Long Beach council's first meeting since Sandy
The number of residents lined up to apply for disaster assistance rivaled the crowd that came to witness the Long Beach City Council meeting, but city officials remained heartened -- they were back at the business of governing the hard-hit city.
Long Beach, which suffered more than $200 million in damage during superstorm Sandy, Tuesday held its first City Council meeting since the storm slammed Long Island on Oct. 29. The city canceled its Nov. 7 meeting, in part because city officials were tending to storm recovery.
Tuesday's meeting was held at 2 p.m., a time that allowed the City Council to vote to rescind the citywide 6 p.m. curfew. The council's meetings are normally held at 7 p.m.
PHOTOS: LI damage | Then and now | Aerial views
VIDEOS: Recovery still in progress | Desperate for buyout
DATA: Federal aid to victims | Storm damage | Infrastructure proposals | LI storm damage | How LI reps voted on Sandy funding
MORE: Year after Sandy interactive | Complete coverage
Long Beach's typically contentious city government meetings often attract more than 200 people, but this time only 14 were present at the sound of the gavel.
But City Council president Len Torres said the meeting was a sign that the city was moving from cleanup to recovery.
"We're working on rebuilding," Torres said. "Long Beach will rebuild."
In the crowd, some residents remained anxious about the process.
"We wanted to get some details about recovery," said Carl Charleson, whose home suffered flooding damage. "We're very interested to find out what they're going to do."
His wife, Jane Novorro, bemoaned the sparse attendance caused by the midday start time. "No one's here," she said. "Not happy."
There were signs that the City Council, which last met on Oct. 16, had been out of commission: the clock on the meeting room wall had not been moved back for the end of daylight saving time.
Besides rescinding the curfew, the council unanimously voted to extend City Manager Jack Schnirman's call for a "state of emergency," which allows city leaders to "take whatever steps necessary to protect" life, property and infrastructure.
The council also voted to set a Dec. 18 hearing on an ordinance that would amend city codes so storm-affected homeowners would be able to rebuild to current Federal Emergency Management Agency safety standards without first seeking zoning permission.
While the council was in session, residents filed into a hallway outside the hearing room to apply for assistance from agencies such as FEMA, the federal Small Business Administration and the state Department of Labor.
Schnirman used part of the meeting for an update on the city's cleanup progress. Workers have removed more than 135,000 cubic yards of debris from streets, he said.
The wreckage represents about half of the storm debris in the city, Schnirman said. The material is piled in an enormous mesa in a staging area at Nickerson Beach Park, in adjacent Lido Beach.
More than 1,000 patients have utilized a temporary hospital on the grounds of the Long Beach Recreation Center, city officials said.
The state of emergency order, as well as a "strong police presence," will remain until "no longer necessary," Schnirman said.
"It's important that we maintain public safety," he said.