Councilmembers Lowenthal & Reyes-Uranga Ask Mayor For Clarification Re Her June '03 Letter That Asked Senator Feinstein To Facilitate Federal Approval Process For LNG Facility Proposed in LB Port
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(March 20, 2004) -- 1st district Councilmember Bonnie Lowenthal has said that she and 7th district Councilmember Tonia Reyes-Uranga have sent a joint memo to LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill, asking that the Mayor clarify statements made in a letter from the Mayor to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., CA) in June 2003 which said in part, "[W]e support construction of the LNG terminal in the Port of Long Beach, subject to a rigorous environmental review and permitting process, and we respectfully request that you facilitate a federal approval process that would allow terminal operations to begin in 2007 as scheduled."
The Mayor's letter to Senator Feinstein made no reference to the LB City Council, the elected body which sets policy for the City of Long Beach, whose members -- unlike the Mayor -- have substantive votes.
Councilwoman Lowenthal told a March 20 forum on LNG held by the LB branch of the League of Women Voters:
"[Y]esterday was the first time I had seen that letter. I don't think the Mayor of Long Beach would ever intentionally misrepresent action or inaction of the [City] Council. In this case, the Council has never approved this project and so I wrote a memo to the Mayor asking for clarification, and asked Councilmember Reyes-Uranga to sign it with me and we have sent that memo on to the Mayor [applause]."
Councilwoman Lowenthal delivered her comments about the Mayor's letter in a calm tone of voice, and tempered them additional remarks about the LNG issue. We provide extended coverage below.
Mayor O'Neill's correspondence came to light in response to a state freedom of information request (under the CA Public Records Act) made to City Hall by LB writer Bry Myown, who opposes a locating an LNG facility in the Port of LB. Ms. Myown brought the Mayor's letter to the attention of LBReport.com, which posted the reported and posted letter on March 19.
To view the full text of the Mayor's letter (text and pdf in our March 19 coverage), click here.
At the time Mayor O'Neill wrote to Senator Feinstein, it was expected that an application by a Mitsubishi subsidiary ("Sound Energy Solutions" or SES) would eventually come before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a decision. SES' application to build the LNG facility in the Port of LB is now pending with that federal agency.
In May 2003, Councilmembers voted -- in less than 90 seconds -- to enter into an MOU with the firm that effectively facilitates the project but did not convey any permit approval.
Commenting on that 2003 Council vote, Councilwoman Lowenthal said that to the best of her recollection, "It was all a very big 'if.' 'If' there is an LNG plant built in the Port, then would we as Councilmembers like to see Long Beach have exclusive negotiating rights so that we can have a cost much lower than any of the surrounding communities for that LNG that we're putting into our trash trucks and our street sweepers. And again, my memory is that on that basis, I said 'sure,' but that had nothing to do with any approval or support for developing the LNG facility..."
At roughly the same time as the Council's May 2003 vote, LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners (Mayor appointed, Council confirmed) approved a Letter of Intent and Summary of Terms with SES, giving the firm exclusive right to pursue developing the LNG receiving terminal at the site until their earlier of (1) the time SES determines the project isn't feasible; or (2) the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denies the project; or (3) 37 months after the date of the letter. The Summary of Terms indicates the Port would assign SES a berth and backlands consisting of roughly 27 acres for a term of 40 years.
In addition to FERC's permitting process, additional approvals are supposed to be decided by the Port of Long Beach's Board of Harbor Commissioners after it reviews environmental and other documents in the coming months.
During the League of Women Voters' event, Port of Long Beach Managing Director of Development, Geraldine Knatz Ph.D. announced that the Port plans to undertake an independent risk assessment of the LNG project, similar to the analysis being done jointly by FERC and the Port for inclusion in the EIR, but independent of that analysis. [Separate coverage on LBReport.com, click here]
The LB City Charter specifies that the Mayor "shall have no vote, but may participate fully in the deliberations and proceedings of the City Council. The Mayor shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of military law, but shall have no administrative duties other than those provided for in Section 207. The Mayor shall represent the City at large and utilize the office of Mayor to provide community leadership and as a focal point for the articulation of city-wide
perspectives on municipal issues."
[Begin extended coverage of Councilwoman Lowenthal's March 20, 2004 remarks, which were delivered extemporaneously.]
Councilwoman Lowenthal: The City has not gone on record as taking a position at all on the LNG facility. The City has gone on record as supporting alternative fuels. And that I think is very important.
We are very concerned, I shouldn't say we, let me speak for myself, I am very concerned about this project. And very recently I had an opportunity to visit the LNG facility in Tokyo, and I intend to visit the LNG facility in Boston.
