Hermosa Beach City Council Election Forum: Five candidates, 14 questions


by Dan Blackburn

Five candidates vying for a single seat on the Hermosa Beach City Council squared off Wednesday in a debate more amicable than antagonistic, with each describing concepts and ambitions for the city’s future.

Seeking to fill the post formerly occupied by Hany Fangary, who resigned in December, the five hopefuls discussed a wide variety of issues ranging from sewers to city staff during a Zoom event co-sponsored by Leadership Hermosa Beach and Easy Reader. Leadership Hermosa’s Ryan Nowicki moderated the forum

Hermosa Beach residents will begin to receive ballots shortly after April 12 for the special, May 11 mail-in election, city officials said.

According to city officials, voters can mail in their ballots or drop them off at the Vote-By-Mail drop box located behind the Hermosa Beach library across from City Hall, or at the County Registrar’s office. Dropped off ballots must be received before 8 p.m. May 11 to be counted. Mailed ballots must arrive no later than May 14 to be counted. This date includes a three-day grace period for mail delivery.

Election results will be certified  on Monday,May 24. The candidate with the most votes will win. There will not be a run-off.

Bike lanes, masks, fiestas, homelessness, the Greenbelt

Each candidate gave a two minute opening statement.

Randy Balik, a contractor and business owner, opened the two-hour forum’s conversation by suggesting that “it is clear that all candidates here love this city. I’m a long-term resident of three decades with a diverse professional experience.”

Dean Francois, a retired federal budget director, said, “I’m ready to work on a new way forward and I’m committed to take on that challenge.”

Raymond Jackson, a retired Army colonel, noted, “I’m a first generation American, the son of a Jamaican preacher man… spent 23 years as an Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, and I have a broad and unique background.”

Daniel Rittenhouse, a renewable energy executive, said he wants to work “to improve the commercial vibrancy of the city,” adding that “the council could benefit from a younger perspective.”

Tara McNamara Stabile, a mom and film journalist, said she wants to utilize her passion for “working with kids to encourage critical thinking. I am a creative thinker, and have fresh ideas to bolster businesses. With the present council there is a lot of group-think going on.”

(Ed Note: The following Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.)

Moderator Ryan Nowicki. Photos by Kevin Cody

Moderator: What sets you apart from other candidates?

Balik: I have proven leadership. I’ve owned businesses, and have been elected to major boards by numerous peers. And I have institutional knowledge of this city. Raising a family here has given me a unique perspective of Hermosa Beach.

Francois: I’ve lived here for 40 years. I’ve been on city commissions, I’ve advocated in front of councils, trying to work out global problems. I’ve been involved with major issues, and have the best qualifications.

Jackson: I have a unique skill set, having been involved in bureaucracies throughout my professional life. One assignment was the Pentagon, and it doesn’t get more convoluted than the Pentagon.

McNamara-Stabile: As a journalist, I have skills researching, and I’m always working to amplify the voices of children.

Rittenhouse: I’m the youngest of the candidates. I love Hermosa’s energy, but it’s  slowly getting sleepy. And as a businessman all I’ve done is invest in clean energy.

 

Candidate Brian Balik

Moderator:  Face masks, agree required with enforcement?

Jackson: We are past the stage where we should be ticketing for violations, but people should still be wearing face masks. The city could be handing out masks and warnings.

Rittenhouse: I don’t think ticketing now makes any sense . I agree with Raymond (Jackson) we should not be enforcing, particularly on The Strand. Warnings and handing out masks is a better idea.

McNamara-Stabile: As we come out of this pandemic, I’d keep the county ordinances in place, but mask enforcement shouldn’t be done.

Balik: Masks should be worn in large gatherings. The city needs to be spending its money elsewhere.

Francois: This is an issue, I’d support voluntary compliance at this point. We are pretty much recovering and don’t need to ticket for violations.

Candidate Dean Francois.

Moderator:  Your opinion of additional bike lanes on Hermosa Avenue?

Rittenhouse: The outdoor dining adds to the atmosphere for the time being, but we need to see how that responds after the pandemic.

McNamara-Stabile: It should remain four vehicle lanes.

Balik: We have created many potential problems with bike lanes. The design of our streets doesn’t really allow for bike lanes.

FrancoisThis was to be temporary. We’ll see if that happens. There is give and take with cyclists, but it is dangerous as it stands.

Jackson: The city made a bold move for businesses. You can feel the city alive with outdoor dining. There is increased foot traffic and that will drive business and improve revenues.

