Tag Archives: Harry Munns


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AES Redondo Beach Announces a New Plan

This is the most exciting news from Redondo Beach since Fifi Maloof’s brothel appeared on the national news (look it up). AES, the energy company that owns and operates the Redondo Beach generating plant, announced it will voluntarily cease generating electricity in Redondo Beach and remove the plant if the city passes an initiative that allows mixed use development on the 50 acre site.

There will be plenty of time for lots of conversation and debate over a project that will take more than a decade to complete at best and probably more like two or three decades if past experience is any indicator. Right now, I’d like to speak to the good people of the community who have expressed their desire to get rid of the plant.

Some of you voted for Measure A. Others carried signs, signed petitions and attended city council meetings. Some of you did all of it.

Throughout it all, a few very vocal and visible individuals made some claims that probably spoke to you and made you think they were aligned with your interests. They weren’t.

Watch what they do next. Remember when they told you they wanted clean air for kids? Remember when they told you they wanted to improve the community and get rid of the ugly power plant? If that was all true, you could expect them to take a victory lap and celebrate the good news with the rest of us.

They won’t. They will reveal their true agenda in the moves they make next. Watch very carefully because they will have to craft future messages in a way that will continue to deceive you into thinking they want what you want. Don’t get fooled again.

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.

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 Regressive Agenda

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call the people in Redondo Beach who speak out against any and all development, extremists. They hold extreme views, opinions outside the mainstream. They are also willing to back those extreme views up with actions intended to disrupt the things they oppose and draw attention to their agenda.

In fairness, I’m not aware of any illegal activities conducted by our local extremists aside from destroying an occasional political yard sign. So they don’t really compare to some of their counterparts who cause physical harm and property damage but they’re always looking for opportunities to put a stick in the spokes of progress, metaphorically speaking of course.

They’ve taken aim at the CenterCal project in the harbor. One of the regressives hopes he sees an opportunity to sabotage harbor development by writing to an organization that has funded CenterCal projects in the past. The tactic seems to be to supply this organization with a distorted picture of Redondo Beach and hope they decide not to fund the CenterCal project.

It would appear they hope an inaccurate letter or two will cause enough doubt to scuttle the whole harbor revitalization project. I doubt that will be the case but I decided to write my own letter just to make sure any future discussion had a little balance. Here’s my first letter.

“My name is Harry Munns. I served on the Redondo Beach Harbor Commission for eight years and served as its chairman for one year. I have also written a local newspaper column about our harbor/pier complex for six years. I recently discovered (your organization) had been contacted by some or our fellow citizens about the revitalization project Redondo Beach and CenterCal Properties have been working on for the past year.

“I won’t take up much of your time painting a picture of the struggle between the small group of citizens who insist on obstructing and interfering with any form of local improvement or development and the forward-thinking majority of the city’s population, represented by our city council. I’m sure you will figure out who’s who and what’s what without much effort.

“I’d like to inject a few facts into the discussion. The last local election cycle offered voters five opportunities to cast votes in support of the no-progress agenda. The citizens chose the alternatives to that agenda in four of five elections. Any claim that any group other than our city council represents the will of the people is simply not borne out by the election results.

“You should also consider the fact there has been some form of seaside recreation available to the public in Redondo Beach for more than a century. By nearly anyone’s appraisal, our waterfront is tired and outdated. Yet, people still visit by the thousands. Come take a walk on a Saturday or Sunday in the nice weather. You will see people young and old, couples, families and everything in between enjoying a little time off in our delightful seaside community.

“Those crowds are likely to double or triple when the amenities and attractions are improved. That’s what excites me and most of the city’s residents about what CenterCal plans to do here.

“In short, the CenterCal project is coming to a place where most of the local people will welcome it with open arms. Additionally, the Redondo waterfront has a 100 year track record attracting visitors. The modernized, revitalized waterfront CenterCal proposes is guaranteed an instant flood of visitors, eager to experience the next generation of seaside relaxation and recreation.

“I spent more than 20 years as an association executive. I’m guessing I grappled with many of the issues that challenge you day in and day out. One thing I learned is that while all constituents deserve to have their voices heard, you can never please everyone.

“CenterCal has gone to great lengths to listen to everyone’s comments and include their suggestions in the early planning stages of this exciting project. We can’t avoid the inevitable pockets of dissatisfaction but in the end, our city’s leadership and most of its citizens want the CenterCal project.

