After procedural error, council to vote whether to oppose state housing bills

The Long Beach City Council will vote Tuesday on whether it should join a growing list of cities and agencies that oppose statewide housing legislation that is currently waiting to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The vote was postponed this week due to an alleged Brown Act violation.

Senate Bills 9 and 10 would allow for certain single-family home lots to be converted into duplexes or larger developments if they have the room, or in the case of SB10, if the council agrees to rezone areas to allow 10-unit developments.

An attempt by council members last week to have the body vote to send a letter to the governor asking him to veto the bills was derailed because too many council members were contacted about the vote prior to it being added to the agenda, according to City Attorney Charlie Parkin.

Parkin said that when Councilman Al Austin’s office reached out to four other council members to seek their support for the item to be added to the council’s agenda, it could have violated the state’s open meetings law that requires any communication among a majority of a public body to happen before the public.

Even though the communications happened between staff members, Parkin cautioned the council not to vote on the issue last week, which lead to a non-actionable receive and file vote.

David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for public participation and acceptable governments, said that the error likely happens often but the law is clear that any communication, whether it be through “text, email or smoke signal” can be a violation if it’s with a majority of a body.

If staff members relay information to council members, they would be serving as conduits and the communication would be considered between the elected officials.

While the Brown Act used to be focused on consensus building, Snyder said it’s recently been expanded to include all deliberations of a subject within a body’s jurisdiction.

“If they’re talking about what to order out for lunch, that’s not going to be a problem.,” Snyder said. “If they’re talking about taxes, zoning issues or sending a letter to the governor, that’s going to be a problem.” 

Austin owned up to the mistake and said it was the first time he could recall that happening to him. Austin said Friday it would be hard to have in-depth conversations about most items, let alone build a consensus due to the workload each council person has outside of City Hall.

“We all have full-time jobs,” Austin said.

The item has been added to the council’s Tuesday, Sept. 14 meeting agenda, which is the same day that the gubernatorial recall election will end. Newsom has not indicated whether he will sign the bills that have sparked some controversy among suburban homeowners.

Austin said that if Long Beach votes to support a veto it would be joining a long list of others, including the League of California Cities, which issued a statement Friday also calling for Newsom to veto the bills.

“Policymakers must avoid pushing new, unproven policies that would undermine local planning, change the rules midstream, or conflict with the myriad of new housing laws recently passed that cities are now implementing,” the letter said. “We strongly urge you to veto SB-9.”

Austin’s alleged violation was reported to the city attorney by councilmembers Roberto Uranga and Rex Richardson, both of whom serve on the city’s State Legislative Committee with Austin, and expressed reservations about the two housing bills during the committee’s meeting in late August.

Richardson said his decision to not sign on to support the item was “a matter of courtesy” because of his belief that a committee’s chair should be consulted before something is added to the full council agenda.

He echoed his points made at the committee’s August meeting, where he said that cities that have made room for new housing through amending its zoning, like Long Beach has, should not have their local control taken away by statewide policies.

City staff said that SB9 and SB10 would likely have a modest impact on the city because it lacks the large lots necessary to take full advantage of SB9’s lot-splitting provision. Economic factors like the cost of construction could also prevent most people from opting to add on to their existing homes.

Richardson said the bill SB679, which could create a source of revenue for cities to actually build affordable housing, is something that would be more meaningful for Long Beach.

“The best thing the legislature can do is provide us a source of revenue to produce affordable housing,” Richardson said.

Another new item was added to the agenda for Tuesday by Richardson, which asks for the council to adopt a rule that would limit to three the number of council members that could be solicited to sign on to an item.

Richardson’s request stems from a suggestion from Parkin during Tuesday’s meeting to avoid another potential violation of the Brown Act.

Long Beach council members want city to oppose housing bills, call on governor to veto them

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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