Category Archives: City Government

A discussion of the present and future city government in Redondo Beach


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King Harbor Needs a New Structure

King Harbor generates somewhere in excess of $10,000,000 in annual revenue for Redondo Beach. The accuracy of that revenue figure may depend on how you count it or who you ask.

With that much money floating around, claims of mismanagement are about as certain as rising and falling tides. Looking for answers to questions about past errors may prove less productive than asking different questions. Chief among them, can the city of Redondo Beach find a better way to manage the harbor?

Every financial decision about the harbor is currently made by the city council. Hands-on management of the harbor enterprise is handled by the city’s Harbor & Economic Development (HED) department, which consists of a Director, Harbor Facilities Manager and an Executive Secretary. The city manager devotes time to harbor business but it is unclear exactly how much time.

The Harbor Commission consists of seven citizen volunteers who meet once a month. It has almost no decision-making power. A quick scan of past commission agenda will reveal most of its business appears on the consent calendar, which is little more than a list of harbor related business items that the council has already decided and voted on. The commission has no official role in the harbor budget, although in past years the city manager has asked the commission for input on budget issues.

Given that harbor fund reserves fluctuate between low and dangerously low, it’s fair to say most of the money that comes in gets spent on operations and maintenance. For the sake of this discussion, let’s call the annual harbor budget $10,000,000. The administration consists of five part time board level volunteers (the city council) and a professional, administrative staff of three employees. Only one of the three devotes his time exclusively to the harbor, according to their job titles.

It’s impossible to come up with a proper ratio of administrative personnel to annual revenue/expense for any enterprise. But five volunteer board members, a powerless, seven member commission, and an administrative staff consisting of two part-time employees and one full time employee seems a bit light by any applicable standard.

Ryan Clark is director of sales at the Veld Group, an L. A. based business brokerage. He cited examples of $10,000,000 businesses being administered by just a few people and others with directors and officers numbering in the dozens. When asked his opinion about whether an enterprise like King Harbor would be more efficiently run by city employees or some independent management group he said, “You’re kidding right? My ten year old knows the answer to that question.”

Rightly or wrongly, city governments have acquired the reputation of being out of touch with business and inefficient at managing anything. Recognizing those facts could be one reason our neighbor to the north, Ventura Harbor, seems to have much less substantial criticism leveled at the way it manages funds or its overall harbor operation.

The most obvious reason for Ventura’s success is that the city doesn’t run the harbor. The harbor enterprise is an Independent, Special District called the Ventura Port District (VPD). According to the California Special Districts Association, “Special districts are a form of local government created by a local community to meet a specific need.”

The VPD also gets a lot of the structure it uses for its operation from the California Harbor and Navigation Code. Those guidelines also govern some parts of King Harbor’s operations but Ventura appears to take more of its structure from the code.

Ventura has a more clearly defined and robust management team than King Harbor, in large part because of its incorporation as an Independent Special District. The Ventura city council appoints a five member Board of Port Commissioners, which makes all significant VPD decisions including control of an estimated $8 million annual budget.

A full-time, professional management team consists of a General Manager, Harbormaster, Accountant, Administrative Assistant/Clerk, Property Manager, Marina Manager and Marketing Director. General operation of Ventura Harbor is carried out by a full-time staff of 35 employees.

The city council and city staff, including the city manager, have no management authority over the harbor. “Relations with the city stop after the commissioners are appointed,” said VPD General Manager, Oscar Pena.

He added that the city has liaisons within the board and that two current commissioners are former council members. The Board of Port Commissioners makes a formal report to the Ventura City Council once every year.

Ventura has a smaller budget, a powerful board, a lot more management personnel and by all accounts, the whole thing runs much smoother than the South Bay’s only harbor. So why can’t we do the same thing in King Harbor? The simple answer is, we can. The unfortunate reality is, we probably won’t.

Human beings by their very nature do not give up power willingly. So asking the Redondo Beach City Council to give up control of King Harbor would have about the same effect as asking them to stop eating or breathing.

On the other hand, if you asked any current or past council member to imagine a world in which almost none of the council’s time would be spent on harbor related business, you’d probably get a pretty positive reaction. Can logic (or self-interest) triumph over human nature? Let’s hope we get a chance to find out.

The Miracle in Redondo Beach

If you did a side by side comparison of Redondo Beach and other similar cities and looked at the negative impacts of the Great Recession, I believe RB would look pretty good. My non-scientific evaluation of the years from 2009 to this past year shows cuts to jobs, salaries, benefits and services were more severe in many other cities.

Some people in city government would attribute that difference to better management. I noticed something different. I saw a unique loan program between Redondo Beach and the state of California. It was unique in that the state seemed to be largely unaware or unconcerned it was loaning the city money. Another thing that made it unique was the fact neither party expected the loan to be paid back. That’s what made it a miracle.

I wrote the article below a while ago, which is why some of the information is dated. The material is factual and the time between when it was written and now hasn’t changed any of those facts.

I had hoped to see it in print but it was turned down by the L. A. Times, Daily Breeze and other publications. Maybe there’s nothing there. Maybe I’m blowing it all out of proportion. My intention then as now was to make the information public and let my fellow citizens decide whether the issues should cause concern for our community. Publishing it here completes that process.

I apologize for all the words but they were all necessary to tell the story.

Harry Munns

Redondo Beach, January 2014

 

Longtime community activist Gary Ohst resigned midway through his second term as a Redondo Beach Budget and Finance Commissioner in December 2010. Ohst’s departure came as no surprise to observers of the city’s political processes. Gary Ohst had spent the previous four years warning city officials about what he perceived as the city’s abuse of funds generated in and around King Harbor.

“I believed that pulling money out of the harbor enterprise was not a sustainable activity and that the city is not meeting its fiduciary responsibility under the Tidelands Trust.” Ohst said.

In 1915 the state of California deeded the land west of the high water mark to the city of Redondo Beach. It was to be held in trust for the people of the state. The beach, the submerged land and the land that was created to build King Harbor belong to the people of California, not the city of Redondo Beach. The city has been given the right to develop and manage that land on behalf of everyone in California. The original document and amendments that were added in 1971 became known as the Tidelands Trust.

