SHOULD NAPLES RESIDENTS PAY FOR SEAWALLS THAT SUPPORT THEIR LIFESTYLE?By Jim McCabe
The meeting took place more than a decade ago at Naples Elementary School. Councilman Doug Drummond had summoned staffers from the appropriate city departments to meet with people who owned homes along the Naples canals. The seawalls along those canals were already showing their age, and the meeting was held to figure out how to finance their repair. As the Deputy City Attorney charged with handling Tidelands legal matters for Long Beach, I was there.
The homeowners were anxious to have the sea walls repaired. City staff suggested that the homeowners could expedite those repairs by helping with the cost through a modest increase in the fees they paid for their boat slips, which were situated over the City-owned canals.
Several weeks later, Drummond came back to City Hall with the message that the canal-front homeowners would not pay a dime towards the repair of their seawalls.
The meeting took place on June 15, 2010, in the City Council chambers of Long Beach City Hall. Eight of the nine Council members were behind the rail, all but 2nd district representative Suja Lowenthal. There was a motion on the floor that would finally begin repair of the Naples sea walls—a small portion of them, anyway, the parts that were in the worst condition.
But the motion proposed taking $9.5 million out of the Citywide Tidelands Fund—money dedicated by law to the public benefit of all taxpayers—to pay for improvements that would benefit a relatively small number of private and wealthy homeowners in Naples.
As the retired Deputy City Attorney formerly charged with handling Tidelands legal matters, who had noticed this item on the Council agenda, I was there to voice my objection.
It was apparent then—and still is—that public money spent on Naples seawall repair would be money spent for the overwhelming benefit of private and narrow interests, not the good of the wider public.
Those seawalls keep luxury homes and their manicured gardens from falling onto the property owners’ private floating boat docks—which are attached to their portion of the sea walls—and then into the canals. The market value of those private homes are benefited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for each residence. The private homeowners get the benefit of a water view and backyard access to Alamitos Bay and the ocean for their private boats.
Any benefit of the seawalls to the public is minor by comparison. Outside of Naples residents, only a very small portion of the public actually go walking or boating along those canals. If it were up to the homeowners, Naples would be a gated community specifically excluding the public. That request has been made in the past.
But the only bump in the road to swift and overwhelming passage of the motion was an amendment moved by Council member Rae Gabelich. It would direct City Manager Pat West to look into and report to the Council what methods might be available for the private canal-side homeowners of Naples to contribute to the $9.5 million being paid for by everybody’s Citywide Tidelands Fund for their particular benefit.
Actually, one method had already come up at the meeting. While providing legal expertise in response to a council member’s question, City Attorney Robert Shannon asserted that the City of Long Beach could legally assess the Naples property owners for all or part of the money.
Gabelich then noted that the price Naples homeowners were paying for having their private docks on public water—basically, in their back yards—was about one-twelfth of what people were paying to rent less-desirable docks in the city marinas.
Before anybody dug much further into the inequitable bargains enjoyed by Naples homeowners, the Council approved Gabelich’s amendment—then the original motion, too.
The filing of the California Public Records Act (CAPRA) request took place in January 2011 at Long Beach City Hall. It was with regard to Item 29 from the agenda of the City Council meeting on June 15, 2010. As the retired Deputy City Attorney formerly charged with handling Tidelands legal matters, who had been at that meeting (where the Council scooped $9.5 million out of the Citywide Tidelands Fund to pay for sea walls repair without asking Naples homeowners for a dime), and who had been at the meeting at Naples School a decade earlier (where those homeowners declared they would not pay a dime for repair of their sea walls), and who many years around City government gave him intuition about certain things, I was there to file that CAPRA request.
It asked for any documents or electronic messages from city staff reflecting on the Gabelich amendment that was approved by the City Council and which directed City Manager Pat West to provide a report to the City Council on funding alternatives, including a possible change in slip fee rates, for repair of seawalls in the Naples area.
When the City responded to my CAPRA request, it was to inform me that not even one slip of paper had been generated in response to the mandate of the Gabelich Amendment. Nothing had been done to identify funding alternatives. Just as the private property owners along the Naples canals declared more than a decade ago, they will still not pay a dime toward the repair of their seawalls.
The $9.5 million that was taken from the Citywide Tidelands Fund to pay for Naples seawall repair was just a down payment on a partial fix, the initial installment of a seawall-repair bill that could soar beyond $50 million in the next few years.
How will that bill be paid? Well, past performance—that decade-old declaration by the Naples waterfront homeowners and the way the City Council has honored it—seems to have set a precedent for raiding the Citywide Tidelands Fund.
Citizens of Long Beach should ask themselves which is more important: $50 million for beaches, lifeguards, marinas and recreation for all our taxpayers or $50 million to be bestowed on private citizens living in an exclusive enclave.
There will be more meetings on the subject of sea walls repair. Who’s going to be there?