Internal City Hall Records, Plus Public Chronology, Show How Long Beach City Officials Let SB 35 Advance To Sac'to Passage
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(October 30, 2017, 6:45 a.m.) -- On Oct. 26, LBREPORT.com received over 130 pages of internal City Hall records in response to a Sept. 15 Public Records Act request seeking access to records of LB's Mayor, all Councilmembers and key city staff regarding SB 35.
The details of SB 35 are complex (full SB 35 text here) but reduced to its essentials, the legislation lets developers avoid CEQA environmental (neighborhood) impact hearings/appeals and can require cities to grant approval to certain large multi-unit residential buildings, regardless of community or city staff or City Council concerns or opposition, in specified circumstances.
The documents provided to LBREPORT.com by the City's Records Coordinator (handles City Public Records Act requests in the city manager's office) indicate that despite Long Beach City Council-enacted policies reciting that the City would oppose Sacramento legislation preempting or diminishing the City's local land use control:
Neither Mayor Garcia nor any City Councilmembers produced any writings indicating that they sought to apply the Council-approved state legislative policies to oppose SB 35;
Neither Mayor Garcia nor any City Councilmembers produced any writings indicating they requested a detailed analysis of SB 35 from city staff or from LB's City Attorney's office while city staff was simultaneously advancing a proposed re-write the City's entire Land Use Element including increased "mixed use" and residential densities; and
Neither Mayor Garcia nor any City Councilmembers produced any writings indicating they sought to agendize or publicly discuss or inform their constituents about SB 35 or its potential impacts on Long Beach's current city land use/zoning practices or on city staff's proposed rewrite of the City's Land Use Element.
On April 4, 2017, the City Council voted (7-0, Price and Andrews absent) to approve a 2017 "state legislative agenda" (previously approved by the Council's "state legislative committee" [Austin, Gonzalez, Mungo]) listing general policies that the Council directed the City to take toward proposed Sacramento legislation. It stated in pertinent part: ..."Oppose legislation that preempts the City's existing control over local matters"..."oppose policies and legislation that preempts the current authority possessed by the City and delegates that authority to the State or other government jurisdiction"..."oppose policies and legislation that diminishes the City's local control over land use, planning, zoning and development decisions, and oppose legislation in conflict with the City's adopted General Plan or other Council adopted land use policies."
On Sept. 15, the date of final Sacramento legislative action on SB 35, LBREPORT.com made a Public Records request seeking records on SB 35 from the offices of Mayor Garcia and all nine LB Councilmembers plus four key city staffers (Amy Bodek, Christopher Koontz, Linda Tatum in planning plus Diana Tang, manager of government affairs.) On Oct. 26, the City's Records Coordinator provided us with 136 pdf pages, comprised mainly of emails from the city staff and, based on the documents' email sources, from only two of nine Council offices: Daryl Supernaw and Rex Richardson. The documents included only scattered emails that had been sent to others and cc'd to these electeds and thus produced by others; we didn't see documents produced directly to/from LB's other seven Council offices or from the Mayor's office.
On Oct. 27, LBREPORT.com emailed the city's Records Coordinator inquire about this, and the Records Coordinator replied: "All of the departments, employees and Council offices you requested records from conducted a search for records in their custody. All responsive records that were located have been produced."
The records provided to LBREPORT.com don't indicate why the City of Long Beach didn't oppose SB 35 and remained "neutral" on the bill while "working with the author on amendments, consistent with the City's state legislative agenda as it relates to local control." On August 29, City Hall's Manager of Government Affairs, Diana Tang, informed LBREPORT.com of the City's "neutral" position on SB 35 which we published immediately. In an Oct. 27 telephone conversation prior to publication of this story, Ms. Tang told LBREPORT.com that she made the decision on the city's neutral stance, noting that SB 35 had been the subject of multiple amendments.