The harbor and adjacent land generate millions of dollars for the city every year. According to figures released by the city, property, sales and transient occupancy taxes amounted to more than $4,000,000 in fiscal year 2009-2010. Another $10,000,000 came from various sources such as rent for apartments, boat slips and offices, among others.

One of the main provisions of the Tidelands Trust states that the money generated in the Tidelands be reinvested in the Tidelands. The deed allows the city of Redondo Beach to manage the finances. The Tidelands Trust also mandates the creation and maintenance of an Uplands Fund for income and expense generated by the land adjacent to the harbor Tidelands, referred to as the Uplands. The Tidelands and Uplands together are called the Harbor Enterprise.

“One of the goals I had set was to improve the disclosure and financial reporting of the finances of the harbor to get at the root of the problem why there was never any money.” Ohst said.

He discovered that the city takes 100% of the $4,000,000(+-) property, sales and transient occupancy tax revenue and deposits it in the general fund. It isn’t accounted for as harbor revenue and it doesn’t directly offset any harbor expenses. It’s just considered revenue that’s generated within the city and it is used to pay for things the city needs just like the taxes people pay on their homes go to things like street maintenance and trash removal.

The city charges the Harbor Enterprise for goods and services it supplies for harbor operations over and above what the harbor property would get just by paying its taxes. They break down the expenses according to the department that supplied the goods and/or services and the extent to which either the Uplands or the Tidelands benefited from the expenditure. For example, in fiscal year 2009/10, the Tidelands and Uplands each paid the City Attorney’s office $41,752 in personnel charges.

The $10,000,000 generated from rent and other sources covers capital improvements and operating expenses. Renovation of the bathrooms at Seaside Lagoon and resurfacing the wooden portion of the pier are examples of capital improvements funded by the Harbor Enterprise funds.

I’m pretty sure no home or business owners outside the harbor got a bill for City Attorney services, although in theory that office did work on behalf of every household and business. I’d also suggest that some homes, businesses and areas of the city got more services than others yet everyone except the state of California (Harbor Enterprise) paid the same amount. It just came out of their taxes.

In addition to Personnel and Capital Improvements, Redondo Beach breaks down the fees it levies on the Harbor Enterprise by Maintenance & Operations, Internal Service Fees (ISF) and Capital Outlay.

Ohst published a detailed analysis of Redondo’s harbor finances and compared the data to other southern California harbors. The report reveals that between fiscal year 2001/02 and 2009/10 charges for Redondo Internal Services increased from about $330,000 to more than $2,000,000 for essentially the same goods and services.

Ohst’s report indicates that charges for items such as Personnel and Capital Improvements fluctuate year to year. He found no logical explanation for a 650% increase in Internal Service Fees over a 9 year period. When asked by the Harbor Commission in 2010 to predict the amount Redondo Beach would extract from the Harbor Funds in coming years, City Manager Bill Workman predicted it would decrease because, “we probably won’t need as much”.

There you have it. When the city of Redondo Beach needs more money, it takes that money from the people of California. That’s a great deal for the city. It must make Redondo the envy of most other cities in an era of declining tax and fee revenue. But it has to make you wonder whether the state would feel the same way about the deal California is getting.

Ohst examined finances for Santa Barbara, Ventura, Channel Islands, Dana Point and Oceanside harbors. ISF charges ranged from a low of $00.00 in Ventura to a high of $1,808,923 in Oceanside. At first glance, Oceanside parallels Redondo Beach’s FY 2009/10 ISF charges, which totaled $2,036,117.

ISF charges get paid into the other cites’ general funds, just like they do in Redondo. Something different happens in the other cities that doesn’t happen here. Their general funds pay money to their harbors. For example, Oceanside pays its harbor nearly $3,000,000 in subsidies from its general fund. That money offsets the ISF charges making the net ISF charge to the city a negative number. Oceanside’s harbor makes money on its financial relationship with the city.

Redondo Beach pays no subsidy to the Harbor Enterprise from the General Fund. The money flows only one way, from the harbor to the city. Ohst points out that by calculating ISF charges for all 5 harbors he used in his comparison, the total ISF charges as a percentage of total revenue is actually less than zero.

In other words, as a group, the other harbors pay nothing to their host cities for Internal Services. Redondo Beach charges its harbor enterprise 20% of the harbor’s gross revenue for Internal Services.

City Manager Bill Workman told the Harbor Commission at the commission’s March meeting, “Tidelands money is Redondo Beach money.”  If that was true, why would the Tidelands Trust document posted on the city’s web site devote more than a page to the permitted uses of revenue generated in the Tidelands? If it’s our money, shouldn’t we be able to use it any way we want?

The document allows the city to use Tidelands money for construction and maintenance of facilities that support a small boat harbor. It includes provisions for an airport or heliport. The Tidelands Trust contains clear references to protection of wildlife habitat and facilities that serve the public. It even covers advertising.

It does not specifically cover some of the expenses it currently pays such as subsidies to salaries for city staff, which amounted to nearly $3,000,000 in non-ISF charges to the Harbor Enterprise in FY 2009/10. The only apparent justification for these charges is found in Sec. 9 (J.) “For the acquisition of property and the rendition of services reasonably necessary to the carrying out of the uses and purposes described in this section…”

Does the fiscal year 2010/11 payment of $20,000 on a line item called Mayor and City Council meet that definition? I’m pretty sure no other tax-paying entity in the city got a bill for services performed by the mayor and council. The harbor got one.

Workman also claimed that the harbor finances have been audited and that the city passed the audits. Not exactly.

In 2006 the California State Lands Commission (CSLC) staff presented a financial management audit report to the commission. It had been spurred by a complaint from Jess Money, a Redondo Beach citizen.

Money claimed that, “During FY 2002-2003 and FY 2003-2004 funds were illegally transferred from the tidelands fund to the City’s general fund and to the Community Redevelopment Agency.”  Those were the first two years that the amounts of money debited to the harbor enterprise for Internal Services jumped from around $330,000 to more than $1,000,000.

The CSLC staff report concludes that, “CSLC staff reviewed the City’s method for determining cost allocations and found no evidence that funds were being transferred illegally.”

The year after the report was presented to the CSLC the amount of money transferred from the harbor enterprise to the Redondo Beach general fund went from $1,100,000 to $1,900,000, a jump of nearly 45%. The following two years it rose to more than $2,000,000 and it stayed there.

