A roomful of Redondo Beach residents heard arguments for and against Measure A at a free public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Beach Cities and the Redondo Beach Library at the Main Library on Tuesday night.
If passed, Measure A will rezone the land owned by AES Southland on Harbor Drive in South Redondo Beach to a mixture of up to 40 percent commercial and institutional uses and at least 60 percent parkland and open space in an attempt to force the California Energy Commission to consider whether power from a rebuilt AES Redondo Beach power plant is needed for the state grid.
The current natural gas power plant must be retired, retrofitted, repowered (rebuilt) or obtain special exemptions to continue operating past 2020 due to a state ban on once-through cooling. Once-through cooling plants use ocean water to cool superheated steam that spins the turbines that generate electricity.
AES filed an application with the CEC in November to build a new power plant on the Harbor Drive property. The company asserts that a new plant will run cleaner, take up less space and provide the grid with needed flexibility for when energy from renewable resources is unavailable. Opponents of the power plant—including the authors of Measure A—contend that per AES' application to the CEC, the new plant will run more often and thus produce more particulate pollution annually than the current plant does. Additionally, opponents say that a new power plant will continue to depress property values and economic growth in the harbor area.
Tuesday's forum featured presentations from city Councilman Bill Brand, a co-author of Measure A; slow-growth activist and District 1 council candidate Jim Light, a co-author of Measure A; Councilman Matt Kilroy, who co-authored the ballot argument against Measure A; and AES Southland president Eric Pendergraft.
Each presenter received two minutes to give an opening statement, and two minutes to answer each question. Presenters also received three minutes apiece for a closing argument.
The room was filled to capacity by the start of the forum, and people were turned away. Anti-power plant activist Melanie Cohen told Patch that 200 people were waiting outside the second-floor room.
She also said that anti-power plant activists had planned to video the event and distribute the footage to all parties involved in the forum. They had received permission from the League of Women Voters to do so as long as the video was posted in full and without any editing, Cohen said. Nevertheless, when they got to the library, they were told they were not allowed to video the meeting.
At the beginning of the forum, the moderator told all in attendance that recording the meeting was not allowed because it could be edited.
Read below for Patch's live-blog of Tuesday's meeting. Entries are in chronological order.
6 p.m.: It's a full house, and the program has started. The moderator is telling attendees about the League of Women voters. She thanks the Redondo Beach Public Library for its support of tonight's program.
"Measure A is a Redondo Beach initiative to retire the AES power plant," she says. She provides a brief explanation of AES as a company and its plans to repower AES Redondo Beach.
Presenters have drawn numbers to decide seating and the order of the presentation. Q&A section will have two minutes per speaker. People can write questions on cards, and readers in the back will combine questions.
No video recording is allowed.
6:13 p.m.: Eric Pendergraft, president of AES Southland is first to speak.
"We are, extremely, extremely excited to be modernizing the site with a new facility that is better in every way," he says after thanking people for attending. The new power plant will produce 35 percent more power without generating more pollution he says.
He is showing pictures of the "dramatic improvement" of the skyline from different viewpoints.
He's using a car as an example to illustrate emissions. Car is used 20 percent of the time but using 5 percent of its maximum capacity; the existing car is generating electricity 40 percent of the time but using 5 percent of its maximum capacity.
"We've confirmed when our plant is operating, the electricity is delivered to the La Fresa substation and thus serving most of Redondo Beach," he says, addressing the switchyard. "Despite what you may have heard, our facility does provide power to the city of Redondo Beach." Removing the power plant doesn't necessarily mean the removal of the transmission lines.
There are a few gasps from the audience as he shows how the old power plant would "virtually disappear" once a new one is constructed.
6:14 p.m.: Matt Kilroy, a Redondo Beach city councilman, is next. He opposes Measure A, and he co-authored the rebuttal argument for the ballot against Measure A.
He thanks the League of Women Voters.
"Please understand, I am not on AES' payroll. I have not taken $1 for any campaign contributions from AES. Never had, won't do it not as long as this issue hangs in the balance. I am not a fan of the power plant, but in my opinion Measure A is not the way to go about doing it."
He says Measure A creates zoning unlike other zoning in the area, and thus it's spot zoning. Across the street in the harbor, there is 20 percent mandated public open space; Measure A requires 60 percent public open space. The harbor does not require view corridors; Measure A does. He discusses other differences.
[Editor's note: The following information was originally mistakenly attributed to Pendergraft, when it was Kilroy who said it.]
"I don't see how Measure A is not spot zoning," he says.
"Never have I heard of any place in Redondo Beach where we have required the demolition of an existing structure that the owner did not want to do," he says, referring to the requirement in Measure A that the plant be demolished by a certain year.
He says Measure A is a "taking."
