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Council Approves Power Plant Moratorium

The city hopes the moratorium will force the California Energy Commission to perform an analysis to see if power from the AES Redondo Beach power plant is necessary.

FILE PHOTO: AES Redondo Beach power plant. Photo credit Nicole Mooradian.
FILE PHOTO: AES Redondo Beach power plant. Photo credit Nicole Mooradian.

The Redondo Beach City Council unanimously approved Tuesday night a temporary moratorium on building power generating facilities in the coastal zone—a move intended as an early step to prevent AES Redondo Beach from rebuilding its facility on Harbor Drive.

The council also decided to allocate $350,000 to its intervenor budget to hire experts and attorneys to help City Attorney Mike Webb with the California Energy Commission's application process.

The moratorium prevents the approval of permits relating to the construction, modification or alteration of any power generating facilities within the Coastal Zone. 

A moratorium is a step toward creating a conflict between local zoning and the application to rebuild a power plant. This conflict, if executed properly, would force the CEC to perform an analysis to determine if power from a proposed power plant is necessary before approving the application.

The current AES Redondo Beach Generating Station must be retired, rebuilt, retrofitted or receive a special exemption to continue operating past 2020 due to a ban on once-through cooling, where ocean water is used to cool the superheated steam that spins the turbines.

The new power plant, which would have less than half the generation capacity as the current one, would take up about 10 1/2 acres of the existing 50-acre site. If the plant is approved, construction and demolition of the old plant will begin in January 2016 and end by December 2020. 

The city of Redondo Beach unanimously voted to oppose the construction of a new power plant earlier this year.

Opponents of the new plant claim the power plant will pollute more than the previous one because it will run more often. They also say it will continue to depress property values in the area. 

Supporters of the plant argue that the power produced by the plant will be necessary in the future, and that the new plant would have a smaller footprint and free up land for other purposes.

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Below is a live blog of the meeting. Please note that this is not a transcript and includes observations from the reporter. Meeting videos are archived online at redondo.org. Entries are in chronological order. Please excuse any typos or misspellings!

7:26 p.m.: Time for the hearing on the moratorium. First off, the council will disclose any discussions they've had with the public on this item. Brand says he's had numerous discussions; Ginsburg, Aust and Sammarco have spoken with a lot of people in the past about the power plant, but not the moratorium. Kilroy and Aspel have spoken with people about the moratorium.

First up is the staff report. City Attorney Mike Webb introduces Director of Community Development Aaron Jones to discuss the initial environmental study on the moratorium.

"The initial study analyzes all of the required impact areas and concludes that the proposed moratorium, as drafted, would not have a significant effect on the environment," Jones says. He says the city received multiple letters from residents and AES. "We feel the environmental study is adequate for this project."

Staff recommends that the negative declaration and moratorium both be adopted.

Assistant City Attorney Sheryl Parks, on behalf of Webb's office, is offering suggestions on language changes. Those suggestions are included in the blue folder items, which will be posted online at redondo.org after the meeting.

"This is an urgency ordinance," says Webb. First the council will make the negative declaration, and then the council can impose the urgency ordinance (the moratorium), which would force the CEC to do a power needs analysis before approving any plans for a repowered AES Redondo Beach.

In 45 days, the council would need to receive a status report on the moratorium. Then, they can extend it for 10 months and 15 days (and after that, for another year). "What you have to decide tonight is can you make these findings," Webb says. 

"The ordinance, I think, is fairly straightforward," Webb says. "There are a lot of 'whereas-es.'"

7:31 p.m.: Brand has issues with the description of the site examined. He's wondering why it includes the entire Coastal Zone; Jones says the moratorium applies to the entire Coastal Zone. Additionally, the negative declaration describes the area as low-density, when Hermosa Beach is one of the most densely populated areas on the West Coast.

Brand mentions that elected officials have asked the CEC for a needs analysis; the CEC said that it can't do one unless there's a conflict. This moratorium would create a conflict.

"I fully support it," Brand says.

Aspel notes that representatives from AES are not here to oppose the moratorium.

7:36 p.m.: George Ikeda is up. He says he has issues with all the descriptions in the document. 

"I thought that Bull Pen on Avenue I was in Torrance, and the old Tony Roma's … and Vons. I thought that was all in Torrance," he says.

Aspel says Vons is in Redondo Beach. Ikeda says he thought Palos Verdes Boulevard was in Torrance. 

The city limit at PCH is Palos Verdes Boulevard. Fatburger is in Redondo Beach; Rock & Brews is technically in Torrance, though it has a Redondo Beach address. 

Ikeda has other issues with the descriptions in the negative declaration. He addresses many of these issues in a letter that's part of the blue folder items. Webb says that a lot of those issues have already been corrected.