Despite city staff's "neutral" stance, nothing prevented any City Council member(s) from agendizing an item to take an explicit position opposing SB 35 at any point. The Council has voted to take explicit positions on a number of pending state bills (including support for SB 54 [the CA Values Act/"sanctuary state" bill], LBREPORT.com coverage here.) As previously reported by LBREPORT.com, the City of Long Beach also supported (without explicitly voted Council approval) passage of SB 1, the bill that will raise gasoline taxes effective November 1 (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
Contained in salient documents received
[Ed. note: On June 13, city staff conducted a City Council non-voting study session on the LUE displaying maps included in its Feb. 2 LUE document. Two days later on June 15, city staff held a Planning Commission study session at which it released new maps showing significantly increased density (building heights and mixed uses) in parts of the 4th and 5th Council districts.]
July 6: LB resident Janet West emails Councilman Supernaw, citing the potential parking impacts of SB 35 and provided a link to a state legislative analysis of SB 35. Eight minutes later, Councilman Supernaw responds: "Thank you, Janet. I greatly appreciate the information." On July 8, Ms. West follows-up with a more detailed email to Councilman Supernaw. On July 18, Ms. West comes to the City Council and speaks about SB 35 in the context of the advancing Land Use Element during the period for public comment on non-agendized items. No Councilmember responds to her testimony.
July 10: Sandra Mora of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments sends an email -- marked "High" importance -- of an email from the League of CA Cities' Los Angeles County Division representative to Planning Directors of over two dozen SE L.A. County cities -- including Lonf Beach's Amy Bodek and Chris Koontz --.that includes the text of an op-ed on SB 35 by an Artesia Councilmember and a South Gate Councilmember, arguing that SB 35's impacts will be heavier against SE LB County "Gateway Cities" than others. The League of CA Cities L.A. County rep's email stated:
The League has been heavily engaged in opposing SB 35 (Wiener) which seeks to preempt local discretionary land use authority, eliminate opportunities for public review, bans project-level environmental review, and eliminates parking requirements for multifamily housing developments.
While it is supposedly structured to focus on "bad actors" it is structured in a way that all affected cities can anticipate losing local discretion because it is based on unrealistic production quotas that have no connection to market conditions or the availability of affordable housing subsidies.
This week, an op-ed piece detailing the skewed impacts of SB 35 on the Gateway Cities by Artesia Council Member Miguel Canales and South Gate Council Member Jorge Morales was covered in the Southern California News Group editions (Whittier Daily, LA Daily, SGV Tribune, etc). Please use this piece to communicate to your cities concerns to your Assembly Member. In short, nearly every city in the Gateway
region will affected by SB 35...
The SFV-focused Daily News published the op-ed; an online check of the Long Beach Press-Telegram website doesn't indicate that it published the op-ed.
The League's L.A. County regional rep also attached a June 26 sample opposition letter that cities could use. [Note: LB Councilman Al Austin, who chairs the LB City Council's "state legislation commitee," is the immediate past president representing the City of Long Beach on the governing board of the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. Austin is also Mayor Garcia's named alternate to the governing board of the League of CA Cities, and traveled to Sacramento on or about Sept. 13 -- coinciding with final votes on SB 35 -- to attend a League of CA Cities board meeting [since Mayor Garcia had traveled to Peru for an L.A. Olympics-related non-voting photo-op.] LBREPORT.com received no documents from the City's Records Coordinator that appeared to come from Councilman Austin's office or Mayor Garcia's office (other than cc'd from other offices) in response to our Public Records Act request regarding SB 35.]
Aug. 17: Roughly half an hour before the Planning Commision meeting at which city staff sought recommendations to the City Council regarding its revised Land Use Element maps, Ms. Tang emails Ms. Bodek (cc'd to Planning Bureau Manager Linda Tatum, Planning Officer Carrie Tai, Housing Development Officer Patrick Ure and Deputy City Mgr. Kevin Jackson): "SB 35 is likely to become adopted and signed into law by the end of the year. San Jose has been working on the issue for the past two years and thinks their best option, at this point, is to start advocating for clean-up language to be enacted next year." At the Aug. 17 Planning Commission meeting, nearly thirty speakers speak in opposition to June 15 revised density increase maps...Janet West raises the issue of SB 35 and Development Director Bodek commends Ms. West for noting [paraphrase] that Sacramento legislation has created a number of mandates and constraints on what the City can and can't do.
