Redondo Beach City Council members voted this week to table indefinitely a controversial proposal to seek legislation that would permit them to extend business leases at King Harbor for up to 99 years.
City officials said the ability to extend leases would benefit the city, but critics said such long leases would amount to a sale of public property.
City Atty. Gordon Phillips said last week that the council tentatively decided in a recent closed session to seek the Legislature's permission for 99-year leases.
But in an interview this week, Councilwoman Kay Horrell said: "It was really a tentative decision. It wasn't really even a decision--it was a suggestion."
The land and pier in King Harbor are owned by the city but are leased to 18 master lessees who operate businesses or sublease the property. Leaseholders own their buildings.
The state granted the land to the city and limits the lease periods. Under state law, leases in the Tidelands area--the area west of the mean high tide line--can be granted for up to 66 years. The leases east of the high tide line--the Uplands area--can be given for up to 50 years.
Thirteen of the master leases are for the maximum limits, Harbor Director Sheila Schoettger said.
Horrell, whose district includes the harbor, said she asked that the possible request to the Legislature be tabled because city staff had not provided the council with enough information. "I don't think anything of this magnitude should be acted on with this information," she said, referring to a 1 1/2-page memo from Schoettger.
When the council gets more information, it will consider going to the Legislature, Horrell said.
But City Manager Tim Casey said the staff will not prepare more information for the council. " 'Tabled indefinitely' means we will not be doing anything until (council members) decide to bring it back," he said.
Casey and Schoettger had argued that the ability to extend leases would give the city a powerful negotiating tool. For example, they said, a leaseholder might be required to help build a parking garage or other public improvement in exchange for a longer lease.
Casey said no one has been promised an extension, but he acknowledged that the city would not ask for the ability to extend leases if it did not intend to use it.
Some critics complained that the issue was tabled merely to avoid public comment.
"That's ridiculous," Horrell responded. "They got up and spoke anyway and they call me on the phone."
Agenda items that are tabled are not subject to debate at that time, but many people used the citizen participation portion of Tuesday's council meeting to talk about the possible request to the Legislature.
Michael Ford, who lives on his boat in King Harbor and has been an outspoken critic of harbor operations, does not believe the issue is dead. "I have no doubt in my mind that they will attempt to sneak it through as they attempted to the first time," he said in an interview.
The issue was put on the council agenda as part of the "consent calendar," which is supposed to be used for items that are "routine, non-controversial or informational in nature."