Those levels have not been tested by a CSLC audit. In essenc,e the city is saying that State Lands was OK with the jump from less than half a million to more than $1,000,000 so that means the city has permission to double those charges again.

That’s like a kid saying, I went to bed at 8 last year. My parents said I can stay up until 9 this year. That means I can stay up until 10 next year. In a few years I won’t have to sleep at all. Most adults and eventually most kids recognize the defect in that logic.

When city officials refer to an affirmative outcome from a state audit, they’re talking about CSLC scrutiny of two years, nearly a decade ago. The state does not conduct audits on any pre-arranged schedule. Ohst believes that an audit of current fees Redondo Beach charges the Harbor Enterprise would yield considerably different results.

He also takes issue with the city’s apparent belief that by failing to find errors in the city’s accounting practices in FYs 2002/04, the CSLC gave Redondo Beach the green light to nearly double the amount it charges the citizens of California for Internal Services.

The city council formed an audit sub-committee in response to questions about misuse of harbor funds posed by Ohst and others. The sub-committee retained a CPA firm, Mayer, Hoffman, McCann.

The report presented to the mayor and council was titled, “Independent Accountants’ Report on Appying(sp) Agreed-Upon Procedures”. It said, in part, “The firm was asked to Review the city’s cost allocation plan for fiscal years 2007-08 as it relates to the Harbor Tidelands and Harbor Uplands Funds.”

This was not an audit. In fact, the word “audit” only appears once in the final report. In the third to last paragraph the accountants state, “We were not engaged to, and did not, conduct an audit…”

When asked to comment on Gary Ohst’s report, Mr. Workman referred the matter to Harbor Business and Transit Director, Pete Carmichael. He replied. “His (Ohst’s) proposed methodologies do not conform with standard municipal accounting practices.  The city has had multiple audits of our budget practices in the harbor by both independent outside auditors as well as extensive audit by the State Lands Commission.  These audits have confirmed that the city’s finance practices as they relate to the harbor meet accepted accounting principles.”

In fact, a CSLC audit of two years before the huge spike in charges and a private auditing firm report that states it did not conduct an audit, strongly suggest that statement is false.

For the People, By the City

The Tidelands Trust document appears unambiguous in its position that the city holds Tidelands revenue for the people of the state. Redondo Beach can disburse that revenue to maintain and improve the land that belongs to the people of California.

In addition to double charging the Harbor Enterprise for city services (first through property taxes, second through billing for salaries, internal services, etc.), the city has awarded itself no-bid contracts for services it provides such as maintenance and administration. Paying itself fees for goods and services at rates the city set, has enabled the city to avoid more severe cutbacks than it has already put in place.

The Tidelands Trust document does not require the city to put any of the work described in the permitted uses of harbor revenue out for bid. But the city routinely puts goods and services it purchases for itself out to bid. Redondo Beach, like the state of California, invites qualified bidders to bid on an extensive list of goods and services it needs.

The bid process ensures the citizens of the city or the state get the best value when the city or state makes purchases on their behalf. When the city purchases goods and services such as maintenance in the harbor on behalf of the people of the state, shouldn’t it exhibit the same due diligence? Critics of the city’s financial policies wonder whether the $1,052,230 Redondo Beach will have paid itself for maintenance of the harbor area in FY 2010-11 was the best deal the people of California could have gotten for their money.

If the work had been put out to bid, the city might have a conclusive answer to that question. It was not put out for bid and the city cannot tell the state of California it got the best deal for it’s million bucks. The city set the rate and paid itself from the state money it manages. I’ll bet there are a few private maintenance companies that would like to have a chance to bid on providing maintenance in the pier/harbor complex. If things continue the way they have been going, they will never get that chance.

If the state decides to look into these practices and concludes there has been abuse, the city could be forced to pay back some or all of the increased fees it has charged the Tidelands plus damages and/or fines.

Redondo Beach has been allowed to borrow money from the state to keep the city functioning. If the state decides Redondo gave itself too much money or there was any fraud in the process, the people of Redondo Beach will be on the hook for any restitution the state decides it is due. It makes you wonder how Mr. Workman could have been so confident when he stated, “Tidelands money is Redondo Beach money.”

If it turns out the current charges are fair and accurate, the city might be entitled to adjustments to the amounts it charged the harbor enterprise for  in past years. If $2,000,000 is the right number, then the city of Redondo Beach is owed millions of dollars for the years when it undercharged the harbor enterprise. The city could always forgive that debt. Let’s hope the state is as generous if it finds Redondo Beach overcharged the people of the state of California.

Ohst suggests a relatively simple solution to a system that appears to enable the city of Redondo Beach to engage in practices that potentially put its citizens at considerable financial risk. He points out precedent among the cities he studied and others for use of an independent board or committee to administer the business of their harbor enterprises. That’s a mission that begs for a popular, public uprising.

In the end, it’s up to the state of California to determine whether the city of Redondo Beach has performed adequately and honorably in its role as steward of the tidelands. It would stand to reason though, the further the city pushes the limits, the closer we get to a breaking point.

Note: This article was sent to a few strategically selected people when it was written. They were asked not to share it with anyone at city hall but they were selected specifically because they were unlikely to follow those instructions. Shortly thereafter, projects such as the Harbor Patrol building, Seaside Lagoon bathrooms, Redondo Landing, Mole B and the Decron lease consolidation began moving ahead at an impressive speed, especially for city government.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

 

Note: This article was sent to a few strategically selected people when it was written. They were asked not to share it with anyone at city hall but they were selected specifically because they were unlikely to follow those instructions. Shortly thereafter, projects such as the Harbor Patrol building, Seaside Lagoon bathrooms, Redondo Landing, Mole B and the Decron lease consolidation began moving ahead at an impressive speed, especially for city government.

 

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Free Federal Money for Redondo Beach?

In 2013 the federal government offered up to $6 million to states and localities for projects that supported transient boaters. Sixteen awards, the highest of which was nearly a million and a half bucks, went mostly to local and private entities. The free money funded projects such as transient docks, fuel docks and a boat ramp.