7:40 p.m.: Delia Vechi is up. She is against the power plant, and she says that she's not going to repeat what she says before. I guess we won't hear anything about magic dragons at this meeting.

Vechi does point out that the city's own power needs analysis has indicated that even with San Onofre offline, AES Redondo Beach can be retired. She reminds the council that Webb has said that time is of the essence in fighting the power plant.

"They all get it and agree with the residents," Vechi says. She wants the council to unanimously approve the moratorium "stop that magic dragon that casts its shadow over the city."

7:45 p.m.: Don Szerlip, former District 3 councilman, says he has more questions than he has direction. He wants to know why a CEQA analysis has not been done. "You have a moratorium. We all know that the maximum time of a moratorium … is two years. So, it's temporary by definition," he says. Why would this create a conflict with the CEC—couldn't the CEC just wait out the moratorium?

"What has to be solid is a long-term ordinance," he says. If a long-term ordinance comes back, wouldn't it infringe on AES' property rights because even though it applies to the entire Coastal Zone, it's specific to Redondo Beach.

Lezlie Campeggi is up to rebut what Szerlip asks for. She notes that the city did a needs analysis in June, not a CEQA analysis. The moratorium will be in place while the city works to make a long-term ordinance. 

"When they purchased the property, they knew what they purchased," she says. "They purchased an aging power plant with a contract through 2018" They did not know that they could rebuild the plant, and it operates under a conditional use permit.

Joe Galliani of Torrance and the organizer of the South Bay 350 Climate Action group is now up. He says that regardless what the council does, larger forces are at work—even if the power plant is approved, there might not be enough carbon emissions allowed.

Danny Wells of the state of California does not want the moratorium sustained. He is a builder. I'm not sure if he realizes this moratorium specifically applies to power plants.

7:47 p.m.: "I believe what Mr. Szerlip was talking about was doing the initial study, but it wasn't to avoid a negative declaration," Webb says. "It was an alternative to using a categorical exemption to CEQA." This is better, per CEC staff. Webb says that the moratorium is a temporary measure while a more permanent ordinance is drafted.

Carlsbad did not do a negative declaration as part of its moratorium and relied on a categorical exemption, so there were concerns that it wasn't technically a conflict, according to Webb. 

7:57 p.m.: Aust is up. He notes that the CEC will be back Thursday. The fastest the application process has gone is 17 months; it normally takes two years, Aust says CEC staff told him. Webb thinks the city is better off if the city council at least has an ordinance it's considering before the CEC decides on its application. 

If the moratorium is passed today, Webb will present it to the CEC at Thursday's workshop. "We just want to do this in as timely a manner as we can," he says.

It will take four votes to pass because it's an emergency ordinance, Webb says.

Aust is worried about the cost of the moratorium. "This isn't costly. This gives us an argument," Webb says.

Brand points out that AES has operated at 2.36 percent of capacity this year. He makes a motion to close the hearing.

Ginsburg says he's concerned about land rights. He also wants to know if they can require a zero-emissions power plant if there must be a power plant.

"No," says Webb. "You can't require them … Remember, the point is to create a conflict with the LORS. The state can overcome that conflict."

Aust moves to close the public hearing. That's approved. He next moves to adopt the staff recommendation as modified by the city attorney's office. The motion passes unanimously.

8:01 p.m.: The city is now taking a 10 minute break. They'll return to more power plant related matters later about funding the intervenor budget after discussing the Capital Improvement Plan.

8:57 p.m.: Back to AES. Right now, the council is discussing its intervenor budget for CEC proceedings. Intervenor is the most active method of participation in the proceedings.

"We're going into a very time-intensive part of the Energy Commission proceedings," Webb says. "We're doing the data requests now. We're going through basically discovery, which in any lawsuit … is a very time-intensive, labor-intensive part of the proceeding."

Webb says it would cost about $350,000 through the end of the fiscal year to complete all the current proceedings. "I agree with Councilman Brand that we've made a lot of progress," he adds. He says the city has slowed down the CEC proceedings, "but it's come at compromises with what we work on outside of intervenor." There have been labor issues, the Marine Avenue hotels, the waterfront, and more.

"I think maybe the better analysis is this: is that we're parties to a lawsuit, and that normally, we either settle or we provide sufficient resources to adequately participate in the litigation. I don't think we have adequate resources for that," Webb says. He encourages them to go to outside council with expertise, otherwise, the city will start missing deadlines. "This is not an expertise that is normal for a city attorney to have."

Aspel sees three choices: 1. Stop being an intervenor. 2. Give Webb the sufficient dollars to hire outside counsel so he can also address other city issues. 3. Have staff be the intervenors. 

On the third suggestion, "if you're going to do that, it is very clear that myself and my office is not involved," Webb says. He notes that AES will have legal counsel handling it; it's best that the city have legal resources handling it. 

