Fangary is standing on principle, past in run for Hermosa City Council
by Ryan McDonald
The fourth question in last Thursday’s Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau council candidates’ debate seemed designed to promote outrage. Should the city be employing “four full-time employees” to carry out its “proactive code enforcement policy,” moderator Julie Hamill asked, when property crime was “spiking”?
Like other questions that night, it offered an easy opportunity to condemn the existing efforts of the city. Councilmember Hany Fangary did not take the bait. He was skeptical of the question’s premises — according to Nico deAnda-Scaia, assistant to the City Manager, there are two full-time code enforcement officers, and one part-time officer, shared with the Fire Department — but acknowledged that improvements could be made.
“What I would do is have our Code Enforcement officers work with our Community Service Officers and police to focus on issues that actually lead to crime: overdrinking, people who come into our town drunk before they even go in the bars,” he said.
Fangary is one of seven candidates seeking three seats on the Hermosa Beach City Council in the upcoming November election. Along with Stacey Armato, he is one of two incumbents in the race, and because he served a full term, he has the longest record to run on. (Armato took office last year after winning a special election to replace former Councilmember Nanette Barragan, who retired to run for Congress.)
Asked to choose the one council action he was most proud of in the previous four years, Fangary chose ending all claims of E&B Natural Resources for drilling oil in the city through a settlement announced in March of this year. Although voters decisively rejected lifting the ban on oil drilling by voting down Measure O in 2015, the oil company still claimed to have a valid lease to drill on the city yard, as well as drilling rights at various individual parcels throughout the city. The March settlement ended all of those claims.
Fangary’s selection of the oil settlement reflects an issue that united public opinion like few others. But over the past year, Fangary has had to combat claims that he and others on the council are beholden to a small group of environmentalists who emerged during the oil debate. The claim arose during hearings over PLAN Hermosa, the city’s updates to its General Plan and Local Coastal Program.
Fangary disputes the characterization. While he acknowledges that Measure O was a catalyst for political involvement, he said it is unfair to characterize him as listening to one group of residents at the exclusion of another.
“I don’t necessarily interpret ‘involved’ as ‘influential,’” Fangary said. “People actively involved on both sides of the oil debate got actively involved in city politics. And on both sides, a lot of people retreated to their otherwise busy lives.”
For some residents, Fangary’s impartiality is what draws them to his candidacy. Rick Learned said he was impressed by Fangary’s competence in handling of the Environmental Impact Report for the oil proposal. (Fangary is an environmental engineer and an attorney.) But what stood out in the council member’s first term, Learned said, was how seriously he saw Fangary take the Brown Act obligations of a council member.
Learned noted that Fangary’s frequent use of self-deprecating humor often includes asides about how he keeps his thoughts on pending issues secret, even from his wife. But this can also manifest more solemnly, as when Fangary implied that Councilmember Carolyn Petty had violated the Brown Act with Facebook postings about PLAN Hermosa.
In 2015, Fangary began hosting “Community First” meetings, in which he opens Council Chambers on the second Saturday of each month for discussion of city issues. These too have been controversial, with some accusing Fangary of using city resources for campaign purposes; Fangary tends to begin the meetings by saying that he will not promote his candidacy, and chose not to hold one the month before the election.
Learned recalled one Community First meeting in the run-up to the vote on Measure S, the school facilities bond passed by voters last year. Pat Escalante, superintendent of the Hermosa Beach City School District, attended the meeting. A resident opposed to the measure began arguing with Escalante. Although Fangary was a strong supporter of the bond measure, he let the disagreement play out.
“He just let it go on. Anyone can come and comment, gripe or complain. Hany has an open mind, and he has demonstrated any issue can be brought up,” Learned said.
Fangary’s “open mind” puts him on the losing end of 4-1 votes, probably more often than any other council member, save Petty, whose term is expiring and who is not running for reelection.
“I don’t feel any concern about being the on the ‘1’ side of a 4-1 vote. I respect why my council colleagues voted a certain way. But if you look at 4-1 votes in other places and other cities, sometimes that ‘1’ turns to ‘2,’ and eventually, the idea starts to take hold,” he said.
Clarification: A previous version of this article referred to an audience question from resident Ray Dussault. The story implied that Dussault’s question referred to alleged influence on Fangary by environmentalists that opposed oil drilling; Dussault’s question, about encouraging a “diversity of voices” in city politics, in fact referred to influence by members of citizen advisory committees.