Unless I missed something, Redondo Beach didn’t apply for any of this money. We have a mooring project in the works, but that’s only the beginning of an overall program to attract transient boaters. We will have to figure out how to get them here and what to do when they arrive,

Transient boaters will need things like a dinghy dock, bathrooms, showers and water taxi service. The transient boater program, such as it is, will almost certainly fail to reach its full  potential without a fully thought-out and executed plan. If there is one, I haven’t seen it.

The city council never asked my advice when I was on the Harbor Commission so I don’t expect them to begin now. I seriously doubt any council members or city staff read this blog, so if anyone who does read it knows anyone on the council, you might point out that 2014 should bring another opportunity for Redondo Beach to apply for free money.

I’ll do my part by sharing this link http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/GrantPrograms/BIG/BIG.htm  Now all we need is for someone to alert the city to the opportunity.

Obamacare and the King Harbor Mall

Fox News viewers recognize Frank Luntz as a frequent commentator around election time. He has made something of an art form out of framing. No, he doesn’t wear a tool belt and double park his truck in front of your house, not that kind of framing. Luntz has become famous for framing words.

People like Luntz study how people like us react to different words and word combinations. If I want you to agree with me, I’m going to frame my words in a way that increases the probability of a positive emotional reaction.

Oil drilling conjures up images of grease covered men with hard hats wrestling with large pieces of machinery. What happens when it’s called energy exploration? It becomes exciting, appealing. I’d like to be involved in energy exploration – but oil drilling? I don’t think so.

Some framing isn’t quite as subtle. The Affordable Care Act is an example. The only way they could have framed it to get a more positive response would have been to call it the Don’t Suffer in the Emergency Room and Go Bankrupt Act.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act weren’t about to let the law’s supporters get away with that. They nicknamed it Obamacare, rhymes with Welfare, Medicare. They attached the President’s name to an image of the impending big government apocalypse by inventing one word. Or at least that’s what they thought they did.

The plan worked brilliantly for awhile. Then one day during the 2012 presidential campaign, candidate Obama stood in front of the cameras and microphones in Denver and declared he liked the name Obamacare.

You could almost feel the outrage in the conservative press. After putting all that effort into creating a word that was intended to depict a fear-inducing image of a president destroying the country with his big government policies, it was taken away…poof…just like that.

The Obama administration and every supporter of the Affordable Care Act began calling it Obamacare from that day forward. And from that day forward, the intended negative impact from that made-up word was depleted. The word was no longer a weapon.

The campaign against Measure G, the 2010 ballot measure that changed zoning in King Harbor, used similar, yet less creative techniques.  Their messages intended to strike fear in the electorate with threats of timeshares and condos.

They didn’t make up a clever word to frame their position. Instead, they relied on a prejudice against timeshares and condos they hoped the voters shared with their small group. I remember getting beaten up by their messages about condos, Condos, CONDOS!

It turns out, the voters didn’t share that prejudice. Quite a few of them probably live in condos. I know some wonderful people who live in condos. How could I hate their homes?

I can think of some blighted properties that were brought back to life by building condos. Now the formerly vacant lots are beautiful homes for families and others. The only timeshares I can think of in the South Bay are at the Beach House in Hermosa, which happens to be the coolest commercial building on that part of the strand.

They’re at it again. The Opponents (I’ve given them a proper title) have begun calling the proposed development on the Redondo waterfront, the King Harbor Mall. This attempt at framing, at using our emotions to persuade us to agree with them, has a few obvious problems Mr. Luntz could have helped them avoid.

My guess is they want to tap into our hatred and fear of malls so we will join them in opposing the project. That’s a problem for me because I don’t hate or fear malls. I kind of like them. Like condos and timeshares, I don’t want one on every corner. And like condos and timeshares, there are large malls, small malls, boutique malls, theme malls and lots of other variations.

So from this point forward, I intend to call the waterfront project the King Harbor Mall. I invite all my fellow supporters to do the same. Now if I could only get that web site to let me sign up for Obamacare…

The last election?

Three elections in five months should be enough to sort out the business of a city of 65,000 people. That should give us about two years of election-free recovery time, that is unless some group of citizens decides our elected officials aren’t paying enough attention to their interests and they write another ballot initiative.

The one remaining election will consist of a mail-in choice between two candidates for city treasurer. How many people know what the treasurer does to earn a tidy sum, well over $100,000 of our hard earned tax money every year? It’s probably worth taking a few minutes to search the city’s municipal code for section 11.1 to find out.

What you’ll discover is that the city treasurer doesn’t really do much. He or she oversees money coming in and money going out. It seems we have a treasurer so we have someone to blame if our money is mismanaged by other city employees. Nevertheless, we need a city treasurer and we will all get to mail in our votes for one of two candidates in July.

You don’t hear that much about Measure A now that Redondo Beach voters have exercised their power of self-governance by rejecting that ridiculous piece of legislation. We need to remember there was an organization called No Power Plant. No Power Plant was Measure A and Measure A was No Power Plant.

A number of candidates attempted to leverage their association with or sympathy for No Power Plant/Measure A to get elected. The citizens of Redondo Beach rejected all but one of them the same way they rejected Measure A.

City treasurer candidate Dawn Esser is the last remaining person seeking elected office in the city who has attempted to use her association with No Power Plant/Measure A for political advantage. I join many of my fellow citizens in hoping she will experience the same fate other aspiring politicians who attached themselves to the divisive, misguided ideas that brought us No Power Plant/Measure A have had to suffer, defeat.

My real interest in this election isn’t to see one candidate lose but to see a more qualified, extremely bright candidate get elected. Steve Diels won’t need to study the city budget to figure out how to perform the duties of treasurer. For the past eight years he has had direct personal, responsibility for that budget as a member of our city council.

Everyone who serves on the council brings his or her own talents and abilities to that work. In eight years of working with the council as a commissioner, I often found myself considering what the council was doing on some issue or item on its agenda. Before I jumped to any conclusions about the wisdom or absence of wisdom of any council action, I always found myself asking one question. What did Steve Diels have to say about the matter?

That doesn’t mean I agreed with him. I probably disagreed more often than not but I knew his opinions would always be thoughtful and represent his genuine interest in doing what’s best for the city. I believe the city is better for having had Steve as a council member. The city has an opportunity to continue benefitting from Steve’s knowledge and experience by electing him our next city treasurer. Check out his qualifications at stevediels.com .

