BCHD candidates debate Healthy Campus, budget, District’s purpose
by Rachel Reeves
Five candidates vying for three seats on the board of the Beach Cities Health District in the Nov. 3 election discussed cost-saving, the proposed Healthy Living Campus, and whether the health district should continue to exist during a live-streamed debate on Monday night.
Over 150 questions were submitted before and during the Zoom event, which was sponsored by Easy Reader and HermosaOne.com. The health district serves Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.
Three of the candidates — Vish Chatterji, Jane Diehl, and Vanessa Poster — are incumbents. Two, Karen Komatinsky and Dr. Martha Koo, are challengers in this election. They introduced themselves in alphabetical order.
Chatterji is an executive coach whose work reflects a marriage between his corporate leadership experience and his passion for meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, and yoga. Diehl has been a resident for more than 42 years and is now retired from a career in physical therapy. She previously served on the board of the Redondo Beach Unified School District. Poster introduced herself as a creative thinker, a compassionate listener, and a community leader, and outlined the achievements the health district has made during her multiple terms on its board. Komatinsky is a member of the Manhattan Beach school board (her term expires in December) and a human resources professional in the healthcare industry. She described herself as an outward-facing communicator. Dr. Koo said she is a business owner and board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. She referred to herself as a woman of science and a woman of business, as well as an innovator and trend identifier in mental health.
On the question of budget shortfalls, Dr. Koo suggested stricter evaluation of programs and new technologies to reduce personnel costs. Komatinsky agreed with the suggestion of more careful evaluation and oversight. Diehl mentioned the PACE program, which would provide medical and daycare services for 400 seniors and be paid for by Medicare and generate at least $1 million. Chatterji talked about priority-based budgeting, “which I’m very proud of,” he said, which allows the board to track program costs. He added that leasing of district-owned is a means of generating revenue. Poster also mentioned the priority-based budgeting system the board uses currently.
“I am so proud of the way our budget at the Beach Cities Health District is transparent and has been award-winning,” she said. She added that evaluation has to consider the difficult to quantify benefits certain BCHD programs offer to the community.
“It’s not about generating revenue through those programs,” she said. “Those programs are to be provided free to the community. We don’t want to measure our programs on whether or not they’re making money. We want to measure programs on how we are improving people’s health and wellness.”
On the question of evidence to support the statement that the health district is a nationally recognized model of a preventive health agency, Poster talked about research-based programs, Gallup data, and a visit from the surgeon-general, who called BCHD a national model. Diehl added that a Blue Zones algorithm showed BCHD’s focus on preventive health saved the Beach Cities $21 million in medical costs.
“I think the data speaks for itself in terms of national recognition,” Chatterji added. He said he’s been contacted by CEOs of other health districts in California who want to emulate what BCHD is doing. “They’re also very impressed with our ability to not rely so heavily on tax dollars and to generate additional revenue streams to fund these programs,” he said.
Komatinksy said BCHD offers programs that are “absolutely unprecedented,” but that she has concerns that this data is not being well-communicated within the community.
“I think there’s a lot of missing information,” she said, adding that many of her neighbors do not know what BCHD does.
Healthy Living Campus
On the question of the Healthy Living Campus, a proposed development that Chatterji called “the most controversial topic of all,” every candidate weighed in.
Chatterji said the forthcoming EIR (environmental impact report) will offer a firmer basis for data-driven decisionmaking. Diehl agreed. “I don’t know the answers until the experts tell me the answers,” she said, adding that the board will ask for public comment for 90 days, instead of the required 45, after the environmental impact report is released.
Dr. Koo noted that the board had assessed plans for months but that the public had only a few days to weigh in, due to meetings being canceled because of the pandemic. “ I know there was some frustration there,” she said.
Komatinsky called the Healthy Living Campus a “lightning-rod topic, especially for the neighbors in Redondo Beach.” She said she’d like to see “open conversations going on within the community”
Poster said the current building on the campus isn’t seismically sound and that there are some chemicals underground that need to be remediated. Dealing with these issues, she said, allows the district to “re-envision that campus” and to “create a park out of a parking lot.”
“That place is covered in asphalt,” she said. “It does not have to be that way.” She added that the campus plan includes farmers markets, green spaces, and “a vital important program that’s going to help fund those free programs that we were talking about earlier in this community.”
A common question submitted by viewers focused on how candidates would assess the cost-effectiveness of BCHD programs and services. Poster talked about the programs and processes already in place. Chatterji talked about true cost accounting, Gallup surveys, and adjusting data to account for socioeconomic changes.
Diehl said costs can’t be evaluated exactly the same way they would in a private enterprise.
“We work a little differently,” she said, noting the tens of thousands of hours volunteers donate each year.