Just to backup a little, I am one of the two representatives of the Port of Long Beach on the City Council [see adjoining map and because I represent folks who live in the downtown area, as well as the harbor [audibility difficult] and business in the harbor, I'm very, very concerned that we look at this project.
But I did get to visit the LNG plant that has been in existence for twenty or thirty years in Tokyo Bay, and if anybody wanted to look through this [lifts informational brochure]. I found it incredibly interesting and very important to have seen a facility that sits in the middle of an earthquake zone and that has in fact been operating very safely.
Fortunately, we were able -- and Harbor Commissioner Mario Cordero was with me [acknowledges Commissioner Cordero in the room] as well as several of the Harbor Commissioners, [2d district Councilman] Dan Baker unfortunately had just left so he wasn't there that day, but it was for us I think a fact-finding opportunity.
We saw a ship unloading the LNG with its gigantic pipeline, drove in a small bus around the storage facility, saw the scale model and talked to people and if it's been there for this long.
My concern, of course, is for the residents -- I look at [acknowledges neighborhood leader] who lives at the corner of Chestnut and Broadway, between Broadway and 3d probably in this entire room the closest that particular project -- so we need a better understanding of what "exclusion zones are."
I also would like an understanding of who is doing the survey in the community, the telephone survey, I'm not sure if that's SES [Mitsubishi subsidiary/project applicant] but I'd like for them to mention that if they're [inaudible] paying for that, so that we can understand that.
I appreciate that the Harbor is doing a second risk analysis they didn't have to do to provide greater assurance to themselves as well as the public, that's very important.
Another thing I think we all have to look at is what else is in the Harbor that legally is dangerous. And I've had constituents in the downtown area say that they're far more concerned about the air quality and the impacts of the refinery operations that come over through the prevailing winds and cover all of those folks who live downtown.
And I would also say, Lois [Ms. Ledger, LWA President] that recently as a member of the 710 [fwy] oversight committee, we've had wonderful input from members of the community all up and down the 710 freeway about their concern about air quality and health and asthma and that's the community that's going to come out to either support or oppose this project as we get more information.
So I think the most important thing that we can do is promote public involvement in this process, and I would imagine that the Harbor as well as SES would not want to build a project [inaudible] public conversation...
And just to clarify one more point. [LBReport.com publisher] Bill Pearl provided on LongBeachReport[.com] a letter that some of you may have seen. It was signed by the Mayor, asking Senator Feinstein to speed up [facilitate] a FERC approval process, and yesterday was the first time I had seen that letter.
I don't think the Mayor of Long Beach would ever intentionally misrepresent action or inaction of the [City] Council. In this case, the Council has never approved this project and so I wrote a memo to the Mayor asking for clarification, and asked Councilmember Reyes-Uranga to sign it with me and we have sent that memo on to the Mayor [applause].
Speaking with reporters [including one from a major northern CA newspaper, we believe] after the forum, Councilwoman Lowenthal reiterated her view that the Mayor would not have intentionally misstated the city's position or tried to "go around" the Council as the city's policymaking body.
She acknowledged that the Board of Harbor Commissioners is an independent body but also indicated that if the City Council were to vote in opposition to the LNG project, she doesn't believe the Harbor would approve it.
Councilwoman Lowenthal stressed her desire to get a public inventory of dangerous items already in the Port area. "We need to look at the broader issue of what exists now in the Harbor area that is dangerous for the health of the citizens that live in the area. It isn't just one new plant that is proposed. It's about what exists now and the relative safety [of what exists now, not just proposed LNG]," she said.
Pressed by the print journalist on whether she was suggesting examining the area's population density and weighing the risk of asthma versus the risk of being incinerated, Councilwoman Lowenthal said, "No. I'm the kind of person who says anybody that's hurt, it's unacceptable to me." And the Councilwoman again added that she supports getting an inventory of dangerous items already in the Harbor area.
SES Executive VP and CEO Tom Giles, who was among the League of Women Voters' invited panelists, did not respond to Councilwoman Lowenthal's inquiry about whether his firm was conducting a poll.
LBReport.com has separately been contacted by readers who said they'd received telephone calls over the past several days in what sounded like a telephone survey regarding the LB LNG project and associated issues. On March 18, LBReport.com telephoned Mr. Giles and Adler Communications (the latter, the LB communications firm retained by SES) to ask if they had anything to do with the poll.
Mr. Adler told LBReport.com that he would "neither confirm nor deny that we are taking a poll" and made clear that by "we" he meant both his firm and its client SES.
For a compendium of LBReport.com coverage of the LNG issue, see LBReport.com Coverage of LNG Terminal Proposed in Port of LB
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