[Chronology context: At its Aug. 17 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to recommend that staff seek additional public input. Ms. Bodek said staff intends to bring its proposed new maps, along with the Planning Commission's recommendation, to the City Council on October 3, indicating that the Oct. 3 date has already been set for Council consideration of the maps. Ms. Bodek's response ignited audience anger and in the following hours, angry messages on social networks. On Aug. 18, Mayor Garcia [whose office generally oversees the scheduling of further items on Council agendas] asked city staff to conduct additional public outreach on the Land Use Elements and its proposed revised maps.
On Aug. 29, Ms. Tang responded to an Aug. 28 LBREPORT.com inquiry by informing us that the City's position on SB 35 is "neutral and working with the author on amendments, consistent with the City's state legislative agenda as it relates to local control." LBREPORT.com reported this immediately and followed-up with a number of articles about SB 35.
On Sept. 7, Assemblyman O'Donnell publicly announces his opposition to SB 35. Also on Sept. 7, Mayor Garcia (who declined to respond during an Aug. 31 "Ask Me Anything" Twitter when asked if he opposed SB 35 (and whose office didn't respond to LBREPORT.com inquiries seeking examples of when the Mayor had publicly opposed SB 35) quietly informed a Tweeting resident that he opposed SB 35.
On Sept. 9 at a 3rd Council district community meeting, Assemblyman O'Donnell reiterates his opposition to SB 35, and 3rd dist. Councilwoman Suzie Price joins him in stating her opposition based on the loss of local control. (LBREPORT.com VIDEO coverage here.)
On Sept. 11 at a neighborhood meeting organized by her office on another topic, Councilwoman Mungo fields an audience inquiry by stating that SB 35 is a Sacramento matter while she is a Long Beach elected. When some in the audience noted that she's part of the Council's State Legislation Committee, Mungo said she supports local control but declined to answer when asked why the City of LB's position was "neutral" on SB 35. At one point, Councilwoman Mungo tried to reassure residents by saying Mayor Garcia doesn't support the type of density proposed in the August maps, and said whatever maps are ultimately adopted will still require proposed projects to undergo some level of public input, city and Council approval.
Sept. 12 (morning): Advance Planning Director Christopher Koontz emails Linda Tatum and Planning Dept. spokesperson Kevin Lee in response to a residents' questions re the Land Use Element and SB 35. Mr. Koontz writes in pertinent part: "To the degree SB 35 classifies certain development as ministerial it may limit local government's ability to apply the California Environmental Quality Act. Planning staff has expressed grave concern regarding SB 35. Regardless of SB 35 however the City is still required to have a current, legally valid, general plan that establishes its goals and accommodates future growth. That is what the 2040 draft Land Use and Urban Design Element is all about."
Sept. 12 (early evening): Janet West again addresses the City Council on SB 35, warnsing it is about to pass. Councilmembers say nothing in response.
Sept. 15 Ms. Tang emails Ms. Bodek (cc'd to Ms. Tatum, Patrick Ure (housing development officer) and Kevin Jackson (deputy city mgr.) advising that on Sept. 14, the Assembly passed a package of bills regarding housing and includes short descriptions of SB 2, SB 3, SB 35, SB 540, SB 166 and SB 167, indicating they'd likely be ratified by the Senate on Sept. 15. Ms. Tang described SB 35 as "Forces cities and counties that fail to meet RHNA [SCAG-derived numbers of needed new housing units] to approve multi-family, urban development projects that meet certain requirements, such as paying construction workers a prevailing wage" and also cited a news story reported on www.capradio.org Ms. Bodek replies: "Thanks. We'll familiarize ourselves."