Candidate Raymond Jackson.

Moderator:  Should outdoor dining continue, should restaurants pay rent for public space?

McNamara-Stabile: On rent, there can be compromise. But here a lot of businesses feel stymied in dealing with the city, and city employees don’t seem to realize that.

Balik: Other businesses have lost parking spots. But I’m proud of the city council for doing this for restaurants. We can become the Riviera of the West Coast if we do this right. But there can be a fee for use if things get back to normal.

Francois: This is a band-aid approach but a good idea for the time being. But parking is being taken from residences and other businesses, and the council must deal with the overall parking problem. This is a good first step.

Jackson: Outdoor dining should be here to stay. Everyone I know absolutely loves it. We must  improve upon the plan, and need to extend the program through the year to give it a chance to see what is working and what is not. Businesses understand there will be some cost for encroachment on public space.

Rittenhouse:  Outdoor dining has enhanced the city. Actually, we have plenty of parking but often that is not apparent to people. Outdoor dining will require making sure people coming here can find parking

Candidate Daniel Riddenhouse.

Moderator:  Opinion of Fiesta Hermosa?

Balik: I’m a big fan of Fiesta Hermosa but it does need some changes. I favor an overhaul but not gone.

Francois: I agree it needs a complete overhaul. Right now the profits go to the Chamber of Commerce, and that takes away what we as a city are going to subsidize.

Jackson: Two critical weekends? Is this what we want moving forward as we come out of COVID?

Rittenhouse: I love Hermosa Fiesta and many friends do, too. It is an unforgettable experience, and I’m not for changing it all that much.

McNamara-Stabile: We own Fiesta Hermosa, it is something special. Some residents may think it’s oh, so crazy, but it brings in revenues. We do need more artsy vendors. People remember this forever, and I live in the thick of it.

Tara McNamara-Stabile,

Moderator: Would you call yourself an environmental activist, advocate, or what?

Francois: I have worked on many environmental projects. I’m a community advocate, and have been for the past 40 years. I’ve been in the trenches.

Jackson: All of the above. Now I have the opportunity to do something good, and to be part of the solution, not the problem.

Rittenhouse: I’m more of an “actionist” and have helped create clean energy that would power 24 Hermosa Beaches. I can help Hermosa Beach to intelligently invest in renewable energy processes.

McNamara-Stabile: I care deeply about the environment. I have the audacity to run for council  because we need creative solutions. We want to do things that are fun, but do no harm.

Balik: I’ve been cleaning up the earth most of my professional life. I get in there and get my hands dirty. But remember, not every environmental program is necessarily good for Hermosa Beach.

 

Moderator:  Prefer strong council or strong manager? Opinion of assistant city manager hire?

Jackson: The city needs a strong city manager, someone at the helm who knows what they are doing. This city manager is on top of it, doing everything she can to insure we move forward in a positive manner. As to assistant city manager, at the end of the day we’ll see how it goes.

Rittenhouse: An assistant city manager is a worthwhile investment. But I don’t want the city to take on large financial obligations for the future.

McNamara-Stabile: I think it is important for the citizens to stay on top of these decisions.

Balik: This is not the time  to hire a deputy… period. Suja may or may not need help, but it is the mayor who needs to be in control. This was a wrong decision.

Francois: This is a well paid position, and it’s an overpaid deputy post that didn’t need to be filled. This is not the best thing… the council gives more direction.

 

Moderator: What steps would you take to alleviate homelessness?

Rittenhouse: There are only a few in the whole town. Right now the police are doing a good job. It is a complicated issue, partly because people have different reasons for being homeless.

McNamara-Stabile: I have noticed an increase in homelessness, but [Police Chief Paul LeBaron] said the problem is now more under control. I like the pallet house idea as used in Redondo Beach. There’s a place to stay and be safe.

Balik: We’re kind of hamstrung by the rights homeless have. It’s hard to clean up homeless camps. I think the answer is working with nonprofits. This can only be solved through public-private partnerships.

Francois: We need to work with neighboring cities and the county. It’s good to get counselors involved. This is a regional issue that will be the issue of the next century.

Jackson: This will get worse before it gets better. This is a call to action, and we need to act with more compassion.

 

Moderator: Your opinion of hardscape on the Greenbelt?

McNamara-Stabile: The answer is hard-packed dirt. Our national parks do this. Hard-packed dirt path could be right next to the chips.