Harbor Drive improvement?

The strand provides an ideal hard, flat surface and picturesque, seaside environment for bike riding. It would be a fluid, uninterrupted ribbon of beachside bliss if it weren’t for one thing, the Redondo Pier and Harbor complex.

Parking lots, boat basins and buildings occupy the former beach that most certainly would have accommodated a bike path if the harbor wasn’t built first. With no beach between the strand in south Redondo and the strand in Hermosa, the only place for a bike path was on both sides of Harbor Drive and through the pier parking lot.

Mingling with car and truck traffic adds an element of danger and inconvenience bikers don’t experience elsewhere along the strand. The city has a plan it believes will address those problems called the Harbor Drive/Herondo Street Gateway Improvement Project. It’s hard to tell whether the plan will improve safety and traffic flow or just reshuffle a deck full of unattractive options.

Taking down the block wall at the south end of the Hermosa Strand and running the bike path diagonally through what’s now a metered, parking lot is by far the biggest improvement to both safety and traffic flow.

To compensate the city for reduction in parking meter revenue, the plan will reconfigure parking along Herondo Street. The plan calls for diagonal, parallel paid parking on both sides of the street.

Drivers will back into those spaces. They will cross a bike lane going backward after stopping to block the single lane of traffic. This part of the plan is perhaps, the dumbest idea the city has every seriously considered and definitely the dumbest thing the city ever approved.

Parallel parking is hard enough looking straight ahead, moving forward. The skills necessary too backward, parallel park aren’t taught in driving school nor are they acquired through experience. When’s the last time you backed into a parallel parking space (I mean sober)? Imagine a 17 year old new driver doing it in reverse looking over one shoulder. It looks like this plan has traded the risk of hitting a bike rider while backing out of a parking space for a higher risk of hitting a bike rider while backing into a space.

The only reason this hazardous parking plan was incorporated into the plan was because the transition from the strand to Harbor drive eliminates part of a revenue-producing parking lot. The revenue loss had to be offset somehow.

The plan moves the northbound bike lane to the south side of Harbor Drive so bikes moving in both directions will pass beside each other the way they do on the strand. That doesn’t change conditions much for bikers riding south.

Curbside parking along the north side of Harbor Drive will move to the south side. Looking across Harbor Drive from the north side of the street, the new configuration will begin with a northbound vehicle lane, then a southbound vehicle lane, curbside parking, a 5 foot wide sidewalk-style buffer zone, 2 way bike traffic and a pedestrian sidewalk.

Northbound bike traffic doesn’t have to cross Harbor Drive any more but those riders now have to deal with traffic in and out of Yacht Club way and 6 parking lots they were protected from on the north side of Harbor Drive.

Any way you look at it, it isn’t a net gain, especially when you consider curbside parking will obscure the view between the bike lanes and vehicles turning into parking lots. People who get out of cars in those spaces will now have to cross 2 lanes of bike traffic. Bikers will see people pop out from between cars every 25 feet or so. Some of the pedestrians will have no clue bikes are speeding by in both directions until they step off the curb.

Every benefit this plan will provide is offset by some new problem or increased risk. Harbor Drive will probably look better and the city will get some money from the state but calling the plan an improvement project is a misrepresentation of the facts. Maybe it should be called a movement project as in move this over there and that over here.

There’s one clear winner in this plan. Auto body shops in the South Bay stand to reap huge benefits by repairing all the dented doors that result from hundreds of people backing into parallel parking spaces on Herondo Street. Maybe it’s time to invest in a body shop?

Strange Bedfellows

I’m wondering if anyone else noticed strange and confusing political winds blowing since the March election in Redondo Beach. I’m guessing most of it has something to do with the timing of the next election May 14th. Items on that ballot will include a runoff for council seats in districts 1 and 4, and the mayoral race. Voters will also decide who will become the city treasurer.

The first thing that confused me was an editorial by former District 1 council candidate Diane Prado who claims to be a lawyer. I can’t figure out how an attorney could make public accusations against a mayoral candidate based on her interpretation of a single conversation. They call it hearsay on cop shows.

It appears Ms. Prado made no attempt to discover whether there was another side to the story before publicly declaring the information she wrote was fact. I always thought the concept that there are 2 sides (at least) to every argument was something law students learned right after the pronunciation of habeas corpus. It’s confusing.

The next thing that confused me is why a candidate for city treasurer would place her position on a highly charged, local political issue front and center on the material she uses to try to get Redondo voters to elect her. Supporting NoPowerPlant was definitely Ms. Esser’s right as a Redondo Beach resident. But what does it have to do with her qualifications to execute the duties she would assume as city treasurer? Why not enumerate her views on global warming or who she supported in the last presidential election? Her support for NoPowerPlant should be no more relevant to the treasurer’s job than those things.

I’m assuming Ms. Esser knows the city treasurer’s office doesn’t take positions on local political issues. Maybe she plans on changing that.

Until now you might say that other than being an elected position, the city treasurer is apolitical. I assume Ms. Esser has many political positions and opinions. Why emphasize this one, a position upon which the city treasurer cannot and should not exert any influence? See why I’m confused?

That leads me to one other confusing occurrence after the March election. Why did city councilman and mayoral candidate Matt Kilroy champion a re-vote on a council resolution opposing the power plant after the same issue was summarily defeated by the council in July 2012? The council made a statement at that time. It refused to bend to pressure from a special interest group.

Voters made a similar statement when they rejected Measure A. From where I stand, that issue was dead, twice. Yet right after the March election put Matt Kilroy into a runoff with an opponent who beat him head-to-head in the March election, he began pushing the rest of the council to revive the twice dead issue of an official statement saying Redondo Beach opposed a new power plant. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he’d do such a thing.

I’m lying. I saw the reasons for all these peculiar occurrences as clearly as the view of the power plant from King Harbor. So did everyone else I’ve spoken with about any of it.

Even though Measure A failed, you couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of people who took up the No Power Plant cause. They are motivated and active. When you consider they’re being told by councilman Bill Brand to vote for Jim Light, Dawn Esser and Matt Kilroy it’s easy to understand why Ms. Esser advertises her devotion to the no power plant cause and why Mr. Kilroy pushed to revive the resolution the council had voted against just a few months earlier. If you’ve seen the CBS show Survivor, you’ll understand. Contestants make alliances they think will keep them in the game longer.

