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5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell Wants Charter Amendment Committee To Discuss Ballot Measure re Construction in Parks; No Specific Draft

(June 17, 2002) -- 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell has agendized an item for the Council's June 18 meeting, requesting a hearing before the Council's Charter Amendment Committee to discuss the issue of construction in city parks. No specific text is included in the agendizing materials.

Councilwoman Kell's request comes one week after City Attorney Bob Shannon indicated [accurately, we believe] that discussion of her measure at the June 11 Charter Amendment Committee meeting by Kell was not in order because Kell's proposal was not properly before the Committee, not having been referred to the Committee by publicly voted action of the City Council.

Meanwhile, at the same June 18 Council meeting, a different Charter Amendment -- backed by City Hall's appointed Recreation Commission -- is on the verge of being placed on the ballot. The Recreation Commission favored measure (which went through the Charter Amendment Committee on June 11) would give the appointed Recreation Commissioners certain authority over leisure activities in parks.

However it is not what grassroots park protection advocates have long sought: a Charter Amendment substantively preventing City Hall from permitting more non-park uses on park land.

(Full coverage of the Recreation Commission favored measure, including a link to its verbatim text, at: Council Asked To Advance Charter Amendment Giving Non-Elected Rec. Comm'n Certain Authority Over Leisure Activities in Parks and Rec. Facilities)

Councilwoman Kell's agendizing memo for the June 18 Council meeting (text reproduced verbatim below) does not include a proposed ballot measure text but says, "A new Open Space Plan for the City of Long Beach is being circulated through City Departments and will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on July 18, 2002. One of the recommendations in that plan is for a ballot measure on construction in city parks."

City Hall's draft Open Space Plan includes a chart entitled "Open Space for Outdoor Recreation Implementation Programs" which includes: "Place before the voters a City Charter Amendment to update and clarify the (Parks and) Recreation Commissionís role relative to non-recreation uses and development in City parks."

There is no legal requirement that Kell's proposal be limited to the draft Open Space Plan proposes or what the Planning Commission may or may not do since the Council has ultimate control over what it chooses to put on the ballot (as well as what the final Open Space Plan ultimately says).

The Charter Amendment Committee is a "committee of the whole," comprised of all members of the City Council, convened specifically to address proposed Charter Amendments. Although it may seem odd for a legislative body to refer a matter to itself, this is a common procedure among other legislative bodies. [As C-SPAN viewers know, the House of Representatives frequently meets as a "Committee of the Whole House" to consider specific matters].

Requiring separate review by the Council sitting as the Charter Amendment Committee reflects the fact that Charter Amendments deserve focused consideration, separate from consideration of ordinary Council items.

Getting Kell's proposal on the ballot for the November, 2002 election is still possible but would require a number of steps successfully completed in close order. The Charter Amendment Committee must meet and hear the matter, vote to send it back to the Council so the Council as a body can vote to put it on the ballot, and if text isn't finalized, take a separate vote (a week later if not scheduled sooner) to approve the actual text...all completed by early August at the latest to make the November ballot.

Councilwoman Kell's item is number 18 on the June 18 Council agenda. It is accompanied by the following memo from Councilwoman Kell:

Date: June 18, 2002

To: Mayor Beverly OíNeill and Members of Long Beach City Council

From: Councilwoman Jackie Kell

Subject: Request for Charter Amendment Committee to meet regarding proposed Ballot Measure For Construction in City Parks


A new Open Space Plan for the City of Long Beach is being circulated through City Departments and will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on July 18, 2002. One of the recommendations in that plan is for a ballot measure on construction in city parks.


I respectfully ask that the City Council schedule a hearing before the Charter Amendment Committee to discuss this issue.

Councilwoman Kell's request does not request a specific time for the Charter Amendment Committee meeting. Committee meetings are usually called by their chair and the Charter Amendment Committee is chaired by the Mayor. (The Council could effectively direct the Committee to meet at a date of its choosing; there's no evidence the Mayor would resist the Council's expressed will on this).

It's unclear exactly what Councilwoman Kell has in mind, but for several years, park protection advocates have asked the Council to put on the ballot a Charter Amendment or some type of measure that the Council couldn't override on its own that would protect park land from non park uses. Councilmembers have either ignored the requests or offered lesser measures.

Roughly two years ago, Councilman Ray Grabinski offered an alternative he called "parks in perpetuity." But Grabinski's proposal, a Municipal Code change, wouldn't bind future Councils and basically only offered the public more opportunities to be "heard" after which Councilmembers still retained the power to do as they pleased.

Grabinski's measure consumed months of citywide hearings, many chaired by Kell. The process droned on until the bruising July 17, 2001 Council debate over City Hall's plan to take a 2.5 acre chunk of Scherer Park to accommodate a police station expansion.

