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Mayor Gin Vetoes Advisory Vote

Mayor Mike Gin vetoes a vote directing city staff to come up with language for a citywide advisory vote on whether residents want to oppose repowering AES Redondo Beach.

Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated that Mayor Mike Gin did not veto a vote asking city staff to look into what it would cost for a citywide advisory vote. He did veto the direction to staff. We regret the error.

Despite a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, Mayor Mike Gin vetoed the council's decision to ask city staff to develop language for a citywide advisory vote on whether residents want to oppose the repowering of . 

The current AES power plant on Harbor Drive must be retired by 2020 due to new state regulations on the use of once-through cooling, which involves using ocean water to cool the superheated steam that spins the natural gas plant's turbines.

AES officials want to replace the aging plant with a new one that they say will run cleaner and provide a backup when renewable power is not available. Anti-power plant groups Building a Better Redondo and No Power Plant, on the other hand, say a new plant would spew more toxic emissions and continue to suppress property values.

Though Tuesday's agenda was a continuation of a May 1 discussion about the procedure for possibly rezoning the land underneath the plant, it became a debate on the merits of an advisory vote. (Read the live blog below for more details.)

The council did vote unanimously to have city staff prepare a resolution in favor of removing the existing power plant.

"That would be the one piece (of the issue) I think we could all actually agree on—that we all want the existing power plant to go," Councilman Matt Kilroy said.

For more complete details on Tuesday night's meeting, read the live blog below. Entries are in chronological order.

7:57 p.m.: Mayor Mike Gin: "I think we have an amazing opportunity with the AES site, whatever happens ... it is my belief a rezoning will occur."

Nevertheless, he believes that the city should be the one rezoning the property, not the citizens via an initiative.

"I personally favor something that's the broader, (more) comprehensive option," he says, noting that he doesn't want to rush it.

8:01 p.m.: "I agree with you that we should do the comprehensive process, we don't want to rush it," Councilman Bill Brand says. Brand has been an outspoken opponent of AES Redondo Beach. "I don't know that four harbor commission meetings and four planning commissions is the way to go." He suggests bringing in the facilitator that runs the joint meetings between the city council and school board.

"I know it'll be an expense, but I think it should be done right, that we should consider that and I agree with you wholeheartedly, says Brand.

"I agree that it needs to be done and needs to be done right," says Councilman Matt Kilroy. He notes that employee and labor unions have begun negotiating with the city. "I have a hard time trying to carve money out of the budget to pay for the comprehensive process."

Two different modes—one without a plant, one with a new power plant, Kilroy says. "There's a citizen's initiative that already addresses zoning with no power plant there."

8:05 p.m.: "If AES does get a permit to repower, I think it really behooves them" to come up with something to take to the public, Kilroy says. He adds that the city council could emulate the school board's process of submitting requests for proposals. "They're actually going to have to have the zoning to match the project."

He wants to wait and see what happens with the citizen's initiative before the city goes forward.

Councilman Pat Aust: "I think what we need to do immediately … is to have a vote of the people of Redondo Beach on whether we want a power plant."

"I'm for what the majority of the people of Redondo Beach want to do," Aust says. He wants an all-mail ballot with simple language for a referendum on the power plant "since this is going to be an issue of the next 50 years we've heard."

8:07 p.m.: AES shouldn't be upset if people vote against the power plant because AES believes the community won't vote against the plan, Aust says.

The city clerk says the all-mail ballot would cost $100,000 or less.

"That's the first big question, and it's far less than the" zoning options, Aust says.

"The elephant in the room is are we in support or against that power plant!" he says. He wants to show the numbers to the California Energy Commission.

8:08 p.m.: Councilman Steve Aspel calls zoning meetings "fluff meetings"—no matter what people will be irritated. "I have no problem of having a vote if you want it or not"; however, he doesn't want a "fluff" vote that's not binding.

8:09 p.m.: "Everybody's going to have a different opinion," Aspel says. "You're not going to please everybody." He adds that "you're not going to stop that train (the initiative) from going down the track."

8:12 p.m.: City Manager Bill Workman says that funding for power plant issues will ahve to come from the Capital Improvement Fund, since it's not in the budget. "It's one of those budget that's all about choices," Workman says. "At this point, it's up to the city council ... to determine how to fund it."