Voters in Redondo need to realize the importance of the May 14th election. It could result in a relatively small group of people taking control of some large chunks of our city government, the mayor’s office, city treasurer, two seats on the city council and a fighting chance of gaining control of a third. I’m not exaggerating.

It’s fair to say most Americans find the political climate in Washington toxic. Two opposing groups of stubborn Ideologues pledge their allegiance to their set of beliefs and the relatively small group of people who share their extreme views. They refuse to give an inch on any idea the other group supports.

Voters in Redondo Beach better take notice of what could happen on May 14th. A small group of ideologues stand a very good chance of taking over our city’s government. If you think the power plant is the only thing they want to control, think again. If you thought Measure A was about a power plant, you were half right. It was about power. The power a small group of people would like you to give them so they can gain control of this community.

I believe Matt Kilroy is a good man and I don’t think his play for the No Power Plant vote will change that. I also believe that in politics, if you get favors eventually you will have to repay those favors. Repayment may not be overt or unethical but the debt will be recorded and repayment will be expected.

l had a discussion with a political operative from San Diego about some changes I’d like to see to the Redondo charter. At the end of our conversation he said, “The people of Redondo Beach will get the government they deserve.”

I believe electing a group of people who have professed their inflexibility and predisposition to support one another would damage our community. If you agree, then you need to go to the polls on May 14th and vote against them. If the independent citizens of Redondo Beach lose control of their city because they didn’t take this threat seriously, then the political operative was right. We deserve the government we get.

Measure A and District 1

It would be inaccurate to say people who voted for or against Measure A in the March, Redondo Beach election, were voting for or against the AES power plant. A majority of the votes cast were against Measure A but I really don’t believe those voters were saying they want a power plant. More likely, the No voters recognized it was a poorly written law that was destined to cause the city more harm than any good it might do.

The Yes voters were a different story. I think most of them believed they were voting against the power plant.

61% of the voters in District 2 voted for Measure A. These are the people who live closest to the plant, people who have to look at it. The other 4 districts in the city voted against Measure A. In fact, there wasn’t another district with as much as 50% support for Measure A.

At 47% each, Districts 1 and 3, the next closest to the plant, were the highest ratio of votes cast for Measure A. Districts 4 and 5, representing the furthest parts of the city from the plant, both came in at just above 40% for Measure A.

Understandably, the people in District 2 were voting their self-interest. It’s safe to say a majority of the District 2 residents who voted for Measure A were property owners. If the power plant goes away, their property becomes more valuable.

It’s ironic that proponents of Measure A whined after the election about the results being determined by money. AES spent considerably more money on advertising. They complained that money was the only reason Measure A lost.

From where I stand, money is the only reason Measure A got 61% of the vote in District 2. No matter what anyone tells you about the rest of the city, the AES plant doesn’t influence property values anywhere except the parts of the city where you can see the plant, District 2 and small portions of Districts 1 and 3. Voters in Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 were unwilling to vote for a bad law to increase property values in District 2.

District 2 city councilman Bill Brand was re-elected with about the same percentage of votes as Measure A got in his district. He got 56% of the votes cast. Councilman Brand convinced voters in District 2 his crusade against the AES plant would help them. He may have been right.

District 1 voters are being asked to vote for a Bill Brand clone next month, his sidekick Jim Light. Brand and Light have spent countless hours and invested tremendous energy over the last ten years fighting to get rid of AES, fighting to increase property values in District 2.

That raises an interesting question. Will voters in District 1 elect a councilman who, by his own admission, will continue devoting time and energy to increasing property values in District 2? They rejected the idea of voting for a law that was intended to have the same effect. Will they elect a city council candidate who will invest his time and energy working for a cause whose greatest benefit will be enjoyed outside District 1? We’ll know soon enough.

The World After Measure A

Measure A has come and gone. The real decision on zoning the AES property lies somewhere out in the future.

The property is zoned for a power plant or a park. No one who understands the reality of the situation believes it will remain that way.

The no power plant leaders will probably begin telling their followers to gear up for the big battle over approval of the AES re-powering application. There will be no big battle.

Remember, these are the same people who told you Measure A was crucial to the outcome of the war for control of the AES land. Now that they’ve lost, they’re very carefully planning how they will tell you it wasn’t as important as they told you it was.

You may hear about how important it will be for everyone to attend the California Energy Commission (CEC) hearings. Don’t forget, these are the same people who told you the world would end if Measure A wasn’t passed.

Think about it. Do you believe there’s anything new about a group of people in a community opposing a power plant? Do you think the CEC hasn’t seen placards, noisy people in the hall, unruly people in the hearing room and every other potential means of getting an opposing message in front of them? Anything NPP might attempt will be about as routine as morning coffee and it will have about the same impact.

The CEC will decide to approve or disapprove the AES application based on a set of criteria that will take little notice of public disapproval. There are really just two probable outcomes.

If the CEC Approves the AES Application, there will be little anyone can do to prevent AES from beginning to build their new power plant. Before Measure A there was a chance a legal argument could have been made that the community opposed the power plant and lawyers could have tried for an injunction to prevent construction.

Now, AES can rightfully say the community was given a chance to voice its opposition through Measure A and it did not. I can’t think of any valid or semi-valid arguments that NPP could use to prevent the bulldozers from going to work on the eastern portion of the AES property if they get their permits approved. But the Never Build Anything in Redondo people never cease to surprise me so there’s always a possibility they’ll come up with something.

If the CEC denies the AES application and AES exhausts its appeals and legal options for reversing or circumventing that decision, we end up with a humongous, obsolete power plant on a piece of property that can’t be used for anything other than a power plant or a park. So I guess the city will just build a park.

It turns out there are a few obstacles to that plan even though the current zoning is favorable. First, a public corporation owns the land. Public corporations have an obligation to deliver value to their shareholders. There would be no shareholder value to a park unless the land was purchased from AES at a price that benefitted the corporation.

I’ve heard about some conservation society or something that’s going to “help” the park people acquire the land. Remember, these are the same people who told you Measure A was essential to the future of the city and the same people who are about to tell you Measure A wasn’t as important to the war against AES as carrying placards in Sacramento.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Where’s the check to buy the AES property? Answer…there is no check. No one on this earth is going to pay AES fair market value for that property so they can build a park. No way, no how.

