Kevin Cody

Easy Reader celebrates 50 years of reporting on Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach

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Keith Robinson’s 1985 anniversary contest winner “Making it at the Beach” is as timely today as it was when first published because, for all the nostalgic lamenting about how much the beach cities have changed, they really haven’t changed.

50 years of Chutes and Ladders

by Kevin Cody
Publisher

The Grand Prize winner in Easy Reader’s 1985 Writing, Photography and Cartooning contest was a cartoon called “Making it at the Beach” by Keith Robinson. That was the anniversary contest’s first year, begun in tribute to the volunteer staff that founded Easy Reader in 1970.

Robinson led a team at Mattel that created Intellivision, one of the first electronic console games. But his contest entry parodied a vintage, child’s board game from the ‘40s by Milton Bradley called Chutes and Ladders. The game dates back to 2 BCE India, when it was known as Snakes and Ladders and used to teach children about karma.

Roll a die and land on a virtuous square, such as asceticism, and you climbed a ladder to happiness. Land on a sinful square, such as avarice, and you slid down a snake.

In Robinson’s parody, the first square read “Move Out of Parents House. 2 points.” Ladder squares included “Park Porsche at Pancho’s. Realize valet was your student body president at Costa. 20 points.” Chute squares included “Buy a house in Riverside for $90,000 and move back to the beach in five years.” The chute landed in a pool of quicksand.

The winner of the game was the first to land on “Buy House on The Strand.” 

“Making it at the Beach” is as timely today as it was in 1985 because, for all the nostalgic lamenting about how much the beach cities have changed, they really haven’t changed. Throughout Easy Readers’s five decades of reporting, Manhattan Beach has been the entitled, older sibling. The wealthiest and most conservative of the three cities. Equally envied and resented. Its public art is cerebral. A 15-foot diameter, circle of glass that changes colors with the sunlight stands sentry in front of city hall. Each January 27 and November 14 residents gather to watch the sunset align with a keyhole-shaped opening in the glass.

Hermosa, like the second child in pop psychology, is the rebel child. Its politics can be defined as anti-highrise, anti-oil, anti-development. A city planning commissioner once wrote a column for Easy Reader called Auntie Density. 

Hermosa’s public art is big murals on buildings and bronze statues of surfers. The murals depict the city’s fabled music history ranging from Miles Davis at the Lighthouse Jazz Cafe to Black Flag founder Greg Ginn at the Old Baptist Church. Before founding his seminal punk band in 1976, Ginn wrote music reviews for Easy Reader. No one at the paper recognized then that 30 years later Rolling Stone would rank Ginn 99th on its list of “100 greatest guitarists of all time.” 

Hermosa’s counter culture made it the logical birthplace for a disaffected Los Angeles Herald Examiner reporter raised in Manhattan Beach to found “an alternative to entrenched local publications that favored big growth and the political status quo,” as Easy Reader founder John Wilson wrote recently in a reflection on the fading role of community newspapers. The paper’s name was a play on Peter Fonda’s counterculture anthem Easy Rider and the grammar school Weekly Reader.

Redondo Beach, though the oldest of the three beach cities, is like the neglected third child. It’s the most naturally gifted and the most unsure of itself. After two decades of starts and stops, the city council approved a $400 million redevelopment of the waterfront. But in 2017, after seeing the Fashion Island-style scale model of the proposed restaurants, hotel, retailers and movie theater, residents, led by mayoral candidate Bill Brand, voted to downzone the waterfront, making the development unviable. The resulting lawsuit is still pending. Memories lingered from the last waterfront redevelopment in the early ‘70s, when The Old Triangle Center, which was all that remained of the Old Downtown following the boat marina redevelopment in the ‘50s, was condemned to make way for a row of waterfront hotels. Among the displaced was Red’s Bait Shop and with it generations of Redondo fish lore, a small part of which was preserved in an Easy Reader interview with Red before he disappeared.

Redondo’s signature public artwork is a two-football-field-long, endangered gray whale on the side of the waterfront’s AES power plant, another lingering indignity made more painful by Hermosa’s and Manhattan’s unblemished, white sand beaches.

“Sisyphus.” 1990 Easy Reader cover illustration by Bob Staake (BobStaake.com)

The familial character of the three sibling cities, which has endured gentrification and then ultrafication propelled by skyrocketing home values, is now being tested by the pandemic.

The last challenge of this magnitude was the Vietnam War. Republican Manhattan Beach largely supported it. A front page Easy Reader story from the early ‘70s about a Mira Costa High graduation was accompanied by a photo of students with peace symbols on their mortar boards. The principal refused to hand those students their diplomas. The principal was the vice chairman of the Selective Service Draft Board. 

Hermosa residents largely opposed the war. In 1973, in response to Nixon’s “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi, resident Jim Rosenberger asked the city council to adopt Hanoi as its sister city. The council declined, but three months later appointed him to the planning commission (prompting the four other commissioners to resign). 

Ron Kovic was a Hermosan when his Vietnam war memoir “Born on the Fourth of July” was published in 1976. Shortly after its publication, another Vietnam vet brought Easy Reader a flawlessly edited story he said he wrote in a writing class. We printed it and the following day readers informed us it was a chapter from “Born on the Fourth of July.” Kovic, rather than taking offense, said he was honored that a fellow vet would embrace ‘Born on the Fourth of July” as his own story.

Redondo’s response to Vietnam was to send the Redondo Union High School Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps to fight, as well as its other sons and daughters in disproportionate numbers. Long after ROTC was chased off most high schools and colleges campuses, Redondo Union High’s ROTC continues to present colors at important civic events. 

