Redondo Beach City Council: 7 candidates for seats in Districts 1, 2 and 4
Redondo Beach is on the cusp of the biggest changes since King Harbor was completed in 1966. The 56-acre AES Power Plant, the Waterfront and the Galleria are all poised to redeveloped in the next few years. The council elected on March 2 will decide what the new developments will look like.
by Rachel Reeves
Nils Nehrenheim’s priorities as a council member range from financial transparency to the 2028 Olympics. But the thing he wants to emphasize most in his campaign for re-election is that he’s opposed to overdevelopment.
“I want to hit on that and I think it doesn’t get hit on enough,” he said. “We are not Santa Monica. We don’t live there for a reason. We are a beachtown community. It’s why we live here.”
Nehrenheim was a leader of Save the Riviera, a community organization that campaigned successfully to reduce the number of units a developer was proposing for the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard.
“We brought that project down to a legal size … and in doing so, we were able to save trees, reduce traffic that the project created, and get the project to fit the character of the community better,” Nehrenheim said.
“We have big decisions moving forward with our residential development in Redondo Beach and how we’re going to deal with the state and county agencies that are trying to force us to overdevelop. We can’t accept rubber stamps.”
Nehrenheim said his work on the council over the last four years and his vision for the next four are all grounded in this idea of preserving the “beachtown character” of his city. His priorities include building out public amenities, particularly a boat launch ramp, sportfishing pier, Seaside Lagoon, and the International Boardwalk at the pier, as well as revitalizing the waterfront and the Riviera Village. He said he played a large role in organizing outdoor dining spaces for the Riviera Village in the midst of the pandemic.
Two things he’s particularly proud of are his successful proposal for a line-item budget, something he said the city has never had, and his commitment to reforming campaign financing rules. If elected, Nehrenheim said, he wants to continue advocating for publishing the city’s financial statements online, and to find grant monies for creating a bike lane down Knob Hill.
As a longtime lifeguard and record-setting open-water swimmer, he’s also passionate about lobbying to host open ocean swim events in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. He said members of the open ocean organizing committee are now working to make that happen.
Nehrenheim said he is committed to explaining why he makes the decisions he makes. An example of this, he said, was his recent vote against giving public employees a raise.
“I simply explained, listen, we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “We’ve cut $9 million out of our budget, we’ve cut police and fire, we’ve cut 32 positions. When you explain your reasoning to people, when you’re fully transparent, people are much more likely to be comfortable with your decision.”
He said another of his obligations as an elected official is to provide spaces where people can discuss their concerns. Asking people to attend his meetings and listening to them when they come helps him to make decisions, he said.
“It’s such an honor,” he said. “I’ve been getting people saying they’re voting for me and it truly warms my heart every time. It’s a true honor to represent this community.”
Brad Waller can’t remember a time when he wasn’t involved in his community, which for 35 years has been Redondo Beach. He volunteered in high school and at summer camps, and later, when his daughter entered public school, he joined the PTA. By the second meeting, he was on the board.
For the last eight years, Waller has served on the board of the Redondo Beach Unified School District.
“I want to continue serving the City of Redondo Beach,” he said of his decision to run for council. “Helping people, it makes you feel good. Sometimes helping just means making sure people know that their voice has been heard.”
Waller said he has experience making public decisions during times of crisis, having been on the school board through the pandemic and a period of forced online learning. He also served on the board of SoCal ROC (formerly SCROC, or the Southern California Regional Occupational Center) when the center’s funding was cut to zero.
“The money disappeared,” he said. “I led the committee that came up with the funding formula to support it, which is the reason it’s still around today.” The committee was composed of representatives from every district in the South Bay, including superintendents, officers, and school board members.
“Lots of opinions, lots of resistance, but we were able to come up with an idea that was simple enough that everybody said, we’ll go with that,” he said. “I would say that literally saved SoCal ROC.”
Waller believes in being available to voters, whether he’s on the school board or the council.
“If someone reaches out to me on phone, email, NextDoor, social media, I’m open and transparent,” he said. “I’ll go out and talk to them. I’m not going to tell them I can fix that if I can’t. There’s been a number of times where people have not necessarily been satisfied with my answer, but they were satisfied that they did get an answer.”