I’ve issued this challenge before. If the money’s there, buy it now. If not, please stop trying to get people to believe this fairy tale.

So if the permit gets approved, we’re at a stalemate. AES can sit and wait for someone to come along and give them fair market value for the property with the existing buildings and equipment. But the only thing anyone can use that property for is a park. How long do you think we’ll have to wait for someone to come along and offer to buy the land and remove the old power plant to build a park?

If the permit gets denied, we’re at a stalemate. AES doesn’t get to begin building its new plant but we still have a power plant on a piece of property that can only be used for a park.

I recently wrote that the reason why the AES property is currently zoned for a park is because of the contribution of the small group of people that became No Power Plant. They insisted on it and the city leadership acquiesced. No one else in the city wanted to restrict the potential uses of that property.

So regardless of the CEC decision, we’re headed for a stalemate that will guarantee the power plant remains where it is for the foreseeable future thanks to the people who brought you Measure A. They haven’t had a plan from day one and they don’t have a plan now.

They were right about one thing. Zoning of that land will have to change before the power plant is removed and the community gets to use the land for something else.

I’d love to see residential zoning for the property. Maybe this community could plan some affordable housing that would allow young couples to keep from having to move to Montana or to allow mom or dad to stay in the city once they’ve sold the family home. The possibilities are endlessly exciting and the defeat of Measure A gets us one step closer to having the community, not a small special interest group, decide what to do with that property.

Voters may or may not get to approve the new zoning that our city government ultimately produces for the AES property. City Charter Section 27.4, the result of Measure DD, states, “Each major change in allowable land use shall be put to a vote of the People.”

Who will decide whether changing the AES zoning qualifies as a “major change”? My guess would be high priced attorneys. Start saving your money now because we’ll all have to pay their fees.

If the zoning changes necessary to make something happen on the AES property end up on the ballot, those of us who fought and won Measure G and Measure A will find ourselves fighting for our city’s future once again. My gut tells me the momentum has shifted in our favor. We’ll see.

Why It’s Important for the Rest of Us to Vote in the March 5th Election

The material below summarizes my views on some of the items that will appear on the March 5th ballot. It gets a little long-winded so if you decide to jump into it, make yourself comfortable before you start.

Measure A

I believe Redondo Beach will get a new power plant with or without passage of Measure A. Passage of Measure A will only complicate the matter. I have said repeatedly that Redondo Beach has much to gain from working with AES and much to lose from working against AES. I can think of no more severe way to prevent a working relationship between the city and AES than passage of Measure A, with the possible exception of suing them, which the Measure A people have suggested they’ll do if other methods fail.

The city of Redondo Beach has perhaps the most well vetted, professionally crafted set of waterfront zoning regulations of any city in the region. There is absolutely no reason to change it.

The debate about harbor zoning goes back decades but the heavy lifting occurred over a 10 year period. Passage of Measure G brought years of work by consultants, city staff, elected officials and the public to a close. The land use document that voters approved cleared the way for long overdue improvement to the pier/harbor complex.

If you weren’t paying attention, rest assured the Jim Light/Bill Brand/Measure A people had plenty to say about harbor zoning. They were allowed to contribute to the conversation and I feel the final land use document reflects their opinions…way more than it should but that’s just me.

That’s how democracy works. No one gets everything they want, unless of course they’re willing to engage in alternative methods of legislating like the initiative process.

Current zoning of the AES property allows for a power plant or a park. No one else in the city wanted that much restriction but in the end, we all bent to the will of the Light/Brand/A Ticket. That wasn’t good enough for the Light/Brand/A Ticket. Barely two years later they were back, trying to force a new version of their no growth agenda on Redondo citizens with Measure A.

We voted for Measure G and that vote reflected the will of the people. The people’s will hasn’t changed in less than two years. The population of Redondo Beach wasn’t screaming for new zoning but two of our residents seem to have been upset by the fact they didn’t get everything wanted with Measure G. Vote for some or all of the Light/Brand/A Ticket and you can expect these kinds of tantrums to become business as usual.

The zoning development process enabled everyone in the city to contribute to the final zoning. Take a look at the evolution of Measure A. The Light/Brand/Measure A camp made no attempt to include anyone who might have offered any opposing opinions.

In fact, they bragged about doing it all themselves. Bill Brand wrote, “In a bizarre twist of timely fate, Jim Light and I exercised our First Amendment rights yesterday and petitioned our government to phase-out that big eyesore on our waterfront for good! “ Later in the message he says, “We could not have done this without the financial support of all our contributors. “

if I were scoring an inclusiveness and fairness competition between the Light/Brand/A Ticket and the city government they criticize so vociferously, I’d have to award all the points to our city government.

In fairness, while the Light/Brand/A Ticket showed no interest in including any outside voices in their master plan for the waterfront, they were willing to let everyone else pay for it. Thanks Jim and Bill.

Mayor

I know and have worked with three of the four candidates for mayor. I know almost nothing about Mr. Coleman so I have no opinion about his qualifications.

I can say from first-hand experience, Mrs. Aust, Aspel and Kilroy have served the city honorably as council members. They are all good men.

I believe they all have their own strengths and would probably execute the duties of Mayor somewhat differently. I don’t think the city can go wrong with any of them.

District 1

I’m sorry to admit I haven’t taken the time to learn about the three non-Jim Light candidates in this race. I don’t like having only a negative opinion to share but Jim Light gives me little choice.

A number of Mr. Light’s supporters have written posts extolling his knowledge of issues and equating what they’ve observed with intelligence. I disagree.

I’ve seen a person who has strong opinions and spends a lot of time looking for information that supports his opinions. Intelligent people see all sides of an issue. They have enough confidence in their positions to allow for opposition. Truly intelligent people can argue the other side as effectively as they can argue their own side, and they often do argue the other side to show their true mastery of the facts and issues.

Has anyone ever heard jim Light even acknowledge the possibility that an opposing opinion has the smallest shred of validity? I haven’t.

I’ve seen him memorize obscure bits of data and repeat them. I’ll admit that’s a valuable skill in school but it’s hardly an indicator of true intelligence. Remember Rain Man?