"The budget issue is a very valid (point)," says Gin. "The train may be running on this issue, but again I think we should be prepared in the future for a rezoning that will likely occur on that site..." He thinks whether AES has a say is an issue. "There really hasn't been a formal engagement in a public way in a coversation of uses on that land with the property owner."

8:13 p.m.: Kilroy wants to know how expensive it would be if they added the referendum to the March election budget. City Clerk Eleanor Manzano says the cost would be much less.

"But it isn't complicated, it's simple," Aust interrupts.

"I know that, but the cost is complicated," Kilroy replies.

8:14 p.m.: Brand: "Timing is a big issue here. We're not on our own timeframe here."

8:18 p.m.: Brand explains that he asked an official from Carlsbad who's fighting the NRG plant out there about timing. "'Kill it while it's young,'" the representative told Brand, the councilman says. "'We should have come out guns ablazing ... they'll know they have a fight on their hands if you come out early ... too soon isn't really soon enough.' This is somebody who's been there, done that and they weren't successful so far."

Brand says he wasn't in favor of the advisory vote when Aust first brought it up; however, he seems to be reconsidering it. "Everybody who talks to me is against it... I'm confident the majority of Redondo Beach residents don't want a new power plant," Brand says. "I am changing my mind. If it's simple wording—you know, devil's in the details—if you know the wording is right" then all is well. He just wants the resolution to say "Do you support the city council having a resolution opposing a power plant?"

Hermosa Beach, et. al., are waiting for the Redondo council to say "yea" or "nay," Brand says. He wants to set the zoning and then let the projects come forward.

8:20 p.m.: Brand wants to make a motion to direct staff to bring back an advisory vote that they can discuss "at the earliest possible moment." "I think waiting until March is too late," he says. "If this license application from AES arrives in August at the energy commission, and we've already got an advisory vote on the ballot, that sends a strong message."

8:24 p.m.: Brand notes that the representative from CAISO said it's "critical" to know ASAP if AES Redondo will be retired.

City Attorney Mike Webb notes that a motion to direct staff to come back with options. He suggests the presidential election in November. "You clearly will have the greatest voter turnout," Webb says.

Manzano notes that the county ballot in November might not have room, but she'll check.

Webb says having it November would probably be more cost-effective.

Brand's motion is to direct staff to come back with specific info

"I just want to stay focused on what the goal is," Diels says. Is it to disincentivise AES from rebuilding in Redondo? "Rezoning is putting the cart before the horse." He notes that the CEC can override any zoning, and that any new zoning should have a commercial component.

"The one missing component is the value of the land," he says.

8:26 p.m.: Diels wants to know from AES how much the land is worth, and how much of an incentive it needs to leave.

"I am actually in favor of looking at zoning options"; however, he wants to determine the value of the land first, Diels says.

The CEC is "more powerful than the Coastal Commission," says Workman, and it can override zoning.

Diels notes that the CEC overturned or is ready to overturn Carlsbad's zoning options.

8:29 p.m.: Gin asks how he proposes going down the zoning path. "The one true way we can control our destiny is to own the land," Diels answers, also noting that a number is important. "We would have to find out a way to buy it or somehow get control of the land ... I would propose flat-out asking AES, 'What is your number?'"

Aust: "I'm fully aware that the one with the most power is the California Energy Commission ... ownership of the land is a big component, but it's not the most powerful component." He says the people of the city of Redondo Beach are the most powerful component because of Measure DD. "We cannot change (zoning) if they don't vote on it." He notes that AES said that it can repower the current plant without the CEC. "They already are somewhat in the driver's seat in that respect."

8:37 p.m.: "If we do a vote ... even if it's not 'binding' it's definitely going to give a barometer" of everyone's opinion. "It's a good indicator of where the people are going, and if they vote to say no power plant," they'll probably vote for the initiative, too, Aust says.

He brings of Heart of the City, calling it a waste of time and money. "You talk about a ridiculous situation that we just kept on compounding and compounding," Aust says. He also notes that history repeats itself.

Aspel: I think we're just supposed to be talking about whether to receive and file the report. He brings up the meeting minutes from years ago. "We're getting a little intimidated up here, one of our constituents said, 'Boys, show your spine,'" he says. Apparently, someone who claimed to be an anti-power plant advocate "tore into" Aspel's wife over his position on the power plant. "It was really rude, and I'm pretty much tired of being intimidated, and he went after my wife."

