Long Beach City Council Responds to JetBlue with Mixed Signals

For those of you who don’t live in the LA area, the interview with Dave Barger I published last week is probably a distant memory. But for those living in this area, and especially those in Long Beach, this has become a very hot topic indeed. A couple nights JetBlue Long Beach Fightago, the city council got together to discuss the issue, and I found myself shaking my head more often than not at some of the reactions from the council.

First, let me refresh your memory. In my interview, Dave said that Long Beach needed to make good on its promises to build the terminal improvements and parking garage that have been in the works for years. I asked if JetBlue would leave the airport if that didn’t happen and he responded that he “wouldn’t take any option off the table.”

This didn’t spark much response from the community until the local newspaper, the Press-Telegram picked up on the interview. Soon, JetBlue had confirmed that the comments were reported accurately. The LA Times, local television news outlets, and USA Today picked up the story as well. That was enough to get things moving.

The frenzy reached a point where the city council took notice. Three councilmembers, including the Vice Mayor, added a recommendation to this week’s council agenda (PDF) to “request City Manager to report to the City Council with timelines on the Long Beach Airport terminal enhancement status including parking structure construction update.”

That set the stage for what ended up being an odd set of statements. You can watch it for yourself on the city’s video archive site (click on item 15 at the bottom left to skip ahead).

All of them at least paid lip service to the idea that they understood the frustration with such a lengthy delay, but some were more convincing than others. On one side, we had a group, including the Vice Mayor, that tried to extend the olive branch to JetBlue. They wanted to see the project move forward, and you could tell that they were feeling the frustration as well. I think councilman Gary DeLong said it best:

Hopefully everyone can agree that reality is this has taken far too long . . . . We have been in this nine years and we have yet to break ground on anything. We’ve had lots of process but very little results . . . . We won’t agonize over why it’s taken nine years but let’s see if we can’t make up for some of that long delay by getting this project off the ground.

Amen. Let’s not look back, but let’s just get things moving now. I couldn’t agree more. New Airport Director Mario Rodriguez was there, and he tried to stay above the fray completely by focusing on the importance of cost control. That is certainly something airlines like to hear, but these are conversations that should have been had long ago (not his fault, he’s brand new). He did say that meetings are being held again with JetBlue in New York in a couple of weeks. Just one little helpful piece of advice before you go, Mario . . . it’s Dave Barger, not “Berger.”

On the other side of the fence we found a more concerning viewpoint. Some councilmembers went on the attack, and more than than one thought it would be a good idea to attack the media, including blogs. Oh yeah, that’s constructive.

Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said, “I do think that the reporting of the comment that was, by the way, leaked directly from somebody at JetBlue to the blogger and then sent directly to the Press-Telegram and the District Weekly . . . I think the reporting was irresponsible.”

Wrong. The comment was not leaked by anyone at JetBlue. I was invited to have a one-on-one sit down interview with CEO Dave Barger himself at the Phoenix Aviation Symposium (as were other media attendees at the conference). Everything you read came directly from him. In fact, once I turned my chicken-scratch into a transcript, I sent it to JetBlue to make sure I hadn’t mistakenly misquoted him. I didn’t, however, send it to the Press-Telegram or the District Weekly at any point.

Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga seemed to think that the issue was somehow less valid because it originated in a blog. “This is a blog, give me a break. If we start spending this much time on a blog, we’re really in trouble. So I would like to ask the Press-Telegram to go beyond blogness and get into real news stories. . . let’s stay positive.”

Mayor Bob Foster jumped on the bandwagon as well. “I agree. We should not take blogs as professional journalism. The professional journalists should take that as well.”

Is this a joke? It doesn’t matter if this was written on a bathroom wall. It came directly from the CEO of the largest airline at this airport. Does it really do any good to try to discredit blogs or traditional media in the process? No. It also shows that they’re quite out of touch with the current state of reporting. There are many reputable blogs and discrediting them with a blanket statement like that will most certainly not serve them well.