Waller studied physics at MIT and worked as an infrared systems engineer for Hughes. His role there was to be “a generalist,” he said. He had to consider and consult every team working on an infrared project and to build consensus among them. His role required broad thinking, which he believes prepares him to make decisions about a city full of people with varying interests and opinions.
Waller also has experience in charting new and changing territory, having entered the internet industry in 1995. He and his business partners run a company in Redondo Beach that was one of the first 10,000 dot-com businesses accepting credit cards. Long before Amazon took off and before anyone knew what an affiliate program was, his business offered marketing and revenue-sharing services to people seeking to make money on the internet.
Waller said his loyalties are to SoCal ROC, public safety, and enforcing laws against speeding down Prospect, Catalina, and the Esplanade. He has no interest in engaging with toxic, divisive politics.
“We need to concentrate on the problems and issues,” he said, “and not the personalities in people.”
Todd Loewenstein, an avid baseball fan, uses a sports analogy to explain his approach to making big decisions.
“Sometimes doing no trade is better than doing the wrong trade,” he said. “The important thing is you get it right, rather than doing the wrong, convenient thing.”
Loewenstein’s penchant for research and due diligence has been helpful, and honed, in his professional life, he said, which began with a master’s degree in business and grew into a career in internet startups and international experience in sales for telecommunication companies. It was also helpful, he said, during his eight years on the board of the Redondo Beach Unified School District, which he likened to a medium-sized corporation with 1,200 employees.
“I think it’s hard for people to ignore the progress our school district has made over the last decade and a half,” he said. “Our schools are amazing, not only facility-wise but personnel-wise. We have great leadership and I think we’ve made good decisions. You don’t get everything right. You do the best you can with the limited data you have and you develop some thick skin. I want to bring that experience to the city.”
Loewenstein said his interest in local politics is rooted in his love for Redondo Beach, a place he found after living in many others.
“Redondo’s special,” he said. “It’s really unique. When I moved here I thought it was a big city. It turns out to be one of the smallest cities I’ve ever lived in, in terms of knowing people and neighbors. You always hear it’s a picture-perfect place to raise a family and it really is. I loved raising my kids here.”
Loewenstein said he’s been criticized, during his time on the council, for being uninterested in development, an allegation he thinks “couldn’t be further from the truth.” He’s interested, he said, in development that suits the city and reflects its values. He envisions art galleries and restaurants “to be proud of.”
“I read a lot about business,” he said. “I have a pretty good idea of where the puck’s heading and it’s not toward movie theaters and malls. If you’re looking to rubber-stamp what developers and business people want, you’re probably not the right person to run for council.”
When he thinks about the biting criticism he’s experienced on the council, he summons another motto he heard long ago: be hard on problems and soft on people.
“I try to live by that,” he said. “I try never to impugn anybody’s character. Even going door to door, when people are vehement you just say, thanks, I appreciate your time, and you move on. Arguing with someone is not going to change their mind.”
Loewenstein said his priorities are the waterfront, public safety, and improving infrastructure. He said his goal is “to do what’s right for residents.”
“I’m pretty optimistic about the future of Redondo Beach,” he said. “There are a lot of really amazing things happening. Sometimes they don’t happen as fast as people want them to happen, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Paul Moses began to truly value local government when he built his first public art installation in 1987.
“It made me understand how government is a force for good change,” he said. Since then, he’s been a strong advocate for public art, which he calls a placemaker, in Redondo Beach. He campaigned successfully for a public art ordinance, wrote some of it, and was appointed by two mayors to be vice chair of the public art commission.
He’s been a close observer of public decisions in a city he’s called home all his life, even the years he was commuting to go to work.
“I’ve been badgering and questioning and paying attention for five mayors, to be exact,” he said. He first ran for council in 2001, to represent an alternative to what he called “the anti-development movement.” While he believed in getting rid of the power plant, he saw the solution differently than his opponent did.
Moses believes the political situation in Redondo Beach right now is “as toxic as it gets.” He perceives “horrible stagnation” and “nothing but litigation and stalemates.”