Two things distinguish Jim Light in an argument, his willingness to read and interpret lots of material that’s beneficial to his position and his reasonable expectation no one else in the argument will have read the same material. He knows his supporters will just chalk up his ramblings to superior knowledge and his opponents will not have the benefit of having read what he read.

Then he’s free to twist the information in any way he chooses. And unless you’re prepared to do the same amount of research, you don’t have as much to say about it.

Here’s an example. Jim recently wrote a reply to one of my blog posts in which he said, “The passage of Measure A does have a binding affect on the CEC process. Without Measure A, the CEC does not have to do a power needs assessment and it does not have to verify that the power is essential and that it cannot come for anywhere else. With Measure A they do.”

I knew he had information to support that claim that I did not have. So just this once, I contacted the California Energy Commission to see what they had to say.

I got a reply from a staff person who asked me not to use his name. He said, “…the Commission needs to determine whether “the facility is required for public…necessity” in order to override LORS (laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards), which may be necessary if Measure A is adopted. Public necessity could, but does not necessarily, mean the facility is needed for energy production.”

Regardless of how you interpret the CEC response, it’s a whole lot different from Jim’s absolute factual assertion which turns out to be neither absolute nor factual. In a world where someone like me isn’t always prepared to uncover the truth, Jim Light might appear to have lots of answers. What I see are lots of excuses.

Another one of Jim’s recent blog posts took to task the no on Measure A people for not allowing his comments to appear on their Facebook. I wouldn’t attempt to interpret what goes on in Jim’s mind but my impression was that he assumed someone was preventing information from getting to the public.

Shortly thereafter, I went looking for a reply Jim had posted to one of my old posts. I was surprised to find it was no longer posted. I can’t say for sure why the post wasn’t there any longer. But it sure looked like Jim decided sometime after he wrote the post that there was something in it he no longer wanted attributed to him. Isn’t it ironic that censoring the conversation is wrong when the other guys do it but it’s OK for Jim.

The only explanation I can find for the volume of comments Jim Light makes on other people’s opinions is that he sincerely believes that no one other than Jim Light could possibly figure out what people like me have written. The regular people couldn’t understand all this stuff without Jim Light to explain it to us. And to get you go believe it too, he’s going to spout off all kinds of obscure information he has found that he’s almost 100% sure you haven’t found.

Jim Light cites working on a traffic committee set up by the mayor and council as proof he can work well and cooperate with others. I can’t comment on that. But I can tell you that committee wasn’t an arm of the government, authorized by the municipal code.

The Public Works Commission, on the other hand, is an arm of city government. Jim light was appointed to serve on that commission. He quit after only a few weeks.

I could go on and on about Jim Light’s tactics and behaviors and how much damage electing him to the City Council would cause the city.

Unfortunately, with 4 candidates in the District 1 race, it’s unlikely anyone will get the requisite 50%+ votes necessary to win. If District 1 goes to a runoff, I promise I’ll leave all my blog posts up so voters can review them. That is, unless Jim sues me and a judge forces me to delete them.

The last time I suggested he might sue me, Jim posted a reply in which he laughed it off assuring me it wasn’t worth his time and effort. Guess I better go make sure that post hasn’t been deleted.

District 2

I’m happy my opinions on this race aren’t as heavily negative as they are for District 1. Michael Jackson is such a breath of fresh air.

Early in his campaign, Michael told me he had conducted research that ranked the issues local voters cared about most. Guess where the AES power plant ranked? Tenth, far below things like police, fire and paramedic services, the local economy and the integrity of city leadership.

Ask yourself the same question Michael Jackson asked. Forget about all the passion around Measure A for a minute. In your everyday life, how important is the AES power plant? Most honest people will agree with Michael Jackson’s research. It ranks far below a long list of more important issues.

Councilman Bill Brand has a different list than the rest of us. I know this because I get his emails. Prior to the election season, I can only remember one set of emails that had any subject other than the AES power plant.

That flurry of non-AES messages culminated in Bill calling one of the master leaseholders on the pier a liar. I took him to task for that. Not because he disagreed with the leaseholder but because he sent the messages to every city official and some local residents who were likely to see his actions as beneficial. Election season was coming up and he was looking for votes.

I called it what it was, a sucker punch.

Here’s another example. Do you know where District 2 ends and District 1 begins when you drive south on Prospect Avenue? I can always tell because my car stops bouncing and crashing on the pitted road surface when I hit District 1.

During his last term, District 1 Councilman Steve Aspel managed to help get the part of Prospect Avenue within his district repaved. Why wasn’t the councilman in District 2, Bill Brand, able to do the same for the people in District 2 and the rest of the city? I can’t answer that question but I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to figure out what was keeping Mr. Brand from tending to the business of his district.

Take a walk down the Pier and you’ll see signs for Michael Jackson everywhere. Those small business owners have already endured four years of Bill Brand and they want it to end.

The same goes for the Police Officers Association, the Fire Fighters Association, the Daily Breeze, members of the city council who served with Bill Brand and a long list of other Michael Jackson supporters. They believe as I do, Bill Brand was an experiment that failed. I’d say District 2 needs new leadership but it’s more accurate to say District 2 needs leadership. Elect Michael Jackson.

District 4

Again, I don’t have enough information about these candidates to offer an informed opinion. I believe the voters will elect the best candidate.

As I look over my comments I realize much of what’s here is negative. I think that’s unfortunate because it really isn’t in my nature.

I just can’t see all the things I see and remain silent. I don’t want to live in a city whose duly elected government is constantly second-guessed by a shadow government most of the city did not choose. In the last few years, the Light/Brand/A Ticket has been directly or indirectly involved in 5 ballot initiatives. That’s no way to run a city.

I have a lot of negative things to say about Jim Light and Bill Brand because they show me a lot of negative things. I’ve been criticized for personal attacks. I would tell anyone who makes such accusations against me the character and other personal qualities of the people who run this city are very much an issue in this or any election. It’s extremely personal.

According to one city official who has much more experience working with these people than I do, “Light/Brand’s leadership/management style is coercive (May I say corrosive?). That is, victory through conflict. Light exposes his low level of leadership ability. The Council is collaborative. Collaboration requires dialogue, cooperation, common ground, trust, mutual benefit and so on.”

I couldn’t agree more.