"I think the city's at a disadvantage" without legal experts in the field representing the city at the hearings, Webb says.

"I think we need our city attorney to be our city attorney again," Aspel says. It's not fair to have other services pushed aside, but it's not fair to give all the money to the intervenor budget.

"We're just really at a decision point," Webb says. "If you really want to be intervenors, we really need to spend the money." If not, the city will be at a disadvantage.

"We're not going to stop being an intervenor," says Aspel. 

9 p.m.: Workman says that if they transfer the money, there will be proposed capital improvement plans that are set aside. These plans would affect the entire city.

"It is a touchy situation, but we need our city attorney back," says Aspel.

9:13 p.m.: Kilroy wants to comment. "I think we need to kind of delineate what our objective is in regards to being an intervenor in the first place," he says. He thinks the CEC will need to be convinced that the moratorium requires a needs analysis. Webb says the needs analysis might need to be litigated.

Kilroy talks more, but ultimately, he believes being an intervenor is important. Webb says this is a question on how effective the city wants to be in the process. He also notes that this is a "drastically reduced" fee.

"It's a tough pill to bite, but to me the alternative … This is not a once-in-a-generation, it's a once-in-a-multi-generation (project)," he says. "We've got to bite the bullet. I don't see how we don't do it."

He supports putting "the money forth to do it right."

Brand is next. "Look, this is a legal process, and we're in the throes of it," Brand says. He doesn't want to lose the city attorney or city staff when there are experts who do this sort of thing. "We're tying one hand behind our back by not funding this as much as it is."

He sees it as an investment—if the power plant is needed, this will help the city get mitigations. "In general, the Energy Commission is not in the business of denying permits to power plants," he says. The CEC will mitigate the projects to fit the community, though. "We want to put the best foot forward that we already could throughout the entire process to maximize the mitigations."

He notes that the work the city has done with the Air Quality Management District may force AES to pay up to $50 million in mitigation fees if it rebuilds the power plant. "It's already … bearing significant fruit, so while it's a lot of money from an intervenor standpoint, it's an investment…

"Are we really going to stand down while the Energy Commission works with AES to determine the visual impacts to our community?" Brand notes that Carlsbad spent up to $5 million on this.

9:25 p.m.: "I'm sitting here, and I'm listening to our city attorney," says Sammarco. His issue with this discussion is that there's nobody in this room that has 10 years or 20 years experience in being an intervenor. He wants to know what happens if this goes to Workman's office.

"We really need the city attorney to work on city attorney work," says Workman. "We've got this huge backload."

Workman notes that when he did this in Huntington Beach 12 years ago, he had a $100,000 budget, and it wasn't enough. "It moves very quickly because the people who are in the intervenor process really know what they're talking about," says Workman. Anyone with less than 20 years experience is almost at a deficit. "If you're going to be a intervenor, you need to provide the city attorney's office with that funding, the $350,000 … and have our best foot forward with people who know that process and can show up and make those legal arguments."

Webb adds that they would probably use the firm that helped with the data adequacy report. Initially, the city had estimated $2 million, but that's gone down because Webb has done a lot of the work and the firm has discounted its rates.

Webb would go back to doing his job as city attorney, but he would still be involved if the money were approved. The money would also pay for the necessary experts.

Sammarco wondered if the city could drop down a level instead of being intervenors, but that would mean the city does not have a voice.

"We're a party to basically a lawsuit, and the question is, 'Do we want to win?'" Webb says. "This is not something that city attorneys do full time … I will be as cost-effective as we can be."

"If we're going to do it, I want the best," says Sammarco, but he's still concerned about the cost.

"At this phase, we've been as cost-effective as we can," Webb says. "It's been OK up to this point. We've been more successful than I've anticipated … (Spending the money) gives us our best chance at being successful."

9:26 p.m.: Aust notes that he voted against the initial request for money for the intervenor budget. He says he's inclined to vote for this increase if Webb is careful with the funds. (Aust also notes that it's about the same amount of money the council paid Building a Better Redondo after the lawsuit that lead to Measure G.)

Aust believes the city is doing the right thing by intervening in the process. "At this point, I have no problem because I feel that we're doing the right thing," he says.

Ginsburg says that he was initially apprehensive of the city attorney's office doing the intervening because of this exact situation. Now that Webb has done some of the intervenor work, the city gets the "best of both worlds"—Webb knows enough to be a good manager and has reduced the legal fees.

"Our intervenor status is a very worthwhile investment for the city of Redondo Beach," he says. He believes the city will recoup its fees somehow in the future. "Whether we end up with a power plant or not, we're going to end up with something a lot better than we would if we didn't go this route."