Balik: I don’t agree with how we are going about this issue. I am in favor of hardscaping… that’s the wrong word. But whatever surface we put down will create a speed lane for bikes. It is the last nature walk in the city, and a lot of residents are not in favor of this.

Francois: I’ve made a firm commitment to keep the Greenbelt in its natural condition, but we do need to do what we can to improve access for people. At the same time we can’t ignore people who think it’s fine the way it is.

Jackson: There is lots of misinformation abou ‘paving.” All the city did was unfreeze money to study the issue. Everyone should have access to that crown jewel.

Rittenhouse: My uncle is a paraplegic, and now it is impossible to wheel around there. Maybe they’ll come back with the right idea if it doesn’t interfere with the natural feeling.

 

Moderator: Do you support the city’s strategic plan?

Balik: The plan needs to be reevaluated, revisited because of the pandemic. A goal should be to take what we have learned and now come up with something better.

Francois: It’s helpful in dealing with future issues.

Jackson: A strategic plan is meant to be a long-term plan, with vision and policy. The best plans are always flexible. We need to be able to react.

Rittenhouse: Covid has changed the way we think. And we can do a lot with Beach Cities Health, partnering in programs.

McNamara-Stabile: There’s a lot in the plan about parking, and we do need more solutions. My plan for Strand-side valet would help with crowds. Also we should increase public art.

 

Moderator:  Should city funds or federal grants be used to help private businesses?

Francois: I don’t think much city money is being used for that.

Jackson: In essence, we’re doing that right now. And businesses understand what the taxpayer is providing. Businesses are the lifeblood of the city, and they give back 10-fold. Businesses appreciate the support and are willing to compensate for use of space.

Rittenhouse: There should not be  charges for restaurants to use sidewalk space. We need to do whatever we need to do to keep them afloat.

McNamara-Stabile:Well, it’s wrong to help one business and not another. We need to invest in businesses involving local artists. A punk rock museum, what we’re known for, will bring people in.

Balik: It is not legal to gift federal money, but there are things we can do equitably like waiving fees. This is not a gift but a way to replace revenues and help businesses at the same time. The money needs to translate to the city.

 

Moderator:  Your opinion of Beach Cities Health District’s Healthy Living Campus?

Jackson: There is a large impact on its neighbors. Some things are beneficial, but at the end of day, its height and cost make it prohibitive.

Rittenhouse: It’s too early to have a strong opinion, the environmental impact report is still outstanding, and we need to make sure its size and cost are not prohibitive.

McNamara-Stabile: I need to learn more about the issue,  but I’ve heard concerns from neighbors including the cost of its assisted living.

Balik: These are some great concepts but also some big drawbacks, but there’s a need for more information to make truly informed decisions.

Francois: This city needs to be proactive, particularly relating to the health district. I’m familiar with the project, its financial consequences are unbearable. I can work with the board to amend plans.

 

Moderator: How important are principles of diversity and inclusion?

Rittenhouse: I have friends who are now police officers, and they tell me that police training has changed. Now there is advocating for measures to increase diversity.

McNamara-Stabile: This is one of our priorities… the importance of representation. I do see a lot of diversity in City Hall. But what can we do to let our friends know that we want them here. And that we want the racists out.

Balik: This is incredibly important. One of the good things about Fiesta Hermosa  is that it brings in people from all walks of life. We need more days honoring ethnic groups.

Francois: I support any and all programs that improve diversity.We  need to see the consequences of actions we take . I know our residents want diversity.

Jackson: I know many in this city don’t want changes, they want nothing to impact their lives. I’ve been told I don’t belong here. We have to walk the walk and talk the talk, and value diversity of opinion.

 

Moderator: Opinion of Vista School construction and litigation?

McNamara-Stabile: The issue is getting kids to school safely. What drives unhappiness is when you have something you like and it’s taken away. Local residents didn’t expect such a big project. But the city is doing what it can.

Balik:  It is so compact and dense, it’s understandable folks who live around Vista are upset. The city should engage and restart conversation to make resident’s lives better.

Francois: This is a contentious issue. Traffic studies had glitches, but there’s nothing wrong with building a state of the art school, and that’s what we have. We can work with residents to solve the problems.

Jackson: The safety of traffic areas is the issue. [The litigants] came forward with legitimate concerns. A clean energy tram to bring kids from the East Side would eliminate some traffic.

Rittenhouse: I’m proud of our school district, and I will advocate for improved infrastructure for schools. I also think we can partner more with the Beach Cities Health District on programs. ER

 

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Written by: Dan Blackburn

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