hairs about it, I think the public appearance is certainly that your Harbor Commission has impliedly endorsed this project and that this is one of a long line of enabling actions that are moving it forward, and the fact is there is nothing that you, or we, can do about it.
Finally, Ms. Myown noted that LB residents historically enjoyed the right to recall Harbor Commissioners. She added that the Los Angeles City Council has veto powers over its Harbor's actions.
Then Ms. Myown threw down the gauntlet: she asked the Council to put those Charter provisions on the June 2006 citywide ballot...when they could be enacted by LB voters before the Harbor Commission decides the LNG matter.
Historically, the people of Long Beach until rather recently had in their Charter the right to recall Harbor and Water Commissioners. Historically you have not had the right your counterparts in Los Angeles have to veto Harbor Commission actions. These are the correctives that I think are necessary in the Charter, and I think they should be enacted quickly if they are to avail us regarding LNG.
The quickest way to put a Charter amendment on the ballot is for a majority of you to vote to place it there, which all of you can do any Tuesday night. I strongly urge you to do so before the upcoming June citywide elections.
6th District Councilmember Laura Richardson moved to receive and file the Harbor Commission's minutes; 4th District Councilmember Patrick O'Donnell seconded the motion and the motion carried 7-0 (Gabelich and Colonna absent).
And that was it...with no other Council comment (including Councilman Baker).
This Tuesday (Feb. 14) Councilmembers will consider whether to call a June special election to fill Baker's unexpired term.
That shows they have time to put the Myown Charter amendment on the ballot.
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