“We’ve had a really contentious couple years,” he said. “Only replacement of leadership will change that. … I want to build on a foundation of cooperation as opposed to the poisonous litigation that Redondo ends up in. My vision is that people and businesses feel they have the city at their back.”
His vision is largely influenced by his personal experience, which involves multiculturalism, travel, property management, and broad involvement in creative industries, working in such areas as music and event production. Among the solutions he envisions and proposes are better representation for his district on the harbor commission and new zoning in the harbor area intended to support small businesses. One of his primary concerns is the rate at which young people are leaving Redondo Beach.
“There’s more emigration out of our city than any other city in the county,” he said. “That demographic drives service industries and is part of the economic engine in our community, and when those people leave it doesn’t bode well for the future.”
Moses foresees the next few years being an exciting time for Redondo Beach. He sees the pandemic shifting the scale of what’s possible.
“I mean, look at how we’re using all the parking spaces we thought we needed,” he said, referring to the popularity of outdoor dining areas in the Riviera Village.
The primary thing he brings to the table, he said, is conviction.
“I have passion and I truly believe in all my positions,” he said. “I don’t have a political action committee telling me what to do. I don’t answer to those folks.”
One position he believes in is fairness; he describes himself as “the kind of landlord who doesn’t jack the rent up all the time, only when it’s absolutely necessary.” He said he’s “not a typical politician” because he is “very truthful.”
“If you want to use one line to describe me,” he said, “it’s that I’m for the people and the truth.”
Erika Snow Robinson
In 2001, when councilmember Chris Cagle asked residents opposed to the Heart of the City project to meet him at Catalina Coffee, Erika Snow Robinson showed up. She was a new mother, then. She didn’t love the idea of putting 3,000 condos on the waterfront in the city her child would have a stake in.
“That was the beginning,” she said. “I walked door to door, pulling my kid in a wagon, trying to raise awareness about what was going on. I literally had eggs thrown at me.”
That was her first taste, she said, of her city’s contentious politics. Robinson joined Cagle’s campaign because she believed she had found a community of like-minded people that day. She soon experienced infighting and division, a thread she sees as defining the city’s current political atmosphere.
“I’m tired of the bullying and vilifying people,” she said. “That’s why I’m running. That’s my motivation. I love Redondo Beach. I think we are the best freaking city on the planet.”
Robinson said she was disappointed to see the waterfront project end in litigation because she had been impressed by the developer’s “willingness to make concessions” and to invest in infrastructure.
“I’m tired of obstructionism, of burying our heads in the sand and thinking if we just say no to every project and we’re mean and uncooperative they’ll go away,” she said. “Nothing’s going away. I don’t understand why we’re thwarting efforts to have housing where we can when we know that if we don’t have enough, the state’s going to come fine us and we’re going to have to do it anyway.” She said she wants to “bring business to Redondo,” and she believes in cooperating with developers to realize more studios, galleries, murals, and minority-owned businesses in the city.
Robinson is a director of operations for a real estate firm. She is also an artist. Among the art projects she’s proudest of are the murals in the children’s libraries in the city, which she worked on with her Leadership Redondo class in 2014. She said she has an artist’s mentality.
“I think of wild stuff,” she said. “I’m not always sure if any of it’s going to fly but at least I have the ability to think of it.” She illustrates this with the story of her boat in the harbor, her pride and joy, which her husband told her they couldn’t afford years ago. She told him she would find a way, and she did.
“I just look around in Redondo and everywhere I see opportunity,” she said. “And all I hear from the council is no, no, no, stop, stop, stop, don’t, don’t, don’t.”
Robinson has been using the hashtag #forsomethingnotnothing to highlight her vision of a “hustling, bustling, and thriving” city and waterfront.
“I feel like the direction we’re going in is the direction of nothing and it’s not sustainable,” she said. “If we’re thwarting every project, every idea really, how do we keep the quality of our police and fire and pay for the things we value?”
John Gran’s favorite part of being on the Redondo Beach City Council is getting to know his neighbors.
“I just absolutely love getting things done for my neighbors,” he said. He loves knocking on doors and getting to know lifelong residents of the city, as well as people who moved here recently.
“It’s really nice to not have a neighborhood where the garage door goes up and down and that’s it,” he said. “You actually get to make a difference for people. This is something I can give back to my neighbors and my community, and I’m having fun doing it.”