In the end, the most mind-boggling part of all of this was the hostility toward JetBlue for taking this out in to the media in the first place. It was none other than Mayor Bob Foster himself who closed the discussion by giving JetBlue a stern talking-to.

The one thing I would ask from everybody involved in this is professional conduct. . . . I would ask JetBlue, everyone from the CEO on down, let’s conduct ourselves as real partners, as real professionals. If you have a problem, if you have an issue, bring it to my office or bring it to a councilmembers office, don’t do it in the press. That serves no purpose and believe it or not . . . you probably have made this harder to finance . . . . It can be dealt with but it’s not the way to conduct business.

Does anyone believe that JetBlue would have taken this to the press if they were having success through other channels? I highly doubt it. The facts are this: It’s been nine years since this process began and no ground has been broken. The bulk of the discussion of substance last night centered around how to make this a fiscally responsible project. I understand the state of the economy puts this at the top of everyone’s mind, but these things should have been decided long ago. If that’s the type of discussion that’s happening right now, it doesn’t sound like something that is going to be ready any time soon.

I’d like to think that this little dust-up will at least spark something to happen, but watching the mayor and some of the councilmembers throw barbs last night hardly instills confidence. Hopefully it’s just grandstanding for the cameras, and the mayor and council have a different tune in face-to-face discussions with the airline.

In the end, the group did unanimously approve (except for the one absent councilmember) the motion to have the city manager report on the project. If I heard correctly, this should happen in early May, so there is some hope that this will receive renewed focus.

If you’re interesting in reading more, the Press-Telegram has a good recap of the meeting.

41 Responses to Long Beach City Council Responds to JetBlue with Mixed Signals

  1. Randy says:

    Politicians out of touch? Nooooo. It is interesting that your post spread to the general media and led to a response by the politicians who oversee the matter. Jet Blue most certainly had direct talks with Long Beach which have obviously gotten nowhere, and for whatever reason, the CEO of Jet Blue chose Cranky to get cranky with the town council, had to throw that pun in. This was a case of a blog having more current news than the mainstream (old school) media itself, but it came through a standard interview which is the bread and butter of any reporter. Blogs have become so mainstream that even companies such as Southwest and Delta are trying to take advantage of them as a marketing tool. Even old-school politicians on the Hill such as John McCain are trying to leverage blogs and even Twitter to stay in touch with their voters. So far I have avoided the temptation of Twitter as I have just watched Cranky experiment with it. This blog is written by someone with significant industry experience and interest in the airlines. It’s not an eight year old writing musings about Hannah Montana. The LGB town council’s response was a bit of covering their butt and showing their annoyance of being forced into action by the power of the internet, a medium they don’t fully understand.

  2. Dan Webb says:

    If blogs are as bad as they were saying….why was it necessary to call the meeting? :)

    Well done, Brett. Did anyone on the council know you were there?

  3. Who Dat? says:

    Blogs have upset the cozy relationship between government and the media and shine the light of logic and accountability upon their actions. They don’t like any of that, especially being held accountable for their ineptitude.

    Keep it up!

  4. james says:

    That attitude, – the comment about blogs that is, is exactly why newspapers are failing around the country. Sad that it’s propagated by a city council.

    A well written site with profressional writing and research might as well not even be called a blog, (even though it’s in blog format,) – it’s simply another news source written on an individual level.

    People gravitate towards personally selected specific niche written blogs and websites as parts of their own news aggregate. I certainly do. Sounds like Tonia Uranga is completely out of touch on the “long tail” concept – and only shows her own ignorance by the attempts to discredit.

    Meanwhile airlines and their marketing departments have embraced blogs and new media… That shows exactly how powerful “individual journalism” (or blogs) really are.

  5. enplaned says:

    Politicians don’t much like having their activities exposed to daylight. In the past, it was just the media they had to worry about. Now they have to worry about blogs as well, and that’s a scary prospect, because the risk of being blind-sided is much higher. Who is this Cranky Flier anyway? Heck, even one of their own staffers could start anonymous blogging at any time.

