Monthly Archives: June 2012

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A reasonable plan for the future of the AES site

The approach to removing the AES power plant from Redondo Beach has a number of flaws I’ve noted in previous blog posts. Let’s suppose they succeed. Suppose the public outcry against the power plant and the related yet misguided efforts to force AES out by doing things like changing zoning, do exactly what they’re intended to do.

It’s hard to handicap the conflict between well intentioned citizens and the huge corporation. Power plant opponents cite instances of public sentiment against local power generation forcing power plants out. Have they also let their supporters know about how often applications are approved in spite of vigorous public opposition? That number would probably help with the handicapping process but let’s be generous and say there’s a 50/50 likelihood the no power plant people will prevail in getting a new permit denied.

The big flaw, the one that shouldn’t be underestimated, is that there’s no clear and persuasive plan for what happens next. That’s the question the would-be leaders of the no power plant movement should answer. What’s the step by step plan for what happens the day after AES stops generating power in Redondo Beach?

Does anyone really believe AES will just fold up shop and leave 51 acres of prime, oceanfront land behind? Does anyone believe the $5 donation they make to build a park will add up to a sum that will cover the purchase price of the land and what it costs to clear and restore it? I certainly don’t.

More likely, AES drags Redondo Beach into court or they wait until the political climate changes enough to enable them to make a move that’s beneficial to the company. Both of those possibilities could spell years, possibly decades of waiting for a resolution and boat loads of money the city either won’t get or has to pay to see this thing to its logical conclusion.

There’s only one way to avoid those enormous unknown and unintended results of actions that are being taken today. The end of the power plant and all the steps that lead to the next chapter of the story of that waterfront property, need to be structured in cooperation with AES.

Here’s how I’d do it. AES is fully aware of the public outcry against a new license. They know it won’t be easy to get renewed. In fact, AES Southland President, Eric Pendergraft, has already suggested to the city council that the company would be willing to offer something like 38 acres for alternate uses and to clean the whole parcel. In return, AES would expect cooperation from the city on its license renewal application.

The city got all that without a minute of negotiation. We have leverage and lots of it. The next thing we should do is use it effectively.

The next thing Redondo Beach would need to do is to ask AES a relatively simple question. How long would the company need to generate power after 2018 to enable the company to remove the new power plant, clean the entire location and make the remaining property available for alternate uses? There is a number and it may be smaller than we might imagine.

I know the idea of allowing AES to build a new power plant is unthinkable to the no power plant people. But how do we know whether we can or cannot live with it until we know how long the new plant would be there?

There’s also a strong possibility AES will get its new license in spite of local opposition. If that happens, the company will have no reason to agree to leave Redondo Beach at any pre-determined, future date. In all likelihood they will continue doing business as usual, no 38 acres, no date or plan for removing the power plant. They do what corporations do. They protect their investment.

No one has any idea what kind of quagmire the city might find itself in, how long it would last or how much it would cost to continue to push AES into a corner from which it has no alternative but to fight its way out. The city and the entire community would be better served to have a date-certain and a concrete plan for termination of power generation and removal of the plant. I believe we have the leverage we need to get AES to agree to such a plan.

The primary responses this idea is likely to evoke would have to do with what everyone knows. Everyone knows AES wouldn’t agree to leave Redondo Beach. Everyone knows the new plant would continue ruining our health. No, everyone doesn’t know those things.

The same people who cite “what everyone knows” about AES would have said the company would never suggest that it clean and make available 38 acres of the property it owns. It’s never a good idea to presume you know the outcome of something with the potential impact of negotiating a deal between AES and the city of Redondo Beach.

There are people leading the opposition movement who would tell you exactly that, they know what AES would and would not do. Not only don’t they know, they don’t have a clue. Why? Because they haven’t engaged in any meaningful dialogue with the company. They say they have but as I said in another post, reading your list of demands is not dialogue.

Do I want to continue breathing the exhaust from combustion at the AES plant? Of course not but the real public health damage the plant causes hasn’t been determined. The evidence that I’ve seen is largely of the “what everyone knows” variety.  Everyone knows breathing that stuff is bad but how bad is it? How much of it do we actually breath?

