Fired-up residents pack Seal Beach City Council chambers

Waves pounded the Seal Beach Pier last week. Photo by Michael Bronfenbrenner

It was standing room only at Monday night’s City Council meeting as residents filled the council chambers, waiting for the “public comment” portion of the agenda. After a brief presentation on the Pier (still no finish expected before 2019) and a power point presentation on the West End Pumping Station and the citywide flooding, residents took their turns at the microphone.

The issue of the evening was the three recent floods that occurred Jan. 12-22. The first two sent water into streets, cars and some homes in Bridgeport, 1st Street, and Seal Beach Shores. The final flood occurred citywide, including the Seal Way area, College Park East, Pacific Coast Highway, and Lampson Avenue.

The pumping station at the city’s west end was making do with portable rented pumps and a sump pump, which meant it was at 22 percent capacity (the maximum with the equipment rented) and it failed at preventing flooding.

Now the question becomes: When did the two large pumps at the west end fail, and when did the city know about it? Turns out the first “alert” of mechanical trouble with Pump No. 1 happened Dec. 22, 2016, an earlier date than previously given by staff at prior meetings. Pump No. 2 failed on Jan. 5, 2017, leaving the city without any large pumps on the west end. The pumping station on the east end is maintained by the county and had no malfunctions.

Residents pointed out that a month should have been ample time to have at least Pump No. 1 repaired.

Speakers also noted that by not responding immediately to the failing pumps, and replacing them with much smaller rented pumps, the city placed its residents and their property in jeopardy.

Jim Basham, the acting Public Works Director (and the Community Development Director) is responsible for the decisions that were made concerning the pumps and any temporary replacements. He reports to City Manager Jill Ingram.

Basham was called out by a resident during public comments who said, “I am very concerned, specifically about Jim Basham, who likes to mistreat women. My wife resigned today from the city because this man was disrespectful.” He was abruptly cut off by Mayor Sandra Massa-Lavitt, who told him to stop talking.

When asked via email on Tuesday whether Basham would be placed on Administrative Leave due to Monday night’s complaint against him, Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos emailed back, “This is a personnel matter and at this time we have no information to provide; however, we take any formal complaints we receive very seriously.”

Police Chief Joe Stilinovich was placed on non-disciplinary paid Administrative Leave by Ingram four months ago after a complaint was allegedly lodged against him. A handful of the speakers referenced Chief Joe, noted their support and asked that he be brought back as chief.

One of the last speakers was Wendi Rothman, prominent resident and local business owner.. She said she was “disturbed” by the earlier allegations against Basham. Massa-Lavitt tried to stop Rothman from going on, and both women raised their voices over one another.

“That silencing of residents is what’s wrong with this city right now. People have had it! Why don’t you just listen? You should have listened to that man. That’s disturbing to me,” Rothman said, sitting down to applause from the audience.

The weekend flooding did have some bright spots. Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey explained how lifeguards went door-to-door at the Shores, asking residents if they were OK and if they needed anything. The lifeguards also relieved police personnel in College Park East so they could focus on more urgent flooding areas.

Volunteers, and at least one councilwoman helped fill 600 sandbags prior to the largest storm on Sunday. Neighbors helped neighbors. That’s the Seal Beach most residents know and love.