|By Karen Robes Meeks, Press-Telegram,
Long Beach, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 8, 2009 - --LONG BEACH -- A coalition is suing the city of Long Beach, alleging that it violated two laws when the City Council voted to approve a 125-room hotel downtown.
The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community says the city did not comply with the Brown Act when it did not accept public comment during the July 21 council meeting before deciding on the Hotel Sierra project at the Pike at Rainbow Harbor.
The coalition also claims that the city was in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act when the city approved an addendum to the original Environmental Impact Report. The group says the report did not take into the account the impacts of the second hotel project being proposed by LodgeWorks -- which also developed the AVIA Hotel at the Pike -- and is demanding a new report.
"They voted before we had an opportunity to speak," said coalition member Jeannine Pearce. "It doesn't give them an opportunity to base their vote off of the meeting that we had with the developers, which was unproductive."
Pearce said the report is "substantially different" from the one created several years ago.
"The lot originally was supposed to have one hotel," she said. "Now there's two hotels. There hasn't been an EIR based on having two of everything and what that impact is going to be on the direct community."
The coalition filed suit on Aug. 21.
"The Brown Act and CEQA are two of the most important laws the public has for preserving our democracy and protecting public health and the environment," environmental attorney Cory Briggs of Brigg Law Corp. said in a statement. "Long Beach's violations of both laws is a serious injury that the public should not have to endure."
The public had an opportunity to speak on the matter July 14, when the item came before the council. Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, whose 2nd District encompasses the project, said she made a motion to delay the decision a week so those who were concerned about the project could meet with LodgeWorks.
"It was very clear at the time when I made the motion to put it over one week that we are closing the hearing and public comment period and when we bring the item the following week it would be a dialogue and an action on our side of the rail," she said.
City Attorney Bob Shannon said the record speaks for itself, adding that all of the public comment had already taken place the week before.
"We definitely dispute the allegations," he said. "Both the fundamental allegations have been thoroughly lawyered by the city attorney's office. We were satisfied then and we're satisfied now."
As for CEQA, Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais said the report was done for the entire Pike project and that the original EIR permitted about 900 hotel rooms as "full build-out."
"And that EIR fully studied all of the ramifications of having that many hotel rooms down in that area," he said.
If a judge rules in favor of the coalition, the city may be required to redo some aspect of the CEQA document. The ruling may delay the development.
LodgeWorks spokesman Mike Murchison issued a statement on the matter, saying "that the petition has no merit and that the issues mentioned have already been discussed by local governmental agencies."
He added that the petition filed by "a group primarily made up of Los Angeles-based Unite Here advocates and with no real support from anyone in Long Beach" is an attempt to kill a project that will provide needed construction jobs, hotel industry jobs and bed and sales tax to an already impacted local Long Beach economy.
"Hopefully, the judicial system recognizes this and throws out the petition," Murchison said. "We believe that the citizens and officials of Long Beach want a successful hotel built on the Pike property site versus no hotel at all and if Unite Here gets its way that is what will happen. That would be very unfortunate for all."
Pearce said the coalition does not disapprove of the project.
"I'm for development, but I'm for responsible development," she said.
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Copyright (c) 2009, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.
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