    Of course the pols are going to seek to downplay the significance of the blogs.

  6. Oliver says:

    The Long Beach City Council is such garbage. They really are just trying to cover their butts and blame blogs and media for their lack of action.

    If the Long Beach City Council were really invested in the airport, they would be talking about it and getting projects moving…not pointing fingers. Anyone can smell the blame game.

    Thanks Cranky for exposing the issues and lighting fires under peoples’ butts.

    That is journalism.

  7. CF says:

    Dan – I should have been more clear. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, because it was at 5p and I had another meeting at 6p somewhere else. So I just had to watch the video when I returned. Were I there, I probably would have introduced myself, but I don’t think I would have made a public comment. Unfortunately, the public comment portion happened before most of the things were said to which I would have objected.

    james – I think it’s important to note that the local paper, the Press-Telegram did pick this story up from my blog. They of course made sure to confirm with JetBlue (as they should have), but they seem to understand the value of information from non-traditional sources. So it’s not all local newspapers that have that sort of attitude.

    enplaned – I do have to say that it’s funny that one of the councilmembers has her own blog! Gerrie Schipske writes about her district here.

  8. I just have to shake my head at the shortsightedness of the Long Beach politicians. Do they not understand that bloggers — especially one with the good reputation of Cranky — are doing the same hard work that I do as a journalist? It is dangerous for them to just blow off Cranky and other bloggers. Hello — it was Cranky that actually broke this story, then it was picked up by the “regular” media.

    Another FYI to Long Beach: your tenant airlines — Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and US Airways — take Cranky seriously and give him the same consideration that it gives general and trade media. That should be a BIG clue.

    And finally, City of Long Beach, you can say what you want about all this, but the fact remains that it has been 9 years since you promised to make facility changes for JetBlue and the other carriers at your airport. And you can’t blame Dave Barger (not Berger) for using Cranky to deliver a message you obviously weren’t hearing before the interview. Sounds like journalism to me.

  9. Mark says:

    Brett:

    All I can say is congratulations. I have been following you for some time now and I just couldn’t be happier for you that you are getting the national attention you deserve.

  10. Gary DeLong says:

    Hopefully, bringing this issue to the light of day will motivate all concerned to get moving.

    The City of Long Beach has made promises to JetBlue, and we need to deliver.

    Gary DeLong
    Councilmember, 3rd District
    City of Long Beach

  11. Kudos to Councilmember DeLong for coming on here and commenting, and more important, acknowledging the need to keep its promises.

  12. Zack Rules says:

    Keep it up Cranky!
    And a 2nd kudos to Councilmember DeLong!

  13. David M says:

    As I was reading the post, I got the feeling that certain councilmembers were hyping up the “blame the media”/”blogs are garbage” angle to distract people from the problem that a lot of the stalling is the result of people that consistently oppose the existence of the airport throwing up more and more roadblocks (i.e. endless plan revisions and reviews and reports and environmental assessments). Some of those people seem to be on the city council.

  14. CF says:

    Thank you for commenting, Councilman DeLong. It is much appreciated.

  15. Wes says:

    I have noting to add, other than to say Brett, OUTSTANDING job with this post and the original post.

    This may be the best post and subsequent comments I have ever read on any airline blog.

    Thumbs up to Concilman DeLong, when Jet Blue leaves LGB in a year or two I hope it is noted that not ALL city politicans were clueless on the issue….

  16. >>Mayor Bob Foster jumped on the bandwagon as well. “I agree. We should not take blogs as professional journalism. The professional journalists should take that as well.”

    Is this a joke? It doesn’t matter if this was written on a bathroom wall. It came directly from the CEO of the largest airline at this airport. Does it really do any good to try to discredit blogs or traditional media in the process? <<

    What you said. No.

    Journalism isn’t a profession, it’s an act.

    Words strung together to form sentences don’t automatically become more or less worthy based on whether they’re visible on a page or a computer screen, or composed on somebody’s iPhone instead of a computer located in an office cubicle at a newspaper.

