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Published 9/5/2008 on the District Weekly 

Harbor Commissioner Jim Hankla has apparently dropped his attempted end run around the Long Beach City Council and promised to keep his hands off while a city-contracted engineering firm conducts a thorough study of the Long Beach Breakwater.

“It was a rogue moment, which I’m confident won’t be repeated,” chuckles Patrick O’Donnell, Fourth District council member, who says he has spoken with Hankla and received that assurance. “We can’t have people doing this.”

As reported in The District this week, Hankla—acting on a tip by Third District council member Gary DeLong—had begun quietly advancing an already-completed independent study of the Long Beach Breakwater that protects their political interests.

That study, by a retired 72-year-old engineer named Bud Johnson, recommends lowering a 1,800-foot expanse of the breakwater to sea level just east of the Queen’s Gate entry to the harbor. It theorizes that this would permit enough tidal circulation to pull much of the surface water pollution out to the open ocean without affecting the Port of Long Beach or the Alamitos Peninsula. Johnson estimates the job can be done in 18 months, at a cost of $10 million.

At least as attractive to Hankla and DeLong is that Johnson’s study would not affect Hankla’s plans to expand the Port of Long Beach nor impact residents on the Alamitos Peninsula in DeLong’s district.

“I don’t know the complete details about what Hankla had begun to do,” says O’Donnell. “But his concern was that the study we were undertaking was just to take down the breakwater and not to look at interim measures. But our study absolutely encompasses interim measures and concepts.”

Hankla told The District that he had already turned over Johnson’s study to Port-hired consultants for examination. Thing is, the city council is already paying $100,000 to the respected marine engineering firm of Moffat & Nichol to do the same thing—Johnson’s study is already included in the firm’s expansive research. That duplication of time and expense—for the past year the city has also paying senior staffer Tom Modica to oversee the breakwater project—is especially troublesome when Long Beach is battling a $17 million budget deficit.

 ”From now on there will be one breakwater study,” O’Donnell says reassuringly. “It will be the city’s breakwater study, which the city will take the lead in.

“But our study is not starting out with a solution. We are asking science to develop a solution. Who knows what the solution will ultimately be? Maybe it will determine that nothing will be done. But our study is to develop potential alternatives.”

O’Donnell had expressed disbelief when the rumor of Hankla’s unilateral move—which might have undermined a 7-1 vote (DeLong dissenting) by the city council in July 2007—was brought to his attention by The District. “In the old Long Beach, that would have been the strategy,” O’Donnell had said. “But in the new Long Beach, we don’t operate that way.”

Although the confirmation of Hankla’s plan seemed to undermine O’Donnell’s contention, the council member now argues that Hankla’s subsequent decision to abandon that plan confirms the authority of the city council.

“The role of a harbor commissioner is not only to act in best interest of the state of California,” says O’Donnell, referring to the fact that the Port of Long Beach is a state facility entrusted to the city. “When the city council vets harbor commissioners, we vet them to act in the best interest of the city, too. That’s why the city council is the appointing body. We don’t hand over future of the harbor to these commissoners and say, ‘Do whatever you want.’”

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