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    Council Votes 9-0 For Aquarium Rent Freeze, 29-Yr Lease Extension And Bondholder Payments Of Roughly $5 Million Per Year In Public Money...While Aquarium Mgmt. Pursues Privately Funded Expansion Plan

    (September 20, 2005) -- The LB City Council tonight (Sept. 20) voted 9-0 for a plan floated by Aquarium management and advanced by city management that could drain an estimated roughly $5.1 million in LB Tidelands money in FY 07 and beyond ($4.3 mil already budgeted in FY 06), agreeing to freeze Aquarium rent at a sum less than half its annual bond debt payments and extend its lease to 2060 so Aquarium management can pursue an expansion plan it says will be privately funded.

    Aquarium President/CEO Dr. Jerry Schubel, and City Manager Jerry Miller said the expansion plan would keep the city asset in good repair and invite attendance increases.

    Aquarium management noted City Hall was already obligated to back the bonds..and said the proposed Council action offered the possibility of producing some additional revenue. Aquarium management added that it had developed figures showing that without its desired expansion, attendance might decline and ultimately cost the public more.

    Neither Aquarium management nor city management mentioned in their televised presentations that attendance targets cited now were previously cited by original Aquarium management and then-city officialdom as expected using the current facility without taxpayer bailouts.

    In 1995, after then-city management cited studies claiming the LB Aquarium would likely be able to pay bondholders from its own revenues, then-Councilmembers voted to pledge public money to pay bondholders if the Aquarium were unable to do so. Forecast attendance figures didn't materialize, and LB public money has since been tapped at increasingly larger levels.

    A number of Aquarium employees and volunteers attended the Council meeting and several spoke. Also speaking in support of the Aquarium proposal was LB Harbor Commissioner Mike Walter, who said he was testifying as a private citizen.

    LB activist Joe Weinstein was the only member of the public to speak against the proposal; he called it an end-run around last week's enacted budget that deserved more examination.

    The motion to approve the Aquarium-backed plan was made by Councilman Baker, seconded by Councilwoman Richardson; Councilmembers Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, O'Donnell, Richardson and Vice Mayor Kell all spoke in favor of the proposal; Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga was more reserved in her comments.

    Councilwoman Rae Gabelich posed questions to Aquarium management, she said, as a "devil's advocate." She indicated she was uncomfortable with the proposed action and suggested the issue be sent to a Council Committee. Mayor O'Neill interjected that when the Aquarium bonds were originally marketed, some people didn't think they'd be sold so quickly. The Aquarium bonds were successful, the Mayor said.

    [In 2001, City Hall refunded the original bonds with new bonds after Aquarium attendance and revenue failed to reach predicted levels and bond payments began tapping City Hall money.]

    Following additional Council discussion, Councilwoman Gabelich said she'd been reassured by LB Financial Management chief Mike Killebrew and she didn't press her request for further study.

    Councilwoman Richardson called for the question...and a unanimous vote resulted.

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