“It’s probably worthwhile for your organization to take a close look at Redondo Beach, its people and its politics. I believe you’ll find much more support than opposition and much more good than bad. I’d be happy to show you around if you decide to come for a visit.”

 

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.

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.

A Message to Redondo Beach Voters in Districts 1 and 2

When you do some things that no one ever did before, you may be considered innovative. Other times, you realize when it’s too late there was a good reason no one ever did what you’ve just done.

No other city anywhere in the state, the country or the world ever passed a ballot initiative that re-zoned the land under a utility while it was still operating and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. If you’re thinking about voting for Measure A and it passes, I believe you will soon realize there’s a good reason why no other city passed a similar initiative. Passing Measure A would certainly make Redondo Beach unique, but hardly innovative.

There are other things that happen in Redondo Beach that don’t seem to happen elsewhere. In my experience, when you’re elected to serve as part of a legislative body, you make a pledge to work within the structure of that body. You forgo your right to work against that body. You accept the fact you have only one vote. You recognize that sometimes your opinion will be in the minority. You accept the times you get outvoted.

The process of majority rule actually makes the body stronger than the sum of its parts. The legislative body makes a statement, we’re a team and the goals of the team and the work we were sent here to do is more important than the opinions of any individual team member.

It’s a little different in Redondo Beach. In late 2011 councilman Bill Brand gave the rest of the city council an ultimatum. Either you pass a resolution stating the city is against re-powering the AES plant or I’ll go outside the structure of the council to make that statement. He made good on that threat. He co-authored the document and promoted the petition that led to Measure A.

In my experience, when a legislator feels so strongly that the legislative body has taken a course that violates his or her fundamental beliefs, the legislator resigns. He or she may choose to work outside the legislative body or even against it to satisfy some deeply held conviction the legislative body did not share. They talk the talk and walk the walk.

Not in Redondo Beach. Councilman Brand continues to sit on the council. He even pulled papers for a re-election campaign shortly after the process that led to Measure A was begun.

The city doesn’t have any guidelines to prevent this kind of disruptive action because it’s never happened before. When people believe so strongly that some government action is wrong, they take a stand against the government. Has anyone ever heard about someone standing with the government and against the government at the same time?

Would you call Brand’s stand a semi-conviction? If he and his fellow insurgents picket outside city hall, will he have to cross his own picket line to conduct his city hall duties? If it turns violent, will he pelt himself with rocks and bottles?

The city conducts a portion of the business between itself and AES in closed sessions. Bill Brand has excluded himself from some of those sessions on the advice of the city attorney. So as business between the city and AES increases, we could expect a re-elected councilman Brand to be barred from fully participating in more city council proceedings because of his extracurricular legislative activities.

Along comes Bill Brand’s sidekick, Jim Light, who’s running for city council in District 1. He’s the co-author of Measure A so if he were elected, the same rules would apply to him in matters concerning AES.

So if Jim Light and Bill Brand get elected, the citizens of Districts 1 and 2 will send representatives to the city council who cannot fully participate in council proceedings. Anyone in Districts 1 or 2 who casts a vote for Light or Brand needs to truly believe that their representative can function effectively inside city government at the same time he’s fighting against city government. This doesn’t make any sense to me but like I said before, some things happen in Redondo Beach that don’t happen elsewhere.

This is their second initiative together, third if you count Measure G. Brand was on the council when he engaged in the actions that led to Measure A. Does anyone believe this is their last initiative? Does anyone in Districts 1 or 2 believe he or she will be fully represented by council members who invest so much energy in extracurricular legislative activities? If these guys got elected and don’t get their way, history shows us there will be more initiatives, more disruption, more wasted energy.

Read some of Jim Light’s blog post comments and you will see a person who’s so convinced he’s always right, he will spend endless amounts of time looking for little fragments of information that prove his arguments. Imagine that kind of a personality disorder in our city government. If you believe as I do the City Council accomplishes much less than it should accomplish, adding Jim Light will effectively paralyze the process.

I can’t think of an election for anything, anywhere in which two candidates could brag to voters about their work against the institution they want to get voted onto and stand any chance of winning the election. Add to that the guarantee they won’t be able to fully participate in council proceedings and the very real possibility they will create other disruptive initiatives during their council terms and you may feel what I feel