LONG BEACH - The city of Long Beach conducted a four-hour public hearing on Feb. 12 for an appeal from the Edgewater Condominium Association (ECA) and a request to install a fence in a hotly disputed local alleyway.
Appellants Sue Buchardt and Tina Slagowski spoke on behalf of the ECA. City Attorney Doug Goelz and city Finance Director David Glasson represented Long Beach. The hearing was led with the help of the city's legal advisor, Jeff Meyer.
No public input was allowed, as the council's rule would be considered similar to a ruling that would come from a judge. The hearing was recorded, providing a verbatim transcript for future reference. Each testimony was given under oath, which was then followed by a cross-examination.
The Long Beach Planning Commission made no recommendation on the matter.
Meyer began the hearing by making sure that there had been no interaction between the applicants and Mayor Bob Andrew or city councilors Jerry Phillips, Gordon Zuern and Fred Cook.
Buchardt, who co-owns two units and is the acting treasurer of the ECA, explained that the fence appeal has been a longtime issue and said she had been discriminated against because neighbors on the east side of there were allowed to build decks into the alley. She claimed the homeowners association determined during a past meeting that a fence is needed for the protection of their building and safety of individuals.
Goelz explained there are two entities for him to represent in the case - the city of Long Beach and the public. The city of Long Beach has maintained and paved the alley throughout the years, as well as placed storm water drainage systems in it.
"Why would a city - any city - maintain private property with public funds if they didn't think that the city owned it?" asked Goelz.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Goelz, the city and the appellants agreed to submit their closing arguments in written format. The closing argument will allow each side to explain why the appeal should be approved or denied. City council members plan to reconvene at 3 p.m. on March 24 to make a final decision.
City's presentationThe city rolled out a series of witnesses who spoke of the city's long belief in its ownership of the alley, and the actions it took in reliance on that belief.
Long Beach Water Plant Operator Rick Gray said he has helped maintain the alley since he started working for the city in 1989. He was often in charge of grading the alley when potholes formed in the gravel, setting up paving schedules, cleaning out the drainage lines and catch basins and other tasks.
Former Long Beach City Administrator Nabiel Shawa recalled the city crews filling in the alley's potholes periodically because "the potholes became ridiculous" and at the time there was no doubt that the alley was city property. He added that during one alley maintenance effort, a resident said it was private property and attempted to stop them. About six or seven years ago, he stated that surveying was done in the alley, which he didn't appreciate since it damaged the asphalt.
Buchardt and Gray said surveys were performed twice because of the property line dispute.
Goelz asked Shawa if he remembered any obstacles or signs that were placed by the building's owner to restrict access to the alley; Shawa said "No." Shawa also said that the alley is shown as a public road the city plot map.
Glasson was called as Goelz' final witness. Glasson felt that the alley's use has changed over the years, but knew that the city started paving the alley before he started working there in 1989. He too understood that the alley was considered city property and quickly noted there were no objections made from the association during later paving projects and potholes improvements.
Condo presentationDuring her testimony, Buchardt said business owners on the east side of the alley allowed people to park on the 10.6-foot by 119-foot space that the condo association feels is theirs. She described the alley as ideal for pedestrian use and recalled that the association had maintained it while waiting for proof of ownership from the city. In the past the association had put bollards at each end of the alley to keep vehicles out, but City Administrator Gene Miles, with approval from the mayor and council, ordered their removal in July to allow an elderly business owner to park his car in the alley for convenience. Buchardt said that is partially why the association wants the alley fenced off.
"Gene Miles went above the law by allowing him to park there," said Buchardt, who called law enforcement about the parking issue and also took photos of the car. She added that the police would not write a ticket or tow the car because the city had granted the man permission to park there.
Buchardt said her deed and tax records show that a portion of the alley is the association's property. She recalled that the Edgewater Condo Association received an approved letter from the city council, city administrator and mayor agreeing to some of their concerns.
"The city used to recognize the alley as ours and then they took it back," explained the appellant, who has lived on the Peninsula since 2005. "...We're just trying to establish inconsistencies with the city's decision - 10 months later the agreement was null and void by the city."
Goelz said the agreement is not enforceable and not binding on a city administrator hired following the agreement.
During cross-examination, Goelz asked if Buchardt had proof of the written resolution or minutes from the homeowners association meeting where the fence request was decided. Buchardt stated she did not have that information with her. He asked if the homeowners association had bylaws that determine how many owners would have to be present for quorum. Buchardt was not sure and did not remember how many people were at the meeting. With a total of 12 units, the condo association consists of 11 owners. Buchardt said she could not remember how many of them were at the homeowners association meeting. None of the other owners appeared to be at the hearing.
Goelz suggested that it would require a majority vote by the association board to appeal or submit an application to install the fence.
Cook asked Buchardt to describe how the association maintained the alleyway. She stated that they swept and picked up garbage, debris and cigarette butts. She was not present when paving, drainage or utility work was done in the alley.
Slagowski, prior owner of the building and a witness from Newberg, Ore., said that she bought the condos as apartments from Truman Rew in 2000. She remembered that the 10 feet was deed over to the city for access use, but the problems began when cars "ruined the electrical conduits."
In 2001, she sent a letter to the city disputing the boundary line after she felt the alley should be closed to "racing" automobiles using as "a thoroughfare."
In cross-examination, she stated that the city never disclosed any sort of claim to her, so while she owned it, she attempted to restrict the alley's use by posting "No trespassing" signs and allowing her residents to roll their trash to the end of the alleyway for pickup. With those efforts, she said the traffic flow stopped. She stated at one point that her husband's car was towed by the city for parking in the alley, and while she remembers being told she was get her money back, she didn't.