There are 2 grammar schools about a half mile, directly downwind from the plant. About 1200 children spend 6 hours a day, 180 days a year in those schools. My kid is one of them.

If those kids are suffering from some respiratory or other power plant-related epidemic, show me the evidence and I’ll carry a sign at the next public protest against the power plant. If those kids can’t play sports or they’re prevented from participating in activities kids in other communities enjoy because of the power plant, show me the evidence and I’ll retract every statement I’ve made against the tactics of the no power plant people.

AES Redondo Beach isn’t Chernobyl or Fukushima yet the people leading the charge against the company are trying to incite the kind of passion people feel toward those kinds of environmental catastrophes.

I expect ridicule over these statements but I also expect it will be based on “what everyone knows” rather than solid facts so it’s OK.

Until the no power plant people can tell us how they will remove the structures on that property and make it suitable for alternate uses, when they will do it, who will pay for it and how much it will cost the city, they simply don’t have a plan. They have great intentions and high hopes. They may have a fair chance of getting the new permit denied but having a partial plan or asking people to believe it will all work itself out isn’t the way responsible leaders carry out community planning.

There’s been a power plant on that property for about 100 years. I’m sure it made sense when it was built but it doesn’t make sense anymore. This community may have an opportunity to engage in a meaningful and comprehensive course of action that will lead to an end of power generation in the South Bay and the removal or the power plant.

Do we want to be able to tell our kids that we engaged in actions that led to the ultimate removal of the power plant and we put the land to some use that better serves the needs of the community? Or do we want to tell them that we got swept up in the phony passions of a few people and took actions that got part of the job done but we really don’t know how to bring it to its most favorable conclusion?  For me, that answer is as clear as I hope the view of the Pacific from 190th and Prospect will be one day.

Council gets it right

A series of events that wouldn’t seem remarkable by themselves, have come together to create an opportunity to develop a considerable amount of property in King Harbor. It comes to about 15 acres, most of which is contiguous. There hasn’t been this much property available for development since the marina was built in the 60s.

The events that enabled this exciting opportunity have been recorded and reported but it hasn’t always been clear how they depend on one another and how they all fit together. The first event was the completion of the city’s asset management plan. A consultant named Larry Kosmont prepared a comprehensive report that outlined how the city should plan for the future of the pier/harbor complex. Kosmont presented his plan to the city council and harbor commission in January, 2008.

One of the most unambiguous elements in the Kosmont report was the advice that the city should aggregate existing leaseholds. At the time there were approximately 35 individual entities contracted with the city to control some portion of the pier/marina complex.

That patchwork of different sized properties controlled by different people and companies created one of the biggest obstacles the city faced if it wanted to encourage any kind of cohesive development. The Kosmont report provided some guidance for overcoming that obstacle.

Then came the business plan, which wasn’t really a business plan at all. It was more of a conglomeration of a bunch of existing documents. Having a business plan was a worthwhile goal. So generating the document the city calls the business plan had a purpose. The plan they came up with failed to lay out any comprehensive outline that included a timeline, benchmarks and budgets. Still, the city had a business plan that included all the elements of the Kosmont report. It was approved in August, 2010.

By then, the city was hard at work consolidating various disparate land use documents into one set of zoning regulations that would define the amount of development the city would allow in the harbor along with what types and where development would be allowed.

The amended land use document was approved by the city council. Measure DD made it necessary to give the voters the ultimate decision on any major zoning changes in the city.

Ambiguous zoning was as big of an obstacle to meaningful development as the collection of unrelated properties. That obstacle was overcome in November 2010 with the passage of Measure G.

At the end of 2011, the city announced it would acquire two leaseholds that comprise the entire upper deck of the main parking structure, where the courthouse was located and the boardwalk, the shops, restaurants and bars along the water in Redondo Beach Marina. Those two deals brought two parcels of property that were previously controlled by different, private companies, under city control.

