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    Mayor O'Neill Defends Seeking Change in City Law Re RDA Appointees: "This Community Being The Most Diverse Does Not Need Every PAC [Project Area Committee] To Present Names Of White Males"

    (June 18, 2003) -- In a statement that left some in the Council Chamber stunned, LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill publicly declared she wants the City Council to amend city law retroactively regarding her appointments to the Redevelopment Agency Board, doubling the number of candidates from which she can choose because "[t]his community being the most diverse does not need every PAC [Project Area Committee] to present names of white males."

    In the coming months, the Redevelopment Agency Board will decide the fate of a big money, city staff favored merger of Redevelopment Project Areas...but Mayor O'Neill denied her proposal had anything to do with that, or anything political, or any particular person.

    "This is not about people, a person, or about applications. It's not about what PACs do and what they do not do. It just makes it so that it can balance the representation of the community...This is, as I say, a diverse a community. I think that the RDA should be diverse. I think that all areas should be represented. So that was my only objective in this...So as I hear that people are concerned about this, I would like to know what the concern is because it is certainly not punitive, it is just representational." Mayor O'Neill said.

    The Mayor's retroactive proposal, and denials of political or pro-merger motivations, were met with disbelief by some Councilmembers -- including the Council's only female Hispanic. 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga termed the Mayor's proposal very political and took aim at the Mayor's claim of advancing diversity:

    I am all for diversity. God knows, as the only Latina on the City Council I'd like to see more...It does feel like the Central Project Area Committee [PAC] is being singled out because of the retroactive language, and because of that I'm concerned...This does nothing to increase diversity in this city. What we're doing is putting the squeeze on the members of the Project Area Committee because, whatever, because of the merger discussion, because Central Project Area is on the map now and there's some concern, and it's very, very, very political...I agree with the intent [for diversity]. I just don't agree with the retroactive nature. It seems to single out the Central Project Area, especially in a time when we're having merger discussions, it's just too political for me.

    "It wasn't meant to be political, I must tell you that," the Mayor responded.

    9th district Councilman Val Lerch noted that while the Mayor can choose whom she wishes for over two dozen other city commissions, the Council in 1999 enacted an ordinance prescribing that in June 2003 the Mayor appoint three members to the powerful Redevelopment Agency Board from among nominees put forth by grassroots Redevelopment Project Area Committees.

    Lerch's comment prompted Mayor O'Neill's response: "...I agree with you that this is where citizens have the right and the choice, but they have the right and the choice because the RDA PACs [Redevelopment Agency Project Area Committees] were set up to represent this community. And this community being the most diverse does not need every PAC to present names of white males," Mayor O'Neill said.

    Councilman Lerch tried to outflank the Mayor by moving to support her proposal rule change...but without the retroactivity provision.

    But Lerch was outflanked by 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson, who made a substitute motion (under parliamentary procedure, voted on first) to support the Mayor's plan with retroactive power. It passed 6-3 (Yes: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Carroll, Kell, Richardson. No: Reyes-Uranga, Webb, Lerch).

    In the discussion preceding the vote, Councilwoman Richardson said:

    ...Diversity to me means more than race. It means gender. It means economics. And it means a geographic area. That's what diversity means to me...I do believe when you look at the make up of the current Redevelopment Agency [Board],...let's use gender as one example. With the current members, those that would be coming off [terms expiring] you would have one female...that would be one our of seven. That's probably not reflective of the city...

    The controversy takes place in the shadow of a big-ticket merger of all Redevelopment Project Areas currently pending. Mayor O'Neill declined to submit a Redevelopment Agency appointee from among names forwarded to her by the Central Project Redevelopment Area as specified by the current Council-enacted Municipal Code.

    Instead, she asked the Council to amend the Municipal Code to let her choose from more names...and to make the change applicable retroactively.

    Composition of the Redevelopment Agency Board could decide the fate of the merger, narrowly approved on a 4-3 vote by the current Board...from which several members are exiting as their terms expire, creating vacancies to be filled.

    Current LB city law provides that the Redevelopment Agency Board shall be appointed as folows: the Central Long Beach Redevelopment Project Area Committee, the North Long Beach Redevelopment Project Area Committee and the West Long Beach Industrial Redevelopment Project Area Committee "shall promptly each nominate at least two persons to fill each such vacancy or vacancies. The Mayor shall appoint the boardmember or boardmembers from amongst such nominations, which appointment shall be subject to confirmation by a majority of all of the members of the Council."

    The Central PAC forwarded two names to the Mayor: Don Darnauer and Alan Burks. They're white males...and the Mayor appointed neither of them. In a memorandum to Councilmembers that agendized the June 17 item, Mayor O'Neill wrote:

    The membership composition of the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Long Beach was changed by ordinance in 1999. At that time, the Agency Board was increased from five to seven city residents, appointed by the Mayor and subject to confirmation by the City Council. The ordinance also required that at least three members of the Board be from nominations by the Central, North and West Long Beach Industrial Project Area Committees.

    It is critical that the Redevelopment Agency Board relates to the various residential, business and demographic stakeholders in our community. With almost one-half of the City in redevelopment project areas, it is imperative that the appointments made be representative of the communities served and reflect our cultural and ethnic diversity. Our existing structure has not led to the achievement of these goals. I would therefore propose the following amendments.


    Request that the City Attorney prepare an amendment to the Long Beach Municipal Code, which amends the Municipal Code to require that each Redevelopment Project Area Committee nominate and present to the Mayor at least four (4) persons to fill vacancies on the Redevelopment Agency Board. This action would be retroactive to include any unfilled positions that currently exist.

    The Council's June 17 vote doesn't end the fracas. The amendment to the ordinance directed by the Council is now being drafted by the City Attorney...and will eventually land back at the Council (probably early next month) for a vote.

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