PUBLIC ART: Council approves shark mural, sculptures, rejects anti-hate mural 

The shark mural by artist Eric Snyder. 

by Mark McDermott 

The once-rejected 3-D shark mural reappeared at the Manhattan Beach City Council Tuesday night, and this time found a home. The mural, by artist Eric Snyder and originally proposed for the fire station, will be painted on the Civic Plaza parking lot wall. 

It was a night of artistic appraisal at the City Council, who also considered 15 sculptures and gave tacit approval to at least four and largely took a pass on an anti-hate mural project proposed by an LA-based non-profit called TaskForce.

But the shark, which was first presented to the council as part of a larger batch of proposed murals last September, was most definitively approved and placed. It is a large, realistic depiction of a great white shark, appearing to pour straight out of a wall. 

City staff gave council six possible locations, including both the main fire station and the new Fire Station #2. These locations were not popularly received. 

Resident Gary McAulay, president of the Manhattan Beach Historical Society, said that sharks “are not really a thing” in the community. 

“We’ve not had an incident with a shark in over 100 years and yet we’re doing a lunging shark leaping out at everybody, and we’re considering putting it on the east side of the fire department, away from the ocean,” McAulay said. “I mean,  that  just makes no sense to me at all. Why are we putting a shark mural on a fire department? The fire department deserves a little more respect than a novelty mural.” 

Another proposed location was the Begg Pool building, which was problematic because that entire facility may be rebuilt in coming years. 

“Pretty ironic, you put a shark right next to a pool,” said Councilperson Richard Montgomery. “You’ve got to be thinking what that does, when you see a shark right in front of your face.” 

“Can you put it inside the pool?” suggested resident Ray Joseph. 

“That’s a great idea,” Montgomery said. “The kids would never come back for their second swim lesson.” 

The Civic Center parking lot location is a bit out of the way, and near other murals. Mayor Joe Franklin said that just because there was a blank wall didn’t mean it needed to be filled. 

“Many people come here, and it isn’t because of the murals on the walls,” he said. “In fact, they are probably a detriment to someone coming here and wanting to get away from clutter.” 

Franklin also raised the specter of the movie Jaws, which he noted scared an entire generation away from the ocean. He said he has three grandchildren, and the youngest might not react well to a large shark jumping out of a wall. 

“The four year old is inquisitive and might not be so enamored of it, and might be a little more reluctant to go into the ocean, which we are just now having him explore,” he said. 

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth defended the place of sharks in local culture. 

“I do think sharks have something to do with Manhattan Beach,” she said. “I mean, I was mayor when there was a shark on a line and we closed the pier. We probably shouldn’t have done that,….and now we know that in the water around the pier is actually a shark nursery. They’re definitely a part of our culture now. I like this mural a lot and I want to have it.” 

“I don’t know where we lost our sense of whimsy along the way, but I am not opposed to it,” Councilperson Steve Napolitano said. “Having things out of place is fine sometimes, and this is not an offensive thing. When we talked about not having to cover every square inch of every building —  we’ve got probably more than 20,000 structures in Manhattan Beach and we’ve got about 15 murals, maybe 20 tops. So I don’t think we are inundated yet.” 

The mural was approved for the Civic Center parking lot in a 3-2 vote, with Franklin and Councilpeson David Lesser opposing. It will cost $30,000, which comes from the City’s Public Art Trust Fund, derived from developer’s fees specifically allocated for art. 


Lace fence sculpture proposed for Sand Dune Park.


The only art the Council outright rejected on Tuesday was a proposal by TaskForce, a creative marketing agency for the LA County Commission on Human Relations’ LA vs Hate program. 

TaskForce had identified Manhattan Beach as a possible location for one of its mural projects because the city has been subject to several racist graffiti incidents. 

 “With the recent hate incidents in the City of Manhattan Beach, we would like to utilize our proposed mural as a means to bring the community together in solidarity,” the organization’s proposal said. 


Sculpture by David Boyajian.


The mural project would include involvement of up to 150 local high school students, three workshops on interpersonal relations and the history and culture of the South Bay, and three workshops focused on what students envision for the future of Manhattan Beach, out of which mural concepts would emerge. The cost, $60,000 to $80,000, would be paid by the City. 

Resident Michael Jenkins urged the council to accept the proposal. 

“The incidence of hate crimes have risen 18% last year in LA County and spiked dramatically nationwide,” he said. “We see white supremacists and Neo-Nazis brazenly marching in city streets. So is there hate? Yes, there’s an epidemic of hate in this country. Mayor, is there hate in Manhattan Beach? Sure, there is hate in Manhattan Beach. The incidents of graffiti had been well publicized, antisemitic graffiti on our school grounds multiple times. How about racial epithets being thrown at cheerleaders from Culver City at a Mira Costa football game, is that hate? Sure it’s hate. We have hate. Is it worth $65,000 To have a community dialogue about what we can do about eradicating hate? I think that’s money well spent.” 

