Tired of the ‘divisive,’ McCool focuses on safety in council race

City Council candidate Matt McCool. Photo

In his time on Hermosa Beach’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, Matt McCool has tackled public safety issues that inform his thoughts on goals the City Council ought to pursue.

Beginning in the 1920s, the air raid sonata marked mid-day, every day but Sunday, until last year, when the fire station that housed the siren closed for construction. McCool hopes to bring it back by stationing the bell inside the Community Center.

McCool is one of seven candidates seeking three open City Council seats in the coming November election. A Navy reservist who has served as a volunteer firefighter said his interest in city politics was initially driven by his passion for public safety. But he decided to take the next step, running for council, after getting fed up with what he described as a politically divisive four years dominated by issues like oil drilling and the city’s General Plan.

His pledge to return the noon siren has the light-hearted feel of a campaign for student body president. But it is evocative of an earnest criticism that forms the basis of his campaign: the existing council has neglected basic duties of governing in favor of issues that are both unrealistic and politically divisive.

“Hermosa is not a politically driven town like Santa Monica. I grew up in the Santa Monica of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda. It’s probably why I’m so non-political,” McCool said.

McCool is registered as a political independent, and the public safety focus of his platform, he maintains, is “non-political.” (“You get a 911 call, your political affiliation disappears,” McCool said.) But many of his comments portray a binary Hermosa divided over the issue of environmentalism.

McCool has questioned the science surrounding climate change in candidate debates, but his resistance to more aggressive environmental measures, he said, stems less from disagreement with the underlying ideas than a belief that they would be better achieved by leaving things to the free market. This echoes criticisims McCool and other launched during hearings over PLAN Hermosa, the city’s updates to its General Plan and Local Coastal Program. The plan passed unanimously earlier this summer, but not before undergoing significant evolution. Notably, the council followed the Planning Commission’s recommendation to drop a goal of achieving city-wide carbon neutrality by 2040, in favor of following state emissions reduction guidelines.

“Most people probably agree with the ideas. If you took those ideas and left it to the market, people could come around. But it’s just human nature: people just don’t want to be forced to do things,” he said.

The process PLAN Hermosa went through underscores another priority of McCool’s campaign: a greater role for city commissions, and greater deference from the council to commission decisions. He said his time on EPAC has given him greater respect for the work of commissioners.

“The commissioners’ jobs are to be subject matter experts. I have a fire services background, and I’m probably more knowledgeable about fire services than anyone now on the council. But I would never want to second-guess the judgment of the Parks and Rec commission,” McCool said.

Bill Hallett serves on the EPAC with McCool, and said that McCool has impressed him with the logic of his arguments, and the absence of “red tape” associated with his ideas. Hallett, who served as a Los Angeles Police Department officer for 35 years, singled out McCool’s noon siren proposal as something that satisfies “old timers” like himself, who appreciate it for nostalgic reasons, but also serves an actual public safety purpose.

“With those fires in Santa Rosa, nobody had any kind of warning that it was coming. We need an emergency alert system as soon as possible,” Hallett said.

The subject of fire has occupied McCool more than almost any other. The city chose earlier this year to end the city’s independent Hermosa Beach Fire Department, and contract for fire services with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Councilmembers have defended the decision as providing a level of service to residents that a small, local fire department cannot match.

McCool acknowledges a shift in responsibility away from knocking down fires and toward emergency services has challenged departments, but said it is unfortunate that the city has gotten to a point where fire trucks are housed in tents. If elected, McCool said he would combine his focus on public safety with his emphasis on commissions to push for the creation of a public safety commission, as exists in Redondo Beach. He envisions the commission as a “multiplier for advocacy” about public safety issues, and hopefully preventing the city from finding itself in a similar situation again.

“You can’t blame this current council, or a particular city manager. It’s just a question of priorities,” McCool said.


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