Councilwoman Kell voted with an 8-1 Council majority (Grabinski dissenting) to rezone 2.5 acres of Scherer park land as "institutional" to accommodate the expanded police facility but before casting her vote, Kell vowed to agendize discussion at the next Council meeting of a ballot measure to ensure this was the last time park land was taken for non-recreational purposes.

And she did. A week later, Councilwoman Kell agendized for the July 24 Council meeting an item asking the City Attorney to prepare a ballot measure for the next citywide election to decide if all future building on City park property will be limited to recreational use. She requested Council support "for a motion to request the City Attorney's office prepare a ballot measure for the next citywide decide if all future building on City park property only be allowed if it were deemed to be for recreational use."

But on the night of the July 24th Council meeting, the item was pulled off the agenda. Reached later that evening by, Councilwoman Kell indicated several Council members (whom she declined to name) asked her to "pull" (i.e. remove) the item from discussion. Councilwoman Kell also cited Councilmembers' upcoming vacations that could prevent some from taking part in coming meetings [note: all were present on July 24], uncertainty over whether her item would be sent to the Charter Amendment Committee or to the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee, a pending report on Open Space by Parks and Rec Director Phil Hester and Grabinski's so-called "parks in perpetuity" measure.

Councilwoman Kell told she expected it would return in late summer, perhaps sometime in late August. When asked if she still meant to ban future building in parks for non recreational purposes, Councilwoman Kell replied, "Absolutely."

The measure didn't return as the city careened toward the 2002 primary Council and Mayoral elections, although the park issue continued to simmer.

In February, 2002, Councilman (and then Mayoral candidate) Grabinski showed up for one of City Hall's scheduled meetings on its "Open Space Plan" and indicated (to much applause from those attending) that he supported letting the public decide on parks.

Later that month, as reported by, Councilwoman Kell told a televised candidate forum, "We may be looking at a Charter Amendment when it comes to parks in perpetuity, and I do believe that we will possibly be doing that parks in perpetuity Charter change in that the voters would want us, I believe, to say that we would not put any non-recreational usage in any of the parks in the city."

In the April election, Kell won re-election to her 5th district Council seat with roughly 70% of the vote. Grabinski finished fourth in the Mayor's race.

Meanwhile, on a different track, the separate Recreation Commission favored measure was steadily steaming ahead. It also had its genesis in the Scherer Park controversy but doesn't explicitly prevent park land from being taken for non park uses. Instead, it focuses on the Recreation Commissioners' turf.

During the Scherer Park controversy, the Recreation Commissioners were stung by a City Attorney opinion that they could not as a Commission communicate their displeasure with consuming part of Scherer Park to expand the police facility because this wasn't within the Commission's Charter jurisdiction.

As reported at the time by, Commissioners responded by preparing a jointly signed personal letter, communicating to their views to the Council as individuals, not as the Recreation Commission. ( posted the Commissioners' jointly signed letter verbatim.)

After the dust settled, the Recreation Commissioners sought to gain the authority the City Attorney had said they lacked. On March 21, 2002, they voted to send their proposal to the Mayor and City Council, seeking a hearing before the Charter Amendment Committee in sufficient time to get their measure on the November, 2002 ballot.

At the same March 21 Recreation Commission meeting, grassroots activists urged the Recreation Commissioners to support a measure to protect park land from non park uses. Here's how the Recreation Commission's official minutes recorded it:

Ms. Gigi Fast Elk Bannister presented a park preservation initiative. She said that this is for the Recreation Commissionís review and comments. She discussed Section 110.5, which is the restriction of building in any park or beach a facility over 1,500 square feet, unless authorized by a public vote. She explained that she believed that a vote by the public would have more power to protect the parks in perpetuity. She stated that this initiative is a work in progress and that they have requested input by lawyers and the community.

President Marmion stated that the Recreation Commissioners would study the document.

Mr. Hester responded that this issue came up about two or three years ago and was discussed at that time. He stated that he also discussed this issue with staff from Huntington Beach, where this has been initiated, and how this has cost that city a lot of money through the process. Mr. Hester mentioned that this initiative mentions that sports complexes cannot be added, which could be interpreted to mean soccer fields and softball fields, without a vote. He mentioned that staff would like to work with Ms. Bannister on a document that the City could potentially support.

Vice President Antenore stated that she is very opposed to putting this initiative on the ballot, as it would be too cumbersome.

The net effect: the Recreation Commission favored measure, with text clarifying the Commissioners powers and prerogatives but not explicitly preventing use of park land for non-park uses, is on the June 18 City Council agenda, having reached the point where the Council could vote to put it on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, at the same June 18 Council meeting, Councilwoman Kell is asking to begin that ballot placement process for a measure she has apparently had in mind for some time but whose text is still unknown.

An early August deadline looms to make the November, 2002 ballot.

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