“We have a mural proposed tonight for a shark. I’ve got nothing against sharks,” Jenkins said. “But between a mural that sends a message against hatred, that makes Manhattan Beach a leader among communities sending that message to the world, this is a city that does not tolerate hate…I’d say that’s a good investment.” 


Sculpture by Jan Hoy


The Council was leery because the Manhattan Beach Unified School District had not identified a site for the mural and had instead referred the matter to the City. 

The police chief reported to the council that ten hate crime incidents had occurred in the past two years, including six this year. Councilperson David Lessor expressed support for the mural for this reason. 

“I’m more receptive to this piece because I am concerned about the incidence of hate in our community,” Lesser said. “It was referenced that there’s been ‘less than 10’  in the last year. That is problematic for a community of our size, and the types of incidents that we’re experiencing in our schools should be upsetting to everybody, including all of us. This is not satisfactory, to be living in a community without our being more proactive as leaders to try and address that through all different forms of media of art…to try and bring our community together.” 

Franklin said even one hate incident is unacceptable but questioned if this was the best way to address the issue. He noted that four out of the six hate incidents that occurred in 2023 were on school campuses. 

“It should be a school solution,” he said. 

Franklin said that schools are indeed addressing the matter through locally run programs, including the Beach Cities Health District, and new ethnic studies classes. 


Sculputer by Rico Eastman


Montgomery didn’t like the “one-size-fits-all” approach by an outside agency when the City has undertaken ways to address hate specific to its own history, such as the apology issued at Bruce’s Beach. He suggested sending the proposal back to the ad hoc committee the City has with MBUSD representatives to get buy-in both on a school site for the mural and student involvement, but was dissuaded by Napolitano, who said the district had already rejected the offer. 

“I don’t see the point in asking again,” Napolitano said. 

In the end, the Council directed staff to suggest to Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s office that perhaps the mural could be done at the County-owned building at Bruce’s Beach. 

“And we step out of it,” Montgomery said. 

In a final art-related item, the Council was also presented with 15 murals that were selected by the City’s Cultural Arts Commission as possible additions to the citywide sculpture program. Though no final decisions were made, each council member quickly went through all the sculptures —  some proposed to buy, others to lease —  and consensus was reached on four or five of the artworks. Those included a sculpture by Rico Eastman that was offered as a gift by resident Homeira Goldstein and work by sculptors Jan Hoy and David Boyiajian. The council was perhaps most enthusiastic about a utilitarian sculpture of a sort, tentatively proposed for Sand Dune Park, that adds intricate, decorative lacing to the fencing. 

The artist, Joep Verhoeven, is from Holland and does his “lace fences” all over the world

“He has a manufacturer that he works with that’s able to weave chain link fences into these just really fantastic shapes, so what he does is she typically travels to different places —  he’s done one of these in Australia, and one in New York, I think….” Stewart said. “He worked with local children and asked them to draw pictures of their local flora and fauna, then he took those pictures and actually translated them into traditional lace-making weave technique, and then his factory that he works with weaves them as you would weave thread and lace.” 

Napolitano liked it so much he suggested adding lace to fences citywide. 

“That is something, given the caveats of weather and durability, we could do in a lot of our parks and a lot of our spaces, those fences that we have now which can be beautified,” he said. 

The council will finalize approval of the sculptures at a future meeting. 

At the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, resident Allen Kirshenbaum questioned why the Council didn’t just defer to City staff and its Cultural Arts Commission on artistic matters. 

 “If you’re deciding what’s good art for the city, I have to question why,” he said. “I can’t imagine any voter in the city voted for you based on your reputations for artistic criticism.” 

Napolitano pushed back. He noted he personally had a degree in fine arts, but said that wasn’t what made his artistic judgment better or worse than anyone else’s.

“Every other decision we make is to what each one of us feels is best for the community … .and that applies across the board,” he said. “The idea that we should just rubber stamp what is brought to us —  anyone who thinks that hasn’t met the five of us. So, you know, we’re going to do what we feel is best for the community. We appreciate the recommendations of our commissioners, but they’re not the final call.” 

Over the three hours of artistic discussion that followed, ranging from Jaws to Neptunian Club kid’s art shows to varied interpretations on a sculpture that some thought was a pelican dancing and others did not, the Council displayed its unique blend of policy and arts chops. 

“I didn’t see a pelican in there, or birds, with all due respect to Alfred Hitchcock,” Montgomery said of the sculpture in question. 

“Nothing brings up the snark on council,” Napolitano said, “like art.” ER 


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