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    Breakwater Battle Redux: Baker -- This Time With O'Donnell and Reyes Uranga -- Seeks Initial Study To Determine If There's Fed'l Interest In Reconfiguring Breakwater


    (June 20, 2005, updated July 3) -- The LB breakwater visible in the distance -- a structure built, owned and operated by the federal government and traditionally viewed locally as either a surf-killing, water-fouling anachronism or a real world, property-protecting asset -- will be the subject of discussion at the LB City Council on July 5, reprising an item initially brought to the Council in October 2001 by Councilman Dan Baker.

    This time, Councilmembers Dan Baker -- and Patrick O'Donnell and Tonia Reyes Uranga -- have agendized a request that LB City Hall ask the federal government "to conduct a one-year Reconnaissance Study to determine if there is a federal interest in a study of a reconfiguration of the Long Beach breakwater."

    The item was originally taken up June 21 but interrupted when a bird's nest built in a light fixture began smouldering, prematurely ending the Council proceedings. The breakwater item is now the first item of substantive Council business on July 5.

    It effectively reprises an October 30, 2001 agenda item by Councilman Baker which produced two hours of intense public debate...but couldn't muster a second at that time to Baker's motion. In contrast, this time Baker has two Councilmembers co-authoring his request for a reconnaissance study.

    In their June 21 agendizing memo, Councilmembers Baker, O'Donnell and Reyes Uranga write:

    Long Beach residents have long debated how a reconfigured breakwater would affect property, businesses, the Port of Long Beach, and the environment. Past studies have been limited in scope and have failed to address the entire issue: are there reasonable solutions to complications that may arise from reconfiguring the breakwater to bring natural tidal action back to Long Beach?

    The Long Beach breakwater is federal property and the federal government must determine that it has an interest in the breakwater's condition before it would support any further inquiry into a reconfiguration.

    The issue has been relentlessly pressed by the Surfrider Foundation, a member of LB ECO-link. The Surfrider Foundation's website indicates the group's May 2005 General meeting included its proposal to "'Sink the breakwater' [in quotes in original] and Restore the Shore."

    The group's website says its LB "Breakwater Taskforce is dedicated to bringing surf back to Long Beach by reconfiguring the eastern-most section of the Long Beach breakwater." Supporters of a partial reconfiguration have argued that this wouldn't affect the Ports, only the easternmost sections. They've also argued a minor reconfiguration, possibly shaving parts off or the like, could restore some of LB's surf and would improve water quality, flush out pollution and encourage tourism

    3d district Councilman Frank Colonna, who represents the Belmont Shore and Naples areas, bristles at the suggestion. He opposed a study in 2001 and opposes one now, telling that the breakwater is the effectively the foundation underpinning decades of development in much of LB...and he adds LB does have vibrant, well attended beaches.

    Opposition to modifying the breakwater has traditionally come from Belmont Shore and peninsula residents who view it as their real world protection against storm driven surf that previously destroyed homes and property. Some shipping and Port interests also oppose changing the breakwater, favoring placid waters.

    In 2001, supporters of the breakwater also cited a produced videotape indicating that the structure has become a new habitat for sea life. The tape left several local environmentalists fuming, saying the breakwater has hurt sea life, not helped it.

    Councilman Baker's 2d district includes the Port of LB as well as downtown beach area neighborhoods including part of the Bluff area overlooking the ocean. Councilmembers O'Donnell and Reyes Uranga represent areas further inland.

    In October 2001, traditional arguments about the breakwater were eclipsed by homeland security. At the time, LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill said that during one of her trips to Washington, she'd met with officials of the Corps of Engineers to discuss the breakwater. She said COE officials made clear that they considered the LB breakwater "an authorized federal structure, owned and operated by the federal government, built for a significant national security function."

    The Mayor added that COE officials said September 11's terror attacks had prompted a "paradigm change" in thinking at all levels of government and "all facilities are being reviewed with national security needs in mind."

    Vice Mayor Baker argued at the time that his motion was only a first step in a lengthy three part process, to get information previously lacking in City Hall treatment of the issue:

    "Whether we believe taking down the breakwater is a good or a bad idea based on the information we now have, what we're doing right now, and I hope I'll have Council support on this, is asking for more information in that first's a one year study and it determines if there's a federal interest in what we're requesting," said in 2001.

    Councilman Baker also noted that approving the item didn't put the Council on record as favoring or opposing reconfiguration of the breakwater. "Does not put the City Council in a policy position of advocating for or against removal of the breakwater; all it says is, let's do this study, get the information, bring it back to the City Council so that we can then go forward and make an informed on whether we should take that second step."

    In 2001, Councilman Colonna argued against Baker's item, displaying historic photos showing storm waves and beach erosion before the breakwater was built. Colonna also said that contrary to criticism voiced at the Council meeting, LB's beaches are beautiful and well attended.

    In 2001, some Councilmembers indicated "bad timing" on the security issue was one reason for their lack of support for Baker's motion. 1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal -- whose downtown area district adjoins the Port -- spotted LB Port Exec. Dir. in the audience during the 2001 proceedings and asked him "under what circumstances the Port of Long Beach would consider a study of the breakwater, if ever?"

    Mr. Steinke replied, "I think it's our position at this point that given the security concerns that we have from the Port of Long Beach's standpoint, we would not entertain or encourage a study to be done, at least at this point..."

    Councilwoman Lowenthal pressed the question. "Could you envision a time when national security is not the issue and not foremost on our minds that as the Director of the Port of Long Beach, you would be supportive of a study of the breakwater?" Mr. Steinke replied, "Councilwoman, at this point I think our life as changed as respects the Port of Long Beach. I don't think you're going to see business as usual with respect to security. I can't make a prediction as to when we're going to be back to normal with respect to security."

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