The unanimous vote by the Long Beach City Council to name a Los Angeles real estate group as the new successor lessee for the Queen Mary will be revoted on next Tuesday, after the November 17 decision was petitioned for possible violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, a law protecting the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings.
The item will be rescinded and reconsidered at the January 6 meeting, after receiving a letter earlier this month alleging that council considered an item that wasn’t appropriately labeled, therefore, not providing the public with proper notice of what was set to be discussed. The item was listed as an authorization for the city manager to approve the execution of all documents necessary for the lease regarding "agreement 22697" with Urban Commons LLC, making no mention of the Queen Mary in the description.
"As you are aware, the Brown Act creates specific agenda obligations for notifying the public with a 'brief description' of each item to be discussed or acted upon and also creates a legal remedy for illegally taken actions, namely, in this instance, a determination that a past action taken by the city council violated the act," said Jamie T. Hall, a lawyer with the Channel Law Group of Beverly Hills.
The firm is the same one representing residents fighting the Riverwalk project.
The letter outlined the allegations made against the city, calling for it to cure and correct the action by re-listing it on the agenda and voting again in accordance with the Brown Act. A failure to do so, the letter warned, would result in a possible litigation against the city, which would include a request to provide coverage of court and attorney fees.
"There’s not a law on this particular issue, the law says there has to be a brief description and it also says there doesn’t necessarily have to exceed 20 words, but there’s lots of laws that talk about due process and it seems to be kind of a fundamental principal that people need to be aware of the basic item that is proposed to be discussed," Hall said. "To not say Queen Mary, it just defies logic."
In a phone interview Hall said that if the case had gone to court, he was confident that his client’s position would’ve been upheld, but stopped short of pinning the wording of item on any kind of motive by the city to exclude public participation. Hall did question the decision to put this item on an early January agenda, as many people might still be out of town from holiday travels or have difficulties getting to the meeting to have their voices heard.
City Attorney Charles Parkin said that while his office does not believe the council’s actions violated the Brown Act, in an effort to “conserve public resources and avoid unnecessary litigation” it will recommend the council re-vote on the item. In a letter to the city council posted to the city’s website this week, Parkin again defended the item listing on the November 17 agenda as he did during the meeting when it was originally called into question, stating that listing the exact lease number instead of “Queen Mary” was sufficient.
"We believe the description of the item in this case meets the statutory mandate of the Brown Act to include a 'brief general description' of the matter, such that a member of the public could attend if he or she desired to observe or comment upon the matter before action was taken," Parkin wrote.
One of the members of the public that brought the issue up during public comment at the November meeting was former Deputy City Attorney Jim McCabe. He questioned the legality of the move while characterizing the agreement as a "sweet deal" for Urban.
"The agenda item doesn’t even mention The Queen Mary. If you’re familiar with operations agreement 22697, that’s fine," McCabe said, referring to the lease number for The Queen Mary listed on the agenda. "But the general public is not familiar with that. This is a clear violation of the Brown Act and I think it should be of concern to all of you. If it’s found to be not sufficient, what you do hear tonight will be null and void."
The deal granted Urban a new 66-year lease for the Queen Mary in which it will develop the surrounding land other underutilized areas surrounding the ship like the Spruce Goose Dome, which will be leased outright to Carnival Cruise. The deal also calls for a minimum rent of $300,000 and a percentage rent of 10 percent of the operating revenue only after Urban receives nine percent annual return on its initial investment.