In May the city of Redondo Beach signed an agreement with JJJ Enterprises, Ltd., the company that holds the master lease for Redondo Beach Marina. It gives the city the option to buy that lease for $12 million. The property lies immediately north of the boardwalk.

End to end, the city now controls a 15 acre parcel of property that stretches from Torrance Boulevard to Portofino Way. Redondo Beach also has a pretty clear goal to determine the best use of that property and do whatever it can to facilitate development.

Word had gone out the city needs a partner. It hopes to attract some of the best and brightest visionaries from the pool of potential developers.

It’s exciting to think that sometime in the foreseeable future; Redondo Beach might have a place beside the water that was designed and built according to the present and future interests and needs of the community. It will be a place where our friends and neighbors will want to spend more time. It will rival Pier Plaza and downtown Manhattan Beach in its ability to attract and retain people from the community. We’re looking at the possibility of getting a downtown in Redondo Beach after a half century of living without one.

So much has been done yet so much remains to be done. It’s a fantastic vision that’s been a long time in the making. The people of this community deserve to have the vision realized.

Past experience forces me to wonder, what could possibly happen to mess it up? The answer is, only what we allow to mess it up.

The Line

Supporters and opponents of Proposition 29 flooded the media with conflicting messages. I remember seeing one TV spot that ended by saying something like,  “A vote against Proposition 29 is a vote for big tobacco”, or maybe it said, “…a vote for lung cancer”. I don’t remember the details.

I do remember thinking how desperate it sounded. Did the people who produced and paid for that ad really think they would sway public opinion with a 2 second slogan? Did they think the electorate was so simple-minded that we would vote on a complex issue because of a one-sided, biased idea from a questionable source?

It wasn’t important to me whether or not the message was correct. The tactic the ad used was an attempt to draw a line. The line was intended to separate voters who were for big tobacco and cancer from those who were against big tobacco and cancer. That’s what raised the hair on the back of my neck.

I voted for Prop 29 but not because of that TV spot. In fact, that sophomoric attempt to manipulate my opinion caused to me to look for any possible reason to vote against it.   I was not willing to place myself on one side or another of a line that the sponsors of that ad campaign decided was going to separate good from evil. I wouldn’t buy into their attempt to make it nearly impossible for anyone to put themselves on the side of the line the ad sponsors didn’t want them on.

That’s exactly what I see the death-to-AES people trying to do and that’s a big reason why I’ve taken a stand against their campaign. They’re trying to draw a line and place everyone on one side or the other. If you’re for good, you’re on the no power plant side of the line. Everyone else is on the evil side of the line.

There’s also a presumption that if you’re on the good side of the line, you have accepted a whole lot of ideological conditions that go along with that position.

I’m hoping that like me, a lot of people in this community will question whether that is truly the line that needs to be drawn. I’m also hoping more people begin to question why it’s so important to a few individuals, that we accept the idea we must be on one side or the other of that particular line.

As far as I can see, there’s no one on the other side of the line, the pro-power plant side, at least no one with any credibility. So can there really be a line if everyone’s on the same side of it? I don’t think so.

That doesn’t mean there is no line. The line is clear and so is the choice of which side to place yourself. It comes down to a choice about how we will use the energy of the collective disapproval we share toward future electrical production in our city.

The line that has been defined (though unintentionally) by the anti-AES people is the line between the people who believe that an attempt to use brute force against AES will result in the most beneficial solution for our community and the rest of us, the people who believe constructive dialogue will produce the best result.

Don’t believe it when you hear about attempts to engage AES in the non-AES movement. Reading your manifesto or inviting the company to participate in a process that’s clearly intended to bring about its demise in Redondo Beach, is not constructive dialogue. The fact you’ve been in the same room with AES representatives and they’ve been allowed to talk does not constitute constructive dialogue, negotiation or any other type of attempt at conflict resolution.

Communication requires listening as well as talking. Negotiation requires give and take.  When you become entrenched in a position that the other side isn’t listening because they didn’t agree to do everything you want them to do, you aren’t communicating. You aren’t negotiating and you aren’t making a serious attempt to resolve your conflicts.