    It’s just about the work. Nice work there.

  17. Jay says:

    Well…maybe JetBlue just didn’t ever notice that “everyone’s” office is “always open anytime” if they need to chat on that issue that’s been stalled for nine years. Right?

    Luckily, the mayor sent out that invitation to JetBlue in the most direct way possible: a Long Beach City council meeting…?

    Now, I don’t want to criticise too much since I don’t envy people (politicians) who have to try to satisfy competing interests (constituents, businesses, etc.). However, it is clear that some on the council did not like having their hand forced on this issue (and not in the open….let’s keep it professional, folks).

    BTW…I wonder how many JetBlue execs are smiling ear-to-ear today?

  18. Randy says:

    I am impressed that Cranky has helped potentially effect change in the real world via his Blog. We are watching a game of chicken here between Jet Blue and the city council. Jet Blue has a comfortable near-monopoly in Long Beach and is making money so the city council is betting they won’t leave Long Beach, while Jet Blue has increased their criticism of the council’s lack of action by showing their hand a bit. One possible action, however unlikely, is the potential to reduce or eliminate service to the airport. The general public, who are both voters and passengers, are the losers under either current scenario. The airport imposes severe restrictions upon mainline and commuter airlines operating in to the airport owing to noise. This reminds me of Orange County which for years highly restricted airline service into SNA, ostensibly for noise, even though many small business jets are noisier than the latest Stage 3 commercial aircraft. One of the main reasons that PSA bought the BAe-146-200 was to gain greater access to Orange County. Their city council threw up many road blocks and objected based on the grounds of noise until PSA flew a 146 to SNA for noise tests. Much was made of potential added flights and additional noise until a cement truck drove by the end of the runway and registered more decibels than the 146. Additional flights for PSA were permitted, Air Cal had to buy 146′s to compete, and a new terminal was built. Long Beach is in the same position as SNA was decades ago, but unlike SNA, hasn’t sought a better balance, or built new facilities, to enable the community to utilize a facility that is closer and far less congested than its big brother up the I-405, LAX. As LGB was built in 1923, there are no residents near the airport that didn’t realize they were near the arrival and departure pattern of a major airport. There are over 1,000 daily aircraft movements of all types at the airport. I can only imagine how loud it once was when DC-8-30′s used to regularly depart from the Douglas plant. The least the City Council could do is honor their commitment to the airport. Raising the gross weight an aircraft can have for a commuter slot is an entirely different issue. 75,000 pounds allows for Dash-8-400′s or CRJ-700, but doesn’t allow for any larger regional aircraft, such as Jet Blue’s EMB-190′s. Meanwhile, I must tip my hat to Councilman De Long for stopping by the site and making a comment.

  19. SAN Greg says:

    Certain members of the Long Beach City council sound like a bunch of boneheads. It will be these same people who rhetorically ask the question “what happened?” when the airport is empty and the planes are gone.

  20. CF – Have you made any attempts to respond to the council dissing your blog an invalid media source?

  21. CF says:

    Nicholas – If you mean direct attempts, then no. My blog is my strongest voice, so that’s where I’ve posted it. Clearly at least one councilmember has read it, so I imagine that it will be passed along to others as well. Maybe after some time, the naysayers will change their tune, but I’ll just keep reporting here.

  22. CF says:

    Nicholas – Just found this article in the Press-Telegram entitled “Don’t shoot the blogger, in this case.” So it appears that there are others who are helping to spread the message in a more effective manner. The council certainly pays very close attention to the PT.

    But I’m not really worried about defending myself, to be honest. I would just prefer that they don’t worry about how the message was delivered and focus on where it originated instead – with the CEO of JetBlue.

  23. David SF east bay says:

    The CEO was a smart guy to give an interview to someone who he must have known lived in the area. Everyone knows the best way to see action on something is to get the public on the war path and the local news media talking about it. JetBlue having private talks with the airport and local elected officials would never get things done quickly.

