Thursday, October 4, 2012

Disclosing what really happened in closed session on Schroeder Army Hall

Schipske Gets Permission from City Attorney to Disclose Closed Session on Schroeder Army Hall After Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell Releases Inaccurate Description of What Took Place

Long Beach, CA – October 4, 2012 -- 5th District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske today issued the following statement concerning discussions and action which took place in closed session concerning the transfer of military property (Schroeder Army Hall) to the City of Long Beach for use as a police substation. Schipske notes that she conferred with City Attorney Robert Shannon and was told she is free to disclose the action the City Council took:

“I am saddened by Councilman O’Donnell’s inaccurate and inflammatory comments about what occurred in closed session. The motion that he voted against included moving the homeless facility to be operated 

by MHA away from homes in Artcraft Manor which is in the 5th District. Staff had offered that site because of Council concerns that another site be found for MHA and council by a vote of 8-1 (with O’Donnell voting against) directed staff that placing MHA on the southeast corner of Schroeder Hall up against the wall that separates the property from the homes would not be compatible with the neighborhood. 

Why O’Donnell chose to distort what took place in closed session is anyone’s guess. But it is clear he issued the press statement to distract from the fact he was the only councilmember who apparently didn’t mind putting MHA on the Schroeder Hall site right beside the neighborhood. He also voted against directing City management to develop restrictions for use of any site by MHA and for directing the City Manager to continue working with MHA to find an alternative site.

In order to be open and transparent to the public about what really occurred, I would like to detail what the order in which discussions occurred in closed session yesterday when the City Council met to discuss the status of the US Army and US HUD’s transfer of military property at Schroeder Army Hall located at Willow Street and Grand Avenue. 

City management briefed us on the fact that the federal agencies want the City to move forward to take the property. In order to do so, the Council had to indicate on which site the homeless services provider (Mental Health America) would be located. Federal law requires the City of Long Beach to accommodate a homeless services provider in order for the City to receive Schroeder Army Hall.
In a prior City Council closed session, the Council unanimously directed the City Manager to meet with MHA to discuss the offer of cash in lieu of property so that MHA could go to another location other than on or near the site of Schroeder Army Hall.

The City Manager reported to the Council that he had met and talked with MHA and that there was an expressed interest in cash in lieu of property, provided that the City could ensure that if MHA bought another property they would be allowed to locate there. There was discussion about a potential piece of property which could be purchased by MHA and the City Manager was requested to continue talking with MHA about moving from the Schroeder Army Hall area.

At no time did anyone present in the closed session state that “negotiations had been brought to a halt” or that MHA “has changed their minds about protecting our community.” In fact, the City Manager continues to talk with MHA about alternative sites (actually talking with MHA yesterday prior to O’Donnell’s news release) and the City Council actually engaged in lengthy discussion during closed session about how the neighborhood would be protected including stating that the MHA site should not be located near homes.

Management then presented to the City Council two locations for MHA: 1) behind the Long Beach Public Health Department which provides a buffer from the neighborhood or 2) on the southeast section of Schroeder Army Hall up against the wall directly adjacent to homes.

As the first Councilmember to speak on this issue in the closed session, I strongly expressed my disagreement with any location that is directly behind residences and then stated that I was concerned it had not been made clear with the US Army, US HUD or MHA that a list of restrictions would be placed on any location MHA would occupy and that fact needed to be discussed prior to any EIR or lease.

A discussion continued with several Council members participating, including O’Donnell and me, that those restrictions would include that all clients would have to be transported via van and not public transportation and that the facility would operate from 8 am until 4pm. City staff was directed that these restrictions need to be discussed with MHA prior to the approval of an EIR. Staff indicated that they understood and that any restriction proposed would have to be agreed by MHA and would be included in the EIR for public comment. 

Staff also iterated that in order for Schroeder Army Hall to be reused as an eastside police substation and MHA to operate a homeless treatment center, that there would be extensive community meetings on all issues concerning the properties and that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would need to be approved.

Council continued to ask how legally the City could enforce any restrictions so that should an alternative site not be found, MHA would make certain that their operations did not impact the neighborhood. The City Attorney’s staff responded that MHA would have to abide by the terms of the lease and the City could enforce the lease.

The vote taken by the City Council – which O’Donnell voted against included: (1) Authorize the initiation of the EIR ; (2) direct staff to continue to identify other potential alternate sites, and (3) direct staff to prepare an initial list of operating restrictions applicable to the MHA facility, no matter the ultimate location.  

After the vote, the City Manager again contacted MHA about seeking an alternative site. I am hopeful that O’Donnell’s inaccurate and inflammatory comments will not derail the progress that has been made in working with MHA to find a more suitable location  and our efforts to protect the neighborhood.”

Addendum: Mr. O’Donnell states that the proposed MHA facility will be on “City land near the Stearns Park area” -- this is very misleading. The proposed location on Burnett is 1.4 miles from the nearest point of Stearns Park and is sheltered by an industrial area.

Below is O'Donnell's statement. Feel free to compare:

O’Donnell Statement on Schroeder Hall: 

Service Provider Backs Out of Efforts to Protect Neighborhood

Protracted Battle to Move Homeless Center May Be Over

Behind-the-scenes efforts, which may have moved a mentally ill homeless facility away from eastside neighborhoods, have been halted due to a service provider’s unwillingness to move forward.

For the last several years, the Long Beach City Council has been debating a proposal to open a treatment center for the mentally ill homeless adjacent to eastside neighborhoods. Councilmember Patrick O'Donnell has been a strong opponent of the project, believing that placing it near a residential neighborhood was "not a good fit," in his words. The proposal resulted from the City's planned acquisition of the nearby Schroeder Hall Army Facility and a correlating requirement that the City provide a homeless accommodation as an in-lieu payment for the Army property.  The Council voted, with O’Donnell dissenting, to move forward with the process of siting a facility on City land near the Stearns Park area.  Behind the scenes discussions had taken place in which the service provider, Mental Health America (MHA) would receive cash in lieu of the property.  The City Council has been apprised that the discussions have been brought to a halt by the service provider, effectively ending efforts to place the facility elsewhere.  
In response to MHA’s recent actions, O’Donnell has released the following statement:
"The proposed location is not fair to the nearby residents and not fair to the homeless.  We all have a duty to help our fellow man, but this proposal was not thought out from the start.  I am very disappointed that efforts to move this facility away from people’s homes has not been successful.  The service provider has changed their minds about protecting our community.”

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