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Laguna Woods city manager apologizes to 9/11 motorcyclists

October 22, 2009

Laguna Woods city manager apologizes to 9/11 motorcyclists
Council members said city manager overreacted to ride organizers
By CLAIRE WEBB
The Orange County Register

LAGUNA WOODS – City Manager Leslie Keane offered an apology to the
organizer of a 9/11 memorial motorcycle ride after more than 60 riders
and supporters showed up to Wednesday’s City Council meeting to protest
her actions following the event. 

Some council members, including Mayor Bob Ring, said the city manager
overreacted to one of the participants holding traffic at a red light
for more than 100 riders at the intersection of El Toro Road and Moulton
Parkway. Keane and other council members also said the event can ride
through the city next year provided it is done safely.

“Inappropriate things were said, and I think they were said on both
sides, and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for my part in
that,” Keane told a packed council chamber. “I am hopeful that we can
move forward and if this ride comes to our city again that we can
cooperate in making it a successful and safe ride.”

Organizer Gary Biggerstaff, a veteran Long Beach firefighter, said
afterwards the apology was necessary.

“I don’t know that her heart has changed, but her words have changed,”
said Biggerstaff.

He still asked that Keane, nevertheless, contact the agencies she
complained to after the ride, contending the event’s reputation is
damaged.

“What’s at stake here is the good name of this ride I’ve spent the
better part of six years building up,” Biggerstaff told the council.

Biggerstaff started the 40-mile ride, billed on the Web as the Remember
9/11 Ride, which has grown to roughly 600 participants, as a tribute to
those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This year is the
ride’s fifth year going from Cook’s Corner in Orange County’s Trabuco
Canyon and finishing at Biggerstaff’s home in Long Beach for a memorial
service.

The conflict between Biggerstaff and Laguna Woods City Manager Leslie
Keane began when one rider stopped at the intersection of El Toro Road
and Moulton Parkway and held traffic to allow roughly 100 riders to
pass, according to Biggerstaff.

Biggerstaff said he was contacted in early October by the Orange County
Sherriff’s Department to cooperate in an investigation to identify the
rider, using red-light camera images from the intersection.

“I had nothing to do with it,” said Biggerstaff. “The rider was at least
a mile behind me.”

He said he did not condone the rider’s actions, but could not help it
since he was at the front of the pack.

Keane said she wanted him to identify the culprit who broke the law at
the red light. In her initial emails to Biggerstaff, Keane said she was
concerned for public safety and that the riders acted above the law.

“You cheapened their sacrifice and made a mockery of it,” Keane said in
an email referring to victims of 9/11. “Think carefully about what all
fringe groups who break the law, including the one that caused the
tragic and infamous 9/11 event, say to justify their actions, they have
a higher calling, their friends and comrades have died trying to protect
their ideals and values. And before you call me un-American for linking
you with the terrorists, of course I don’t think that. But think about
what you did and what you are now saying to justify it.”

However Biggerstaff said he took the necessary steps to ensure safety
before the ride.

In addition to providing the riders with a flyer advising them to obey
traffic signals, Biggerstaff said he contacted all law enforcement
agencies in five areas that the ride passed through one month in
advance, including Laguna Woods. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department
declined to send an officer to patrol the light and the city did not
require the ride to obtain a parade permit beforehand.

“We didn’t send a car out because we only have one police car in the
town,” Keane said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Griffin said there was no need for police at the
light.

“We’ve never had a problem before,” Griffin said, “so we didn’t send
someone.”

After Biggerstaff found out about the investigation, he began exchanging
emails with Keane to arrange a meeting to discuss the situation.
Biggerstaff advised her to ticket the perpetrator and apologized for the
incident.

When Biggerstaff could not provide the identity of the individuals, he
said Keane made it clear that she would not allow anyone involved with
the ride to pass through Laguna Woods next year.

Biggerstaff said he was contacted by several Long Beach authorities and
city officials and authorities in Orange County, each of whom told him
they’d been contacted by Keane or heard about her complaint. He was
called in to address the conflict by Assistant Fire Chief Ken Portolan
at the behest of Long Beach City Manager Patrick West.

West said although he knew Keane was upset, he said the event was not
city sponsored and so he will be taking no action.

“It’s a group of private citizens who happen to be sworn officers who do
a memorial ride to be patriotic,” West said.

Biggerstaff said the ride and his reputation were damaged because of
Keane’s contact with city officials.

“She has drug my name through the mud,” he said.

He takes special issue with Keane for contacting his employer, the Long
Beach City Fire Department, since he participated as a private citizen
during the ride.

“To go out and put a wedge between us and our employer, city manager and
our mayor is despicable,” said fellow organizer and firefighter Rich
Brandt.

Councilwoman Cynthia Conners said the organizers could circulate word of
Keane’s apology to various public agencies.

Keane now says she will work with Biggerstaff to make the ride safer
next year.

“I really am interested in trying to find a way to resolve this
situation, so that the event can go forward, in a safe manner in the
future,” Keane said in an email to Biggerstaff Tuesday. “I think you had
good intentions and that someone else caused this situation.”

Biggerstaff said he did not know what will happen for next year’s ride,
and perhaps if he makes it an official ride with participant
registration, he will consider setting up designated road guards and
intersections.

As of now, Griffin said the investigation is closed and he does not
anticipate issuing a ticket to anyone.

But next year is a different story.

“I don’t know, we’ll just have to work with them,” Griffin said.

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