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DELONG, DANA (AND THEIR CONSTITUENTS) UNREPRESENTED AT BREAKWATER FORUM

Published 12/1/2007 on the District Weekly, Writing Shotgun

Six of Long Beach’s nine City Council members got out of bed early this morning to attend the Breakwater Forum, a public update and discussion of the city’s $100,000 investigation into a possible breakwater configuration. The recurring theme was a growing realization of how massive a task Long Beach is undertaking. The word “unprecedented” was used a lot.

Perhaps just as notable, however, were two no-shows–Councilmember Gary DeLong and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who represent the coastal neighborhoods that would be most affected by any alteration of the 2 1/2 mile wall of boulders that calms the waterfront.

Fourth District Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell organized the Breakwater Forum, bringing together experts, officials and several dozen constituents at the Aquarium of the Pacific at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. O’Donnell and Eighth District Councilmember Rae Gabelich were the original proponents of the reconnaissance study — approved in July by a 7-1 council vote, DeLong dissenting – to determine the cost-effectiveness of modifying the breakwater, which so smothers wave action and tidal circulation that Long Beach’s ocean water quality is the worst in California.

California Coastal Coalition executive director Steve Aceti provided an overview of the reconnaissance process, while Tom Modica, who is handling the issue for the Long Beach city manager’s office, gave a detailed progress report. Both speakers emphasized the difficult hurdles Long Beach must clear in the coming months, thanks to its unprecedented — there’s that word, again — decision to pay for the study itself.

“Usually, this is done by the Army Corps of Engineers with a congressional earmark,” said Aceti, “but Long Beach decided to take the bull by the horns.”

According to Modica, Long Beach didn’t really have any other choice.

“The city submitted a request to Congressman Rohrabacher,” said Modica, “but he was not supportive of federal funding for that purpose.”

Gabelich vouched for Modica’s account.

“I sat there with Modica and Rohrabacher,” she said, “and the congressman was very clear that we would have to find other funding.”

But footing the $100,000 bill is not the most problematic part of Long Beach’s back-door approach. Because such studies have always been funded by the federal government, that is the only kind of payment the Army Corps of Engineers can accept. Long Beach’s money may literally be no good with them.

Instead, Long Beach is hoping to hire an outside consultant to mimic an Army Corps study and submit it to the Corps for approval. Modica said he is receiving help from the Corps staff in that effort, but nobody seems to know if, at the end of the process, it will have been a waste of time.

“Any time you are advocating for what is right, I don’t think you are wasting your time,” said O’Donnell, who suggested that greater public involvement could sway the outcome. “There is the policy level, and then there is also a political level. We need a greater groundswell of support.”

 The other council members who attended the Breakwater Forum were Suja Lowenthal, Bonnie Lowenthal, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch.

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