The person said he bought a "If you're dumb enough to buy a house and then complain about its location (a year later)" you don't deserve taxpayers' money. Opponents of the anti-power plant folks "won't even post on Facebook" because the activists have become so rabid, Aspel says. "There's nothing that we can do with any meetings that will appease people."

He calls it "irritating" when a No Power Plant activist "attacks my wife at a party."

Aspel says he won't support a "fluff vote." Nor will Diels.

8:39 p.m.: Gin says it's unwise to have a nonbinding vote—"it doesn't carry the weight that I think will be needed."

"I think that the issue of whether or not you want a power plant also deals with zoning and also deals with what the future of that site might look like," he adds. "To me, it's not a vaccuum in terms of yes or no if you want a power plant."

He wants to know what people are interested for future uses on the plant.

The process is "critically important" says Gin. He doesn't want the vote to cost money.

8:42 p.m.: Kilroy says he's flip-flopping on the advisory vote "just sitting here talking about it." He says the initiative is a yes or no vote itself. "I'm not against an up or down vote, but in a vaccuum ... it is not really giving the voters a full spectrum of choices."

He addresses Brand, saying he sees a vote as a downside—the council might wait to oppose the plant until the results are made. "We've pushed that decision off already, I don't want to push this off even further," Kilroy says. "I think the initiative ... is giving citizens an opportunity to voice their opinion if it should stay or go."

8:51 p.m.: Brand: "I guess we're all changing our minds as we go along." He notes that Gin was for the expensive zoning process.

"When you rezone land, you don't ask the property owner what their land is worth," Brand says. "It is about particulates, Steve—it's a public health issue." Aspel says it wasn't a public health issue for the person who accosted his wife.

"Trust me, there's some very independent-minded people that are not taking direction from me," Brand tells Aspel.

In Seal Beach, apparently there's an old DWP plant that was decommissioned and rezoned for 70 percent park / 30 percent commercial. "Again, Redondo Beach is not operating in a vaccuum," Brand says.

"Frankly the lack of action on this council is exactly why there's an initiative," Brand says. He still supports getting the residents' opinion via an advisory vote.

He thinks that even if the motion passes, Gin will veto it.

Aust: "I am totally against the initiative because I consider it bait-and-switch" because it sounds like it will be a restrictive nature preserve. That was originally part of the initiative; however, newer versions have allowed baseball fields, etc.

"They did take the flat green spaces restriction out," he notes. "A lot of people won't spend the time to read it; they won't spend the time to research it."

"It will be just like Heart of the City; it will go on for years and years," Aust says.

Gin says he thinks the city-guided zoning is the way to go because right now, the "property owner has not been engaged in the process."

8:54 p.m.: "Once you engage the property owner, you can create a win-win situation," Gin says. "Ultimately, they're the ones in the driver's seat. They control the land." He says he understands the request for an advisory vote, but he doesn't think it will move the issue forward.

The high costs concern him, especially because they're coming out of the Capital Improvement Budget. He wants AES to help pay for the effort—"they seemed willing to do that, and they would not be driving the process." He doesn't see AES' money possibly tainting the process "as an issue."

"We can take no action on this, that's fine, but I think it's important ... to get the information out there," Gin says.

8:55 p.m.: "AES will not engaged with any zoning that doesn't include a power plant," Kilroy says. "For them to do so ... would give tacit approval to the idea."

8:55 p.m.: Kilroy says the initiative is "the cheapest process." He repeats he doesn't want the advisory vote to be an excuse to "kick the can down the road."

8:58 p.m.: Another zoning question from Kilroy: What would it take to do a moritorium on other industrial uses or projects besides generating power? (Editor's note: Is this about desal?)

Aaron Jones explains that a moritorium is in effect for a maximum of two years.

I'm pretty sure Kilroy is talking about a proposed desalination plant.

9:03 p.m.: "I'm not a fan of initiatives in general," says Aspel, though he does say that the initiative works as a yes or no vote. "Just to spend money on a nonbinding thing doesn't make any sense to me."

He suggests in jest that people whose properties have views of the plant should recuse themselves from voting on the initiative.

Brand tries to confirm with Manzano the costs of placing an advisory vote on the ballot in November. She says she still has to check to see if there's space.

"We absolutely should not be waiting," Brand says, adding that not to do something this big for $100,000 is a big mistake. "This is critical, folks, and it's time for Redondo to send a strong message one way or another."

9:05 p.m.: "The city should pull any lever they can" to get rid of the plant, Brand says. He brings up stats about particulate exposure. "It's about not just views, it's about public health" for the "entire South Bay."

He reminds Aspel that AES said in a letter to the council that particulate emissions would double with the new plant.

9:10 p.m.: Aust's turn again. "It would be wonderful if AES came to the table and communicated with us," he says. He brings up a conversation that he had with Pendergraft a few weeks ago about something that happened in 1998 for a "plan" regarding Heart of the City. Aust apparently met with several plant managers. "I've had over 11 meetings—and this folder contains all the responses I've received ... Whoops! It's empty. ... They're only going to tell us what they want to tell us."

"They're not honest and upright. AES is not our friend. They've challenged us and sued us everywhere we've gone," he says. Nothing has changed—the city is still in "quicksand" after many years. "AES since the day they came here has never said they were going to take that plant out."

"They want a way they're going to make money, and they want a way they're going to make more money," Aust says. "They're just like pigs rolling in slop, man, they're just as happy as can be. ... They're making loads of money; it just keeps rolling in ... so why do we want to treat them with kid gloves?"

Aust is on a roll against AES. "I do agree with Bill, we're going to be caught flat-footed. ... We need to know where the people of Redondo are," he says.

9:15 p.m.: "It's not a nothing vote, and it's not a waste of $100,000," Aust says.

Gin again says the money will come out of capital improvements. Aust says he knows.

Diels: "Well, we did have a public vote, and it was a park vote, and it won." He says that after the park vote, they rezoned the area to park through Measure G. Diels notes that Brand and Building a Better Redondo opposed Measure G. Once again, he says the city needs to buy the land.

He warns people to be careful of "public health" arguments—the state looks at the broad view of an issue. If the plant produces more pollution locally,

"We've got the advisory vote" already, he says. The initiative's zoning proposal does not support the advisory vote, he says. He wants a binding vote if the citizens want to buy the land. He also suggests an assessment district for people who live around the plant. "The people close to the plant ... really should raise the money." He says it's not fair to ask the rest of the city to pay to improve their property values.

9:17 p.m.: "I will support a binding vote," Diels says, where people decide to tax themselves to buy the land.

It's been only about an hour and 15 minutes or so, and it's already time for public comment!

9:20 p.m.: Mark Hansen from the King Harbor Boaters Advisory Panel is first. He says they don't really care about whether there's a power plant, but he says that people are interested in how the land will be used.

"Sometimes you just do things wrong, and they can be done better on the third try," Hansen says. "It doesn't mean we can't do it right."

He wants to city to do a comprehensive look at zoning.

Next is John Mayers in District 1. He used to be in the real estate development business, where he would value properties.

9:27 p.m.: He calls the numbers thrown out two weeks ago on the value of the plant "strange." We're now hearing a story about some land in Torrance that was purchased for $5 million per acre. He says the AES property is "an amazing piece of property"—one of the best between Camp Pendleton and Malibu.

"In my opinion, the highest and the best use is not a park," he says. The AES land is worth "at minimum, $5 million an acre," he says.

Brand: "AES would love to have you pushing their value for them." He notes that AES did its own appraisals in 2003 to determine its property tax values. The property will be a brownfield—it's zoned industrial and it's contaminated. The value changes.

Brand says the AES property was valued at about $25 million by an independent appraiser; however, that didn't include the tank farm. "I agree with Councilmember Diels; you should form a park district around that ... and it should encompass Hermosa Beach," Brand says. "We get very little from AES right now." He says it's less than 1 percent of the city's annual revenue, and the power plant degrades property values and the business climate.

9:31 p.m.: Motion on the table is to give direction to staff to bring back a potential resolution with suggested language for an advisory language, as well as costs and dates. Motion appears to pass 3-2, with Diels and Aspel dissenting, but Gin says he has concerns with the cost.

He does not, however, veto the motion. (Editor's note: Mayor Gin did, in fact, veto the resolution.)

Brand has another motion. He wants to terminate the amortization studies, et. al. "There's no point in doing those studies if we're not" going the zoning route.

Kilroy seconds it for purposes of discussion. He wants to know how much the other studies are costing. Workman says they'll bring back the costs of the studies, etc. at the May 29 meeting.

Webb adds that this is not a proper motion for this agenda item. He says Brand should withdraw the motion, then ask for it to be agendized for the next meeting.

Brand withdraws his motion.

And we're done!

Jim Light May 16, 2012 at 05:18 AM
It's obvious Aust has never read the initiative zoning. It has always allowed sport fields like baseball diamonds. Our earliest renderings depict soccer fields and tennis courts. The park zoning is wide open to a range of uses and no specific park or recreational use is required.
Zein E. Obagi May 16, 2012 at 07:18 AM
But Jim, you have to like at least some of what you're seeing from Councilman Aust. "I've had over 11 meetings—and this folder contains all the responses I've received ... Whoops! It's empty. ... They're only going to tell us what they want to tell us." "They're not honest and upright. AES is not our friend. They've challenged us and sued us everywhere we've gone," he says. Nothing has changed—the city is still in "quicksand" after many years. "AES since the day they came here has never said they were going to take that plant out." "They want a way they're going to make money, and they want a way they're going to make more money," Aust says. "They're just like pigs rolling in slop, man, they're just as happy as can be. ... They're making loads of money; it just keeps rolling in ... so why do we want to treat them with kid gloves?" What happened to Councilman Aspel? It is awful that somebody accosted his wife. But a leader can't let one bad apple spoil it for the entire community. Perhaps it's his way of showing he won't be intimidated. Diels . . . Diels . . . Diels . . .
Wolfman May 16, 2012 at 10:17 AM
The botton line is the majority of the Redondo Beach residents do not want this Poluting Power Plant or Condos and Hotels on this prime piece of Redondo Beach property. Save it for our kids to enjoy.
Boyd D. Baker May 16, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Whether its shops, restaurants, businesses or a park, anything would be better than that ugly, hulking behemoth of a plant. I think the future of Redondo Beach would be VERY favorably impacted by the removal of that plant...not just economically, but also aesthetically. Shops and restaurants (or any other commercial use) on that site would generate tax revenue for the city, not to mention the broader favorable economic impact that would result from increased appeal to tourists, who may find a more attractive path to the pier to spend their money that doesn't include driving by a monstrous old power plant. To me, it's a no-brainer. Stick a "no power plant" item on an agenda somewhere, and I'll vote for it. It's a decision that would improve the area in many ways.
Jim Light May 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Aust was dead on on his comments on AES "playing ball". But it is hard for me to reconcile that with his totally inaccurate characterization of the actual zoning document.
Nicole Mooradian (Editor) May 16, 2012 at 04:15 PM
We've corrected the article to reflect that Mayor Gin did, in fact, veto the council's direction to staff.
sheri patterson May 16, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Many residents have lost hope and don't have much faith that our elected officials will do the right thing and do it in time to send the strongest message. That's all residents have been asking for the last 18 months. This is exactly why citizens got fed up and are putting an initiative on the ballot ourselves. One comment from Aspel made my claws come out for a second (must be the protective mama bear in me), he stated that any resident with views of the plant should recuse themselves of voting. Interesting, it's our children playing outside close to and downwind of the plant that will be most vulnerable. Maybe place the plant over in District 1 for awhile? I think we'd see strong activism from parents there as a result. Whether I'm at my son's preschool, at the store or outside teaching my son to ride his bike...the plume is ALWAY there. Some mornings we can even smell the toxins. Many residents fear what health consequences we'll suffer with the new plant emitting double the amount of particulates. Who is to say the new plant wouldn't run at more than 30% capacity? The particulates would then likely increase to 20-25 tons. BCHD noted concern about AES emissions increasing from 5 to 10 tons of particulates. The dynamic of the wind blowing the toxins right up the hill having less time to dissipate is a big concerns for Dist 2 parents. It's not about prop values. I would be happy to pay an extra tax to make it go away. Redondo Beach deserves a positive change!
Wolfman May 17, 2012 at 04:01 PM
I would also pay a little more in taxes (now they call them fees) to see that Power Plant go away. I wonder how many other folks feel this way ?
Jim Light May 17, 2012 at 08:18 PM
I'm in, but I don't think it's required. The California Coastal Conservancy has committed to helping us fund the park portion.

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