    Now the CEO is playing Long Beach and New York for everything he can get. Long Beach will bend over backwards to keep JetBlue in town and all that $$$$ rolling in just as NY will bend over backwards to keep JetBlue’s HQ in town. The news today had that they may move their HQ out of the NY area. So both cities will start making it worth while for JetBlue by offering lower costs and kick backs of some sort to keep the airline in their city.

  24. Linda says:

    Dave Barger was in fact in Long Beach today. I believe he even met with the airport director and possibly city counsel officials.
    WOW, you did a great job here!
    The media attention was intense and Jetblue deserves better treatment.
    Now I believe something may change in Long Beach and improvements may be in the horizon.
    THANK YOU!

  25. Sandra Arnoult says:

    What a novel idea! Kill the messenger! Blog or no blog, Cranky did the job that needed to be done – expose the hapless (hopeless?) politicians who have been screwing around for years and accomplished nothing. Hey, let’s appoint a task force! Hold some public hearings! Hire a consultant! That will help. JetBlue – don’t expect this group of clowns to come through for you. Get used to the trailer park/airport.

  26. Cranky, you go! Anyone who dismisses journalism because it’s done in “blog format” (as we call it – we’re not a blog, we’re a news website that publishes in “blog format”) is totally out of touch.

    If you’re covering the news, reporting it accurately, responsibly, and ethically, you ARE the media, just as much as your local newspaper et al. Belated congratulations on the scoop (I hadn’t heard of this kerfuffle till Romenesko picked it up).

  27. Jetblue Mike says:

    Kudos to Cranky Flier!
    Long Beach is seeming to forget that the airport was there long before alot of the city is what it is today. That airport was the base for Douglas Aircraft, a significant player in aviation history and helped build Long Beach what it is today. The facility, though quiant and easy, is really a disservice to the City of Long Beach. It shows an unforgivable lack of respect to its place in history and the company that was an economic backbone to the city for some of its early history. My hometown in Idaho, with 1/3 the population of Long Beach, has a beautiful facility to accomodate a fraction of the commercial service to its city.

    Jetblue has been a loyal company, working hard to please the Long Beach community so that it may be able to sustain and grow its operations responsibly at this, its Southern California focus city. Millions of local people as well as highly discriminating New Yorkers love flying Jetblue out of and into the Long Beach airport, and those millions would benefit from improved facilities.

    One last comment, shame on the city council for taking action based on a blog bit from the largest business flying out of what should be a world class airport. Most of the world will begin their Long Beach experience by arriving at the airport, don’t you think that should be enough reason to make this priorty #1, regardless if Jetblue flies into Long Beach or not?

  28. CF,

    Sounds like there is some hope of intelligence doused with a rainshower of stupidity on the LB City Council. Is that buffoon of a mayor serious? “Come to us if you have problems, not the media.” Really? No … really??!! Does the mayor understand the following timetable:

    9 YEARS!!! NINE! LET’S COUNT THEM: ONE YEAR (nothing done), TWO YEARS (nothing done), THREE YEARS (nothing done), FOUR YEARS (nothing done), FIVE YEARS (nothing done), SIX YEARS (nothing done), SEVEN YEARS (nothing done), EIGHT YEARS (nothing done), & NINE YEARS … wait for it …. waitttt for it …. yup! you guessed it! NOTHING DONE!

    What part of “talking directly to the LB City Council and not making any headway for nine years” doesn’t that $#&! of a mayor understand?

    They will indeed probably dismiss it all of this because it came from a blog. But don’t feel bad. It seems the ghost of Einstein, Lincoln, and Mother Teresa, not to mention all of the deities of the world’s major religions could’ve prodded them to do something and they still would’ve dismissed it. Stupid is as stupid does.

  29. VTROOTS says:

    Not from LGB, so excuse me if you all already know the answer to this question: Since aircraft weight and noise are not (necessarily) related, what is the real reason for the weight restrictions labeled a noise ordinance?

  30. Eric says:

    Hope you two have a great vacay!!!