6:25 p.m.: "I want to thank you all for coming. We are at quite a crossroads," Councilman Bill Brand says.
He starts his presentation with a photo of the new El Segundo power plant—one of three new power plants coming online this year in the L.A. basin.
"Every report we've read, every expert we've talked to … yes, in fact, there is capacity to retire Redondo Beach permanently," Brand says. He refers to CAISO representative Dennis Peters' acknowledgement of that fact at a city council workshop.
He notes that AES Redondo only ran at 6.2 percent capacity for the entire year and there were no brownouts, regardless of the fact that San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was down all summer.
"This plant is not going to be cleaner—far from it," he says, showing a slide of. "Emissions are going to be going way up, in part because it's going to be operating more frequently."
"We're moving out of compliance with both federal and state standards" for particulate emissions, he says. They're going to increase 5-15 times and will be emitted closer to the ground because of the decrease in height of the stacks.
"Without Measure A, you're going to get a new power plant and a large development plan around it," says Brand.
Jim Light is next.
6:30 p.m.: "Our goal is to stop the new power plant, and our approach is to get the (California Energy Commission) to deny" AES' application, Light says. He notes that the city of Redondo Beach never passed a resolution against the power plant.
Measure A forces the CEC to do "an assessment that they wouldn't normally have to do," says Light. "The CEC cannot certify the power plant if it doesn't conform with local zoning unless they can demonstrate that the power to the grid is critical." Most CEC application denials come because of conflict with local zoning, and the agency has only overridden local zoning once that he has found, Light says.
Measure A is based on three documents: a 2004 city document talking about how to rezone the property; Measure G harbor zoning; and a state coastal conservancy study. Light describes the process they went through to write the measure.
The measure phases out power generation by 2020 and requires the plant be gone by 2022. The land can be used for 30-40 percent commercial and institutional uses, which will fund the park. The rest of the property will be public open space and parkland, including sports facilities and wetlands, he says.
"It provides substantial residual value for (the AES) property," Light says. Measure A increases property and sales taxes for the city.
"It's now or never, folks," Light says. "If you don't want a new power plant blighting our waterfront for our next 30 years, vote yes on Measure A."
6:32 p.m.: Time for Q&A: "How does the current power plant impact the environment?" The question also asks about how the new power plant would affect the area. It is a very long question—the moderator says they've consolidated all the environmental questions into one.
"Everyone has an issue as to why their project will be better for the environment, and I'd like everybody to address why it would be," she says.
Pendergraft is first.
He says Brand is comparing apples to oranges—he's comparing the existing plant to a new plant running at 100 percent capacity.
"On an actual basis, we expect our facility to run at an actual 20 percent capacity dispatch," he says. That would be five tons of particulate matter—about 7,500 passenger vehicles. "There are 40,000 passenger vehicles that travel from Aviation Boulevard to Torrance Boulevard every day … We're taking an insignificant number of emissions and building something that is newer, better … state-of-the-art technology."
Next is Kilroy. "You don't breathe in tons of emissions. You breath in cubic meters of air," he says. Health effects are measured. "My '68d muscle car produces less emissions than my neighbor's Toyota Prius … It don't run."
"We do have to look at things in perspective, and we do have to judge," he says. "If we can do without a power plant, and the CEC determines that we can do without a power plant, that's fine."
"Now you know why I showed that chart from the AES application to the California Energy Commission," Brand says. "It’s not going to be cleaner … It shows what's coming out now and it shows what will be coming out."
"But I don't want any emissions from a new power plant … there is no safe level," Brand says. "The No. 1 polluter in Redondo Beach when it is built will be this power plant." He says that he used to be an air-quality analyst. He was a chemical engineer. "This is not apples to oranges. That's why they wrote it that way, so you can easily see what the comparisons are."
Finally, it's Light's turn.
"Bill's absolutely correct," says Light. "Right now, Redondo does not meet federal standards—or state standards ... You add a new power plant, that's just going to make the situation worse."
He also says cars are "running cleaner and cleaner, so it's just not an accurate comparison."
6:44 p.m.: Next question is zoning: "How much authority does the city have over residential zoning, and why would it be illegal for the city to rezone property?"
Kilroy says, without a doubt, the city has the authority to rezone property. Measure A does not leave the existing use as a legal nonconforming use, he says. Additionally, Measure A requires a private property owner to allow the public access to its property. "When we rezone, we don't tell the property owner that they have to open up their property for the public's use."
"This is not a taking. This is perfectly legal. This is what we're supposed to be doing. This is what the Redondo Beach staff recommended in 2004," Brand says. "Measure A does exactly what the staff recommended ... There's solid legal foundation if done properly." He notes that 40 percent commercial is 20 acres of the property. Rezoning the entire thing for a park would be illegal.