Komatinsky said that “at the end of the day, you’re talking about a public and a publicly funded entity, and the responsibility of the board members is really to manage those public funds on behalf of the public based upon what the public’s interest is.” Dr. Koo said she agrees that what’s most important is the health of the community, and that a cost-benefit analysis must include qualitative data.
One viewer wanted to know how the board might engage with the aftermath of Covid-19, and particularly its impact on mental health.
Poster said she’s proud of the way BCHD has responded to the pandemic, via more than 61,000 tests and coalitions formed to bring various agencies together to develop protocols for the pandemic.
“One thing people don’t understand is that we are the glue, we are the people who get the other people together to sit down and talk,” Diehl said. Komatinsky said one of the things BCHD could do is “to take vaccination education to a whole other level.” Chatterji said he would support programs that help to alleviate what he called America’s “pill problem.”
“We’ve got opioid and addiction issues,” he said. “We’ve got all sorts of issues with over-prescription of medications and when we talk about anxiety and depression … You can do a lot to improve your happiness and deal with mild depression, mild anxiety without using medication. Getting community together, getting people connected to each other, moving naturally, gardening, eating better foods, eating less processed foods, having a better daily schedule — and so I believe that in mental health there’s a spectrum, and part of that spectrum requires medication intervention but a big part of that spectrum we can handle with just natural means, which Beach Cities Health District has been promoting for years, so I think we’re really well-positioned for this post-Covd time, if and when it comes.”
A question about whether there should be any changes to the makeup of the board.
Dr. Koo suggested the board consider moving toward a district model with seven board members, which might allow each board member to “be particularly responsive and accountable to their zone.” She also said she believes term limits are “a really good idea.”
Chatterji said he’s been “very public about wanting to push for term limits.”
“I’m not against term limits,” Diehl said. She said the board has been fluid and dynamic over the years.
Komatinsky said she also was interested in the idea of expanding the board. She said that leaving the school board after 10 years gives her the sense that turnover is positive. Poster said “elections are a really important form of term limits.”
On the question of whether residents should vote on the existence of BCHD, Poster said: “If the health district did not exist, no money is coming back into the pockets of the residents of the Beach Cities. That money you would continue to pay — that money which is less than 0.0001 percent of your property taxes, which comes to the health district — would then be distributed throughout L.A. County, so what the health district existing does is bring that money back — your money back — to serve your community, and that’s wonderful that we can do that.”
Chatterji said he calculated that on average, taxpayers in Redondo Beach pay $20 per person per year to sustain the BCHD. (In Manhattan Beach, he said, where property values are higher, the figure is about $30.)
“The health district then takes that $30 and multiplies it four or five times to then give these massive services back to the community, so I wholeheartedly support the Beach Cities Health District existing into the future,” he said. “It improves our overall quality of life and it doesn’t actually cost us that much.”
Diehl said she believes it would be “very short-sighted to get rid of it.”
“How did we rise to the ability to deal with the coronavirus?” she said. “We rose to the ability to deal with Covid because we have good partners, we partner with all the cities, we partner with all the schools, we partner with the county, and all of those things enabled us to come together quickly.”
Dr. Koo said the question intrigued her. Why would someone suggest eliminating the health district?
“I think board members need to have that attitude that despite what we feel individually, I think we need to listen to the community and if they ask a question we need to try to figure out what the question is about and truly answer the question,” she said.
Komatinsky said she sees BCHD as “very valuable” but wonders whether the question is referring to a brick-and-mortar facility, or the actual programs and services being offered.
“And couldn’t we actually take BCHD and actually physically plant in each one of the Beach Cities, therefore embedding [it] closer to the community?” she said.
On a question about how to increase engagement between BCHD and residents, Chatterji said he’d be advocating for a greater presence on social media and better use of modern communication channels. Diehl noted the communications team is now active on neighborhood site NextDoor.
Komatinsky suggested surveying all three Beach Cities, hosting conversations over coffee, and creating a network similar to the neighborhood watch. “You can’t be an entity that is just sitting in one location,” Komatinsky said. “You have to physically get up and reach out to your community.”
Poster said BCHD runs programs, such as yoga in the park, in all three Beach Cities. Dr. Koo suggested field trips to engage schoolkids and internships to engage high schoolers.
In his closing statement, Chatterji emphasized that he has experience working in finance and an MBA, as well as a degree in mechanical engineering that helps him to understand construction projects.
Diehl said she has leadership experience. Aa retiree, she said, she has time to connect with citizens and communities. Komatinsky said she’s passionate and interested in building “relationships steeped in trust and open communication.” Dr. Koo said she feels “the community and the board deserve someone who is a mental health expert and advocate who brings experience in science, business, and innovative technology.” Poster encouraged people to attend her “porch conversations” on Zoom.
A video of the debate is available at debate Easyreadernews.com or HermosaOne.com ER
by Jen Ezpeleta