Council approves payment, arrangement with South Bay Parkland Conservancy

A turtle takes stock in July at Wilderness Park. The South Bay Parkland Conservancy has worked to re-wild the 11-acre spot since 2017. Photo by Nadia Bidarian

by Garth Meyer

The degree to which the South Bay Parkland Conservancy is a volunteer organization led to a clarification vote Tuesday night at the Redondo Beach city council meeting.

City Manager Joe Hoefgen acknowledged a mistake that played a role in leading to the controversy.

“This is not our finest moment as staff,” said Hoefgen, telling the council there should have been an MOU (memorandum of understanding) in place at the time of the Parkland Conservancy’s founding, in order to define its relationship with the city. 

The council Tuesday voted to approve an MOU covering $28,000 in past Conservancy expenses, and no more than $48,000 through June 30 of next year.

Earlier, during the meeting’s public comment period, which included charges of a “so-called nonprofit” and “fake non-profit,” Mayor Bill Brand — a co-founder of the Parkland Conservancy in 2004 — replied after a speaker finished.

“I take it you won’t be volunteering,” he said.

“Very funny,” she responded.  

Other members of the public suggested the controversy was  a “handful of people with a personal agenda against the mayor.”
“At best, this is simply a case of volunteers running ahead of our processes,” said councilmember Laura Emdee. “… You’ve got to admit that this is an optics issue.”

Councilman Zein Obagi asked if the mayor was involved in “this omission” – not having a proper MOU in place.

No such insinuation was forthcoming. 

“Please take the appropriate steps to dispel any suggestion of impropriety,” Obagi said.

“Any indication of anything nefarious other than planting of plants?” Brand asked.

City Manager Hoefgen said he had no reason to believe so.

Invoices from the SBPC include expenditures for plants and plant delivery, some landscape design and project management.

“I think it was a misunderstanding that evolved over time,” said City Attorney Michael Webb. 

In further discussion, Councilman Todd Loewenstein indicated he had “full faith” in the SBPC.

“You’re gonna kill any momentum this has, and I am not for it,” he said. 

A motion was made, more discussion ensued — what if all projects/invoices were kept below $35,000 so no RFP (request for proposal) would be required?  

“If we have to go back and forth with some design contractor, we will fail,” said Jim Light, founding board member and former SBPC president.

Councilmember Emdee gave more input. 

“We know what’s going on here, Laura,” Brand said.

“Will you quit vilifying people who disagree with you–?,” she said.

“Who am I vilifying?”
“…They don’t agree with what you did and the optics aren’t good. Just because people have different opinions doesn’t mean you have to vilify them.”

“You keep using that word — who am I vilifying?” Brand said.

Councilman Nils Nehrenheim made a motion to approve the MOU, to pay the $28,000 in previous invoices (going back to 2018), and to allow up to $43,000 for future Parkland Conservancy work. 

Anything further will require city council approval. 

The motion was approved 3-2, with councilman Christian Horvath and Emdee voting no. 

Emdee noted she was about to vote yes, but decided against it after a last comment from Obagi. 

South Bay Parkland Conservancy is best known for improvements at Wilderness Park, and restoration of the natural habitat on the bluffs along the Esplanade. ER

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