Ginsburg moves to allocate $350,000 (staff recommendation A in the agenda) to the intervenor budget.

9:36 p.m.: Szerlip is back up. He says the city has three basic priorities: 1. Public safety. 2. Public infrastructure. 3. Quality of life. He wants to know why the city isn't considering moving less money into the intervenor budget. "I think you have to go into this kind of decision with your eyes wide open as you go into next year's budget," he says. 

"It's your decision. You've got to take the heat. You all wanted to be up here. Just go into it with your eyes wide open."

Though he says it's the council's decision, it's clear that he disagrees with the motion.

Danny the builder is going to write a memo to the Energy Commission about the ownership of the AES land as well as an "interpleader." Not sure what that means.

Marcie Guillermo of District 1 says that maybe they can find the money elsewhere.

Vechi couldn't resist. She's coming down again. "We are not qualified to be an intervenor, any one of us," she says. "But that's the reason I support the lawyer of the city to hire the best qualified people to represent us and to fight for us. And that money is the best investment for the city ... for quality of life, health, property values and so forth."

9:42 p.m.: "This has nothing to do with your opinion on the power plant, and the public employees have to understand that," says Aspel.

Brand says he's sensitive to the employees' 6 percent pay cut. "This is a big expenditure, but it's an investment. I just want to reiterate, it's an investment," he says. "Ultimately, it is a way to bolster our city's finances, get the employees to a wage that is fair and equitable and ultimately get them their wages back."

He says—in response to Szerlip's comments—he's tried to get the employees their compensation back.

"Before you start losing votes, we should probably move on," Aspel says.

They start voting, but in the middle, Sammarco calls for a friendly amendment. Webb says there were already four votes, but if someone in the majority wants to reconsider, they can.

It's unanimous—$350,000 is added to the budget, and Webb will have help. The announcement is met with applause.

David Mallen December 04, 2013 at 01:38 AM
Democracy in action. With the Mayor's leadership, the City Attorney's strategically sound legal counsel, and our Council Members' careful consideration, Redondo Beach could not be in better hands. With no apologies for my past criticism of the City Council as previously constituted, I must say THIS City Council has earned maximum respect from its constituents. Outstanding so far. Keep it going. And excellent reporting.
David Mallen December 04, 2013 at 11:27 AM
Now, time to plan 3 moves ahead of AES. The time and investment is worth it for all of us -- and our children and grandchildren. We are borrowing the promise of America from future generations.
Mike Syi December 04, 2013 at 12:15 PM
I agree this is the time to do what AES has been doing. Every move AES makes is well thought out with the intention to get what they want (high returns with little tax paid in this state). Good Job Mayor and City Council!
Jerry Patrick Wood December 04, 2013 at 01:21 PM
wow what a waste of time and precious city resources. attacking businesses instead of work on the infrastructure needs. time for don Quixote to get another hobby!
Kelly Sarkisian December 04, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Wait a minute...the city is recovering from "the great recession"....yet they just happened to come up with $350,000.00 for the aes thing. The city has the money for the employees. The 350k is out of the employees pockets! The allocation of the pay restoration is nothing more than a choice! Get it done council...you are morally bound to make it right with the employees!
sheri patterson December 04, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Very proud of the work City Attorney Mike Webb and staff have done on this issue. Last night, Redondo's City Council just proved that they are going to make every dollar spent on this issue give us the greatest return. It is an investment and our city is now positioned to have a seat at the negotiating table with AES whether the plant is approved or not. It's about time AES pays its fair share and it's a relief to see our city fight to protect Redondo. Hats off to our City Council. Great job!
Joe Galliani December 04, 2013 at 06:01 PM
It helps to view the AES fossil fuel power plant in a greater context. Two reports were released this week that show climate change is happening much faster and that we will reach the end of our carbon budget after which we won't be burning any more fossil fuels - unless you're one of those people who think that you can still smoke cigarettes while you have lung cancer using the hole in your throat from your tracheostomy. First, on Monday, a report by the National Academy of Sciences looked at warming problems that can occur in years instead of centuries. The report repeatedly warns of potential "tipping points" where the climate passes thresholds, beyond which "major and rapid changes occur." And some of these quick changes are happening now, said study chairman James White of the University of Colorado." http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Panel+Abrupt+climate+change+bigger+threat+than+larger/9242336/story.html#ixzz2mY9Ej6jT Also on Monday came the article from 18 of the world’s leading climate experts in a new study which warns that humanity is choosing to destroy a livable climate. Frankly titled, ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” the report delivers the bad news that 2°C warming won't be safe because it “would spur ‘slow’ feedbacks and eventual warming of 3–4°C with disastrous consequences.” Read it for yourself and then add up the costs to your kids: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/12/03/3014701/scientists-warming-disastrous-350/

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