He decided to run for City Council in 2017 because he shared a concern with his councilmember, and felt rebuffed. He was frustrated.
As a management consultant, whose job is to locate problems in an organization and fix them, he values effective leadership.
“You just have to roll up your sleeves and get stuff done,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
His platform, centered on three tenets, hasn’t changed since his first campaign. What has changed, he said, is that now he has a track record of achieving results and relying on facts to support his positions. He said he tries to focus on facts in any heated discussion.
“I stand up to our mayor when I think he’s wrong, which is what my residents want me to do sometimes,” he said.
The first tenet of his three-pronged campaign is that he will work to ensure the city pays equal attention to North Redondo and South Redondo. The second is to be fiscally responsible and financially transparent; this is another thing he values in his consulting work.
“I have to make really tough decisions under a lot of duress,” he said of his day job. “The fact is sometimes you have to cut services; sometimes you have to change your ways.”
The third and final part of his platform is supporting a well-resourced public safety system.
One of his priorities, he said, is extending the North Redondo bike path, with lighting, from Felton to Inglewood Ave. He was involved in securing more than $1 million in Measure R funds for the project, which is expected to break ground this year. He’s also advocating to get recycled water to North Redondo through what’s called purple piping, which already supplies South Redondo’s parks and schools. Still another of his interests is amending parking ordinances along Artesia Blvd. to remove obstacles for small businesses trying to survive along that corridor.
“We can’t attract businesses until we change that,” he said. “These are real solutions. I don’t need the credit for them. I just want things done.”
He said his most defining qualities as a candidate are these: “I love this city and my community, and I get stuff done.” He said he sees serving on council as being part of something larger and longer-term than himself.
“I want to get tangible results,” he said, “but also set it up for the next person to take my seat.”
If you ask Zein Obagi why he’s running for the Redondo Beach City Council, he’ll begin talking, with a lawyer’s attention to detail, about the traffic planning in North Redondo that has resulted in cars speeding down residential lanes, and the zoning along the Artesia corridor that hinders small businesses from thriving. He refers to the meticulousness as a continuation of his job as an employment lawyer. His daily work is grounded in studying municipal codes; so is his interest in making a difference for North Redondo Beach, he said.
Obagi talks about line-item solutions, rather than abstractions: reduction of speed limits, narrower lanes between thoroughfares. He talks about commissioning murals on dirty walls and installing signage in public parking lots.
“We have a parking lot on Artesia next to the bike path,” he said. “That was a $700,000 investment the city made purportedly for the residents, but the residents don’t even know that’s a public parking lot. The two signs that are visible say no parking from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and unauthorized vehicles will be towed. That doesn’t look to me like serving the public. This is the kind of thing that results from lack of attention, lack of care.”
Obagi envisions flexible ordinances that allow “reasonable” commercial development along Artesia. As he thinks about what those might look like, his prevailing question is: What are the systemic issues plaguing these properties?
“You can only build two stories on Artesia Blvd. But if you want Artesia to be a thriving place with business, you’re going to have to give a little bit on height,” he said. “There’s an economic reality. The city wants people to build underground parking lots. That’s great, but if you don’t allow people to build [more than] two stories they’re not going to be able to afford the underground lots.”
Obagi became involved with the City of Redondo Beach before he lived in it. He began actively opposing the power plant in 2012 because he could see it from a relative’s house and thought of it as a blight in a densely populated city. He moved to North Redondo in 2018.
“The good thing about being a relatively new resident is that I don’t harbor a bunch of resentment from issues past,” he said. His priorities are opposing density, advocating for firefighters, supporting public transportation, and ensuring North Redondo is as much a part of council conversations as South Redondo.
“What we need is a transformational vision for North Redondo,” he said. His vision includes community gardens, dog parks, a mural ordinance, and a longer bike path.
“It’s really expensive to live here,” he said. “This is where we’re putting our life savings, if you will, and so we need to ensure that the community around our homes does not deteriorate. I’m sad to say that it has deteriorated and was deteriorating before the pandemic struck and even more after the pandemic struck, There’s been deterioration from a lack of leadership and attention from elected leaders to the blight that is occurring.” ER