"If Measure A could be deemed as a taking ... then the current zoning could be deemed as a taking because right now, the city has the authority to require the set aside in perpetuity for parkland on that site," Light adds. "It's just not factual."
Light notes that two law firms (among others) have looked at Measure A zoning. "Measure A represents an up-zoning," which gives AES more value for the property, Light says. "Are we going to let ourselves be held hostage for threat of a lawsuit, to sell out our waterfront for the next 50 years?" He says it's time to "stand up" to the "big corporation."
Pendergraft says, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'm sure that a 35-acre park would be characterized" as significant economic value. He says he doesn't know where the money would come from to create the park. "You have a house. You want to demolish and rebuild it. You're being told you can only use 30-40 percent of your property to rebuild your house," he says as an example. Measure A "(tramples) our private property rights" and creates taxpayer burdens. "It will lead to litigation. It's not what we want to do; it's not where we want to go. I suspect Southern California Edison will as well."
Pendergraft addresses Light's "funny math"—his calculations don't take brake dust into account, and the closet air monitoring stations are in Compton and LAX.
6:51 p.m.: Question: "Where do we get power now? Where will we get power from if AES moves?"
"We'll get our power from what they call the grid—we don't get it directly from AES Redondo," says Brand. He compares it to a barrel of water. He reiterates that the state said there was capacity to retire a "large, once-through cooling power plant in this area."
He says Redondo has been buying into fear mongering from AES "for decades."
"If you look at recent ISO and CPUC documents, you would find that AES Alamitos and AES Huntington are critical to the grid in our area," Light says.
Pendergraft brings up the car analogy again, then notes that "electricity flows on the path of least resistance." He says AES Redondo Beach is critical. "I'm not going to sit here and promise you that the Redondo Beach power plant will be needed in the future," he says. He says that the CPUC says that the area will need 4,000 megawatts in the future. "We are retiring generation—almost the equivalent of two power plants. It's premature for us to say now whether a plant is needed or not in the future ... We need to be prepared to act in the event it is needed."
"I agree an awful lot with what Jim Light and Councilman Bill Brand said," says Kilroy—but that was before San Onofre had issues. He wants to let the CPUC and the CEC do their jobs. "You can't store power. It goes somewhere," he says. "The amount of electrical use in California doubles during a heat wave."
Based on the latest report, California needs to add one 700-megawatt plant every year through 2020, he says. But this forum is about whether Measure A is right for Redondo Beach.
6:59 p.m.: Question on economic impacts: How many jobs does the power plant currently create, and how many more will it create with a new power plant? How many years of heavy construction will happen to build the new power plant? Will the Coastal Conservancy help pay for a new park?
The Coastal Conservancy has indicated that they're committed to help finding the funding for a park if Measure A passes, says Light. At the earliest, they have until 2018 to get enough funds. "Remember, not all these deals are pure cash deals. Some of them are tax breaks … for the property owner."
Redondo has plenty of time to get funds for a park, Light says.
Pendergraft says the existing plant has about 45 employees. The plant pays $2 million in property taxes each year. "We expect the new plant, the property taxes to double."
There will be $35 million in local expenditures throughout construction, and there may be other benefits to the city, he says. He says there's a "broad and deep coalition of people that are opposed to Measure A"—it's "well beyond AES, and it's well beyond the power plant."
Kilroy's turn. "Measure G actually codified the overlay zoning of parkland/open space on the AES site," he says. "We did that four years ago, started that four years ago, because we were promised money from the parkland conservancy and we have not received $1." He asks what happens if the conservancy doesn't come through—"Who's on the hook? The City of Redondo Beach will be on the hook for those funds that the parkland conservancy doesn't come up with."
As an intervener, he wants to extract "quite a bit more of a pound of flesh than what (AES is) giving now" to the city.
"Ooh, the B-word," Brand says, referring to Kilroy's mention of possible bankruptcy. "How to kill a park—just talk about how there's no way to fund it before you ever get off the ground."
He notes that the coastal conservancy and Annenberg Foundation paid lots of money in Palos Verdes for parks. "There is no path, unless you set the vision first. And through that vision, you set the zoning," Brand says. He says that if Measure A fails, there will be a power plant with a large development around it. "That's why A is so critical ... it's absurd to think that parkland little 501(c)(3) is going to buy the power plant."
7:05 p.m.: Last question: Can each of the panelists clarify financially how they're getting support and who they're supporting in regards to Measure A, and "is there any way that you guys can all get along? Is there a solution?"
Pendergraft is first. "You guys have probably all guessed, we're getting our funding from ourselves," Pendergraft says. "(Measure A) is bad for us; it's bad for Redondo." He lists again why he thinks it's bad for Redondo. "Is there a way to get along? I certainly hope so. That's what we want to do."