The sibling cities’ responses to the pandemic have been similarly reflective of their unchanging characters.

Manhattan Beach responded by invoking its exceptionalism. 

“The thing is, we’re not L.A. City and all these other cities. We’re meeting the criteria. We’re ready to go forward with safely opening. And the issue is that we don’t want to be held back by the rest of L.A. County in being able to open,” Councilman Steve Napolitano said at his city’s May 19 city council meeting. Following his remarks, the council voted to ask Governor Gavin Newsom to exempt Manhattan Beach retailers from the statewide ban on in-store sales.

Retailers interpreted the council request as approval to defy the ban and reopen over the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend.

“We made the right decision and I’d do it again,” Mayor Richard Montgomery said later, despite the fact the governor did not lift the ban on in-store sales until after the Memorial Day Weekend.

“So what is the deal with the pier?” Napolitano asked two weeks later, at the June 9 city council. The pier had been closed since March 19.

“Why don’t we just open it up?” Napolitano said. “We’ve opened up The Strand and everything else. I don’t understand why we don’t take the key out and unlock it…. We’re big boys and girls and we can open up our own pier…. I am willing to risk being taken away in handcuffs.”

Then came the Fourth of July, which landed on a Saturday. If this was Chutes and Ladders, Manhattan would have gone down the chute.

“We had 13 COVID-19 cases in May. In June, we had 55 cases. In just the first week of July, alone, we’ve had 32 cases…. We need to do something,” Councilwoman Nancy Hersman said at the council meeting following the Fourth. In previous council meetings Hersman and ally Hildy Stern had been dismissed by the council majority as alarmists. 

Early on, Mayor Montgomery questioned the methodology the County used when it showed his city’s COVID-19 cases steadily climbing. Not any longer. The city recorded 83 new cases in the 10 days following the Fourth of July weekend, when the beach, bars and restaurants were temporarily closed, by order of the County. Reason, Montgomery recognized, would not will away the pandemic.

“I couldn’t believe these people weren’t smarter than that,” the mayor said of a prominent group of residents who spread the virus from a Fourth of July home party to a club.

Napolitano proposed the council’s ad hoc pandemic committee, which had formed the previous week, but had yet to meet, discuss mandating masks in public.

At the following week’s city council meeting, City Manager Bruce Moe’s report confirmed COVID-19 cases had more than doubled over the last 30 days, from 89 on June 15 to 208 on the day of the council meeting. 

“All the signage and public shaming is not moving the needle. So we’re down to enforcement,” Councilman Steve Napolitano conceded.

On a four to one vote, the council approved issuing $100 fines to people not wearing masks in public. Councilwoman Suzanne Hadley said she would have voted for the measure if the fines didn’t exceed the $55 charged for parking tickets.

Progressive Hermosa saw opportunity in the pandemic.

At its March 24 council meeting, the day Hemosa’s first COVID-19 case was reported, the council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance prohibiting residential and commercial evictions during the state of emergency. The action came days ahead of a similar federal evictions ban (which expired last week). To protect property owners, the council also banned bank foreclosures.

All three cities relinquished street parking (and meter revenue) to allow restaurants to set up outdoor dining to compensate for the ban on indoor dining. But Hermosa’s council, having long advocated a carbon-neutral, car-free city, saw the parking loss as justification to convert car lanes to bike lanes. At its Tuesday council meeting, the council expanded outdoor dining by reducing Hermosa Avenue’s two northbound and two southbound car lanes to one in each direction. The vacated lanes are to be dedicated to bikes and pedestrians. 

Redondo Beach Mayor Brand was an outspoken proponent of sheltering at home and masks in public when the pandemic began. He is undergoing cancer treatment. On March 12, his city became the first of the three Beach Cities to issue a local emergency proclamation. Senior centers were closed and gatherings of more than 250 prohibited. At the time there were no reported COVID-19 cases in the city.

Three weeks later, Redondo received unwanted recognition as a pandemic hot spot when the newly opened Kensington at Redondo Senior Assisted Living and Memory Care Community announced that 21 patients and 17 staff had tested positive and four residents had died. 

Still, large numbers of residents protested in front of city hall and along the Esplanade when the city complied with state and county Shelter at Home and business closure orders.

Not until last week, did Redondo’s council address masks in public. 

“I’m getting lots of emails asking why do we need to wear masks outdoors,” Mayor Brand said. He said he spoke that day to the CEOs at Torrance Memorial and Little Company of Mary hospitals and that each had about 35 COVID-19 patients, unchanged from two weeks earlier.

“We’re doing a great job in Redondo Beach. We’re way below county levels. We’re the lowest in the South Bay, except for El Segundo. I don’t see the need to pull the lever now,” Councilman Nils Nehrenheim said. 

The Redondo council voted unanimously against requiring masks be worn in their city, except inside businesses, as required by State law.

Manhattan’s pivot on precautions against the pandemic, Hermosa’s early embrace of them and Redondo’s equivocation underscore what Dr. Pissed Off has argued in his Easy Reader columns. The Beach Cities success in fighting the pandemic is as bound by their common boundaries as siblings are by their common genes. 

At the end of July, the COVID-18 death rates per 100,000 were 11 in Manhattan (4 total), 10 in Hermosa (2 total) and 13 in Redondo (9 total), according to an analysis by Manhattan Beach resident Bernard Wong.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases at the end of July were doubling every 25 days in Manhattan (250 total), every 23 days in Hermosa (142 total) and every 27 days in Redondo (369 total), according to Wong’s analysis.

Four months into the pandemic, with no end in sight, the results are as close statistically as they would be if the sibling cities were rolling a die in a game of Chutes and Ladders. ER 50th

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