    I am joining the Cranky Chorus of support for yout & thumbs down to the obvious tempter tamtrum the LGB city council is throwing in light of your interview. If the Councilmenbers can not adjust to dealing with the New Media and accountabilty, then perhaps they need to find a new line of work. Adapt or get left behind folks…. it has been that way for 200,000 years and it’s not about to change.

  31. Christine Thill says:

    I really hope Jet Blue goes away and stays away. We may find that giving into whatever big buisness wants, despite the fact that their noise pollutes our neighborhoods, can be a big mistake. Just like allowing Wall Street, banks and other businesses to do whatever they wanted. I’ve watched Long Beach council make so many stupid mistakes over the last 30 years of living here. They just don’t have a sense of what a nice city should be. It’s not business people want, it’s peace and quiet. It’s good schools, parks, housing, quality shopping and community leaders that care about us. Spend my property tax wisely and we will get by.

  32. LB Resident says:

    Cranky Flier, thank you for your thoughtful and through reporting.

    As usual, Tonia Reyes Uranga makes a uninformed comment. She is a poor public servant as far as I can tell. A few years ago she was the director of a EDD/Youth Employment Program grant program in Orange County that somehow managed to not get it’s grant funding renewed.

  33. Tim says:

    Interesting that the only negative comment is an anti-business one from a Long Beach resident. I wonder if Christine has realized that shops are actually businesses so there is a contradiction right there. Those businesses need to be supplied, too. Surely better for the city tax base to have those businesses in the Long Beach area. And following her logic no banks should have an office in Long Beach either. Oh, and I certainly agree with her comment that property tax should be spent wisely, but I don’t think she has calculated how much her property tax would increase if JetBlue were to pull out. JetBlue (and the other airlines) pump an awful lot of money into the local economy both directly (through fees and taxes) and indirectly through their customers spending money in the local area.

  34. David says:

    In reading all of the posts about the Long Beach Mayor and City Council, it is clearly evident how out of touch they are with reality.

    The fact that they don’t even know the CEO’s name (!) says that they do not know what is going on in their own city. (Unfortunately, it also means that Mr. Barger does not have a big enough presence in Long Beach — given that they regard us [yes, I live here], as a ‘Focus City’)

    Let’s face it, the politicians attempted to ‘shoot the messenger’ simply because they wanted to shift the focus away from the fact that they have completely bungled the relationship with a — correction, THE — major airport tenant. Almost 80% of the passengers flying out of LGB are on JetBlue.

    Brett made an observation that it didn’t matter if the comments were written on a bathroom wall. Fact is, the CEO of a $2.5 billion airline does not grant interviews to just anyone. The fact that _Mr. Barger_ respects Cranky should be the telling indicator of the importance of the blog.

    In 2009, we have seen 2 Pulitzer Prize winning newspapers cease publication (Seattle P-I and Rocky Mountain News). Independent journalism is the way of the future.

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  36. Chriatine says:

    Just because a resident doesn’t want an airport in their city doesn’t mean they’re against all business. I don’t want a loud polluting business in my city, and would love it if Jet Blue left Long Beach. And so what if I was anti-business? Does business always equal good? Long Beach has more tax revenue than a lot of cities, so one less airline wouldn’t bring the city to it’s knees.
    I don’t like private airplanes either, and believe owning one is just a loud hobby. I don’t think they should be allowed to fly over quiet neighborhoods. Well, quiet until disturbed by a loud airplane. You should not be surprised that there are differences of opinion on the Jet Blue issue.

  37. SEAN says:

    If things don’t work out for JetBlue they could always divert flights to LAX OR SNA. Good work Long Beach, what do you do for an encore?

    As a foot note: my girlfriend’s aunt lived not far from the airport & visiting her in 2005 we herd the planes taking off. The weird thing was you could go 2 hours whithout any noise & you forget the airport is 10 minutes away.

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  39. HSA says:

    They just need to keep their promise. Just think of the short and long term effect if they leave.

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