The City of Long Beach is maintaining that a complaint filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office alleging the city council violated an open meetings law will not affect the council’s vote to host a study session regarding the potential international terminal at Long Beach Airport (LGB) and to allow city staff to engage with tenants at LGB.
In an email circulated to city staff and obtained by the Post, City Attorney Mike Mais said that the council’s actions on Tuesday fell in line with the Ralph M. Brown act, a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
The email states that the contested part of the vote, which released city staff to begin speaking with airport tenants and stakeholders, including JetBlue, and allows them to reach out to the governor’s office to measure support for the project, was well within the parameters of what the Brown Act requires.
Instructing staff to engage with those businesses at the airport was done with the purpose of gathering useful and relevant information that may be needed at either the study session December 13, or for the potential date of a vote on the project that is scheduled for January 24.
Rae Gabelich, the former councilwoman who preceded Al Austin as the representative from the Eighth District, filed the complaint after Tuesday night’s 6-3 vote by the council to commence with the process. Gabelich’s issue stems from the fact that the original agenda item listed only the preparation of a study session, not the removal of a “gag order” placed on city staff that had been put in place by the council earlier this year.
“To me, the most important thing is they have to bring it back and they have to vote on it and have to allow the public to speak to it,” Gabelich said. “That’s not what happened. What they did was take an agenda item from the following week, next week, and voted on it without any discussion or public input.”
It could take as long as 30 days for the district attorney’s office to formulate a decision, in which case the study session (slated for December 13) would have already taken place and the a potential vote on the international terminal (scheduled January 24) would be just weeks away. If the district attorney finds that the item listing was insufficient, a ruling against the city could nullify any actions taken prior to a revote.
The complaint would not be the first one filed against the city this year. Last December it rescinded and reconsidered a vote pertaining to the new lessee of the Queen Mary after a group of residents petitioned it for being misleading when listed on the agenda.
The Brown Act dictates the amount of time prior to a meeting that something can be listed on the agenda and how clear the language must be in describing the item to be discussed. The Queen Mary lease item was referred to as “agreement 22697” and made no mention of the ship in its description.
Whether or not the city council will choose to take a similar approach with the study session and its direction to city staff to reach out to airport tenants is unclear. The city attorney’s office was not available to respond to questions at the time of publication.
Austin, who was joined by Councilmembers Roberto Uranga and Daryl Supernaw in voting against the item, sent a passionate letter to his constituents Wednesday night denouncing the move by the council. Austin has been an ally to neighborhood groups, like Gabelich’s, that have pressed the council to vote no on the proposed international terminal.
“As I said at last night's meeting, this is putting the cart before the horse,” Austin said in the letter. “The City Council has not in my memory previously directed the City Manager to start negotiating the deal points on a major project before discussing and voting on the merits of the project. We didn't do this with the new Civic Center project. There is no reason to start this now.”
International flight out of Long Beach has been a hot-button issue for years, as residents in affected districts have lobbied city councils past and present not to approve an international terminal for fear that it would endanger the city’s noise ordinance which gives the city governance over the number of daily flights and levels of noise generated hour by hour at LGB.
JetBlue, the airport’s main tenant, formally requested the $347,000 feasibility study carried out this year that estimated the cost of building such a structure would cost between $13 million and $21.5 million, however, the city has yet to sit down at the table with the airline to determine what it had in mind in terms of scope and cost if the council votes to approve the project. In addition to council approval, the vote would also require the go-ahead from several federal legislative bodies and from the California governor’s office.