Mark McDermott

Napolitano takes helm as mayor, again

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Steve Napolitano when he was elected to council in 1992.

by Mark McDermott

Steve Napolitano was handed the gavel Tuesday night after City Council unanimously voted to make him mayor for a record fifth time in a political career that began 26 years ago, at age 26, as the youngest-ever council member.

“Here’s to you, Steve,” said Amy Howorth, who had just completed her nine-month term in the city’s rotating mayoralship, as she passed the gavel. “This is the last nice thing I’ll probably say to you for a while…You are going to be a fabulous mayor.”

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“Thank you for the peaceful transition of power,” Napolitano said. “It was kind of touch-and-go there.”

Howorth, a two-term council person and former school board trustee whose council term expires in March, clearly relished her second and final stint as mayor. Her tenure has been characterized by a loose, often humorous, and always warm sense of collegiality, both with council members and with members of the public. As she acknowledged Tuesday night, she vowed at the outset to err on the side of inclusiveness, resulting in some long agendas and some extra meetings — such as when workplace and response time issues arose in the fire department and Howorth convened a public workshop for everyone to better understand the intricacies of MBFD operations.

In her final mayoral remarks, Howorth said the primary role the mayor has in Manhattan Beach is overseeing meetings and agendas; she’d promised herself, Howorth said, that she’d not keep any issue off the agenda due to any personal leanings.

“The mayor has no more power than anyone else,” Howorth said. “There is no veto power. The mayor sets the agenda…and I promised I wouldn’t keep anything off the agenda. I held that promise and sometimes that made for longer meetings. And for that, I apologize, but I thought it was really important not to keep anything off the agenda if others wanted to talk about it.”

Steve Napolitano now. Photos courtesy City of Manhattan Beach

“I [also] promised myself that this last year on the council I would approach as if it were my first year, and I would work harder than ever before on behalf of residents. And I, in turn, found so much joy in that work, and I am so grateful for that opportunity.”

Councilperson David Lesser praised both the outgoing and incoming mayor.

“You’ve been passionate, you’ve been connected, you’ve been human, and you really have made this fun,” he said to Howorth, with whom he will term out of office next March. “It’s really been a privilege, to me, to serve with you going on 7 and a half years.”

“To the incoming mayor,” Lesser said, “Your friendship over the past 20 years has meant so much to me. You’ve been a mentor; I used to watch you on council many years before, and I can tell you it has been an honor to serve with you and be a colleague.”

Napolitano was re-elected to the council last year after previously serving from 1992 to 2005. He subsequently served as a deputy for LA County Supervisor Don Knabe for 11 years and ran for that seat after Knabe retired in 2016, losing to Janice Hahn.

Napolitano, who is an education law attorney and lifelong Manhattan Beach resident, happily returned to where his career had begun. His reason for running for council at the outset was to have a say in his hometown, which he saw changing from the sleepy little beach town he’d grown up in.

“I wanted to make sure I had input in the town I grew up in and loved,” Napolitano said earlier this year. “I saw little homes being torn down and big homes being put up, and I thought people weren’t being listened to who were concerned about that transformation. So we put in some new standards when I got elected to try and maintain some open space and character.”

In the 1990s, Napolitano, a Tree Section native, initiated what would become the city’s “Tree Ordinance” — an unusual and comprehensive set of local laws protecting existing trees and requiring the planting of a single large tree for most new developments or remodels that significantly increased existing homes.

His intentions were largely unchanged when he returned to City Council last year, although the town itself had changed drastically.

“It’s the same,” said Napolitano, in an interview, of his goals as he begins his term as mayor. “I said what I was running on — doing all I can maintain this as a low profile small town, and frankly keep the beach in Manhattan Beach. With all due respect to Santa Monica, which I like to visit — I don’t want to live there. I live in Manhattan Beach. Santa Monica is a westside beach town; we have our own town, and our own character, which is what makes it special and why everyone is moving here. The key is to remember our roots and keep our vibe, keeping what makes Manhattan Beach special.”

Napolitano has fond memories of growing up in a place where kids ran free and still play in the streets but recognize that the town is gone. But he believes the heart of Manhattan Beach remains intact, despite its demographic makeover into a much more upscale place.

“We are still very family oriented,” he said. “It just has a certain feel. I understand, though, how folks who come here from somewhere else want to make it something else — with no ill will, it’s just that everyone who moves here or even visits brings a little piece with them. The goal is to have everyone who comes here to understand what is special about Manhattan Beach and to add to that, rather than take away.”

Napolitano emphasized the need for public involvement.

“We’ve got a lot of involvement on social media these days, which is fine, but I really want to stress that we’ve got commissions, volunteer groups, and community meetings. And there is no shortage of ways to contact City Council or city staff if something needs to be done. I’d prefer, rather than these long conversations on social media, email council or staff or pick up the phone and address the problem head-on. We are left, besides putting out the usual fires, chasing down rumors and bad information.”

“We want the public involved,” Napolitano said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “So please do.”

As for taking the helm for the fifth time, Napolitano said it felt just as thrilling as it did the very first time when he became mayor at age 27.

“You’d think it’d be something like, ‘Whatever,’ shrug, but it’s just the same as back then,” he said. “It’s just an honor and privilege to be able to serve as mayor of your hometown, where you were born and raised…It’s a true honor to be able to see people you grew up with, and know you may be able to help make a difference for them.”

Both Howorth and Napolitano ended their respective remarks with praise for city staff.

“I was proud to sit on the city council that named Bruce Moe as our city manager,” Howorth said. “I’ve been very inspired by you and especially the city management team. You guys rock it. And our city employees are all incredible. You bring so much love to what you do serving our city. I don’t know if all our residents see it, but I see it, and that’s really inspiring to me.”

Napolitano asked city employees to stand and be recognized, which led to a standing ovation.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a four-time councilman is that nobody does anything by themselves,” he said. “We aren’t a city; we are a community. And I couldn’t serve as mayor without my community serving me…I’ll need that support more than ever as my reign of terror begins.”

“Now let’s get back to getting things done.”

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