He says Measure A devalues 60-70 percent of the property by making it a park. "We are open to considering other things for our property, but it takes collaboration. It takes working together. It takes trying to find compromise … We've got to find some middle ground, or at least talk about finding middle ground."
He notes that the government purchased the Chula Vista power plant property, so there was no lawsuit involving zoning. The power plant operator's lease ran out. "That would be a great outcome here—a great outcome," Pendergraft says. He'd love to talk to the city about buying the Harbor Drive site.
Kilroy says he's always tried to have respectful discussions with AES and anti-power plant activists. "I've always tried to listen to both sides," he says. He says he came about his opinion after lots of thought and research. He doesn't take any animus toward anyone's position.
"Funding. As I stated before, I don't get any funding from AES. Now, I have a confession to make: I ate one of their croissants," he says to laughter from the audience. He says the area is now zoned as a park. "If the California Coastal Conservancy wants to write a check to AES to buy it and make it a park, the city has enabled them to do so, and it hasn't happened."
He says that if he didn't mention bankruptcy, it would be dishonest. Cities can be sued, and they can be driven to bankruptcy. "It is a potential reality."
Brand's turn. "Redondo Beach is under no obligation to buy this land for rezoning." The mike squeals, so Brand takes a quick break. "Measure A gets their support from residents. AES gets their support from Virginia." He rattles off the names of some prominent Measure A supporters. He notes that Sen. Ted Lieu wrote a letter to CAISO and the PUC in regards to the switchyard and the power lines along 190th Street.
"There's a very real possibility that the power lines can come down," Brand says.
He notes that the power-generation companies owned the two sites in San Francisco. "The (situations) are the same at 50,000 feet," he says.
"We get along fine … but politics is a contact sport. When you disagree, that's kind of why we get elected because we're just kind of ornery," he says.
Light reiterates that Measure A was funded by residents between Building a Better Redondo and NoPowerPlant.com. "We've got feet on the streets; we've got sweat equity going into this thing," Light says, calling locals the giant-killers and AES the giant.
He says he met with the current plant manager and the South Bay Parkland Conservancy years ago, and AES said to come back later. "The kind of compromise that AES is talking about is they get their power plant, they get some development and maybe they get a small park. This is a win-win for them and a lose-lose for us."
7:16 p.m.: Closing statements—each person gets three minutes. Jim Light is first. "Our time is now. It's now or never," says Light. Residents tried to get rid of the plant in 1904 and in the 1930s. "I'm hoping you will make the right decision ... do you want a power plant or don't you?"
"Jim summed it up pretty well, actually," says Brand. "Yes on Measure A, folks ... The unsubstantiated, baseless panic of those who have done nothing to stop a new power plant is wrong."
He reiterates what Measure A does and says that AES has only wanted a new power plant and has not been open to discussions regarding removing it. "Residents are at the front end of this. If A fails, then you are going to get a new power plant," he says. "The do-nothing approach is no longer an option because AES is moving, and after they get their power plant, they're going to go for a big development plan."
"Yes on A is the strongest message we can send to state power authorities that have the final say," he adds. He says it's good for harbor revitalization, residents and AES.
Kilroy is next. "Each one of us views the facts through a lens of our own experiences, values and priorities," he says. "I don't believe it's prudent for the city to be placed in a position that could lead to its bankruptcy ... I am not putting my faith in lawyers on either side ... There are other ways that we can approach this."
He says that as an intervener, the city can ask for power studies to see if it's needed. He also notes that he wants AES to invest in solar.
"I guarantee you the lawyers will come out smelling like roses because they'll all get paid," Kilroy says. "Look at the facts; look at the law; and I think you'll come to the right conclusion that Measure A leads the city into too great of a legal risk."
Pendergraft is last. "I get to close it out," he notes. He thanks the League, the presenters and the attendees. "I really am just a dad that's got two teenage boys; I live near the power plant in Huntington Beach that operates nearly all the time."
He says attendees have heard a lot of very conflicting information; they should sit back, use judgment and common sense and draw their own conclusions. AES is taking 50- to 60-year-old technology and replacing it with something that's state of the art. The plant will meet all new federal and state standards.
"It couldn't be that bad for the environment if everyone wants it to happen," he says. "Do you think we can say today that our new plant is not needed in 2020? And as for Measure A, I ask you to think about your own property, and if you'd like to have a community garden on 60-70 percent of your land." He calls private property rights a fundamental right.
"I think we are doing something special. We're excited about our plans for a new, smaller, cleaner power plant; to be able to continue to meet the needs of the community; to dramatically increase views and property values ... and do so without a single dollar of taxpayer money," he concludes.
7:27 p.m.: That's it! The moderator thanks everyone for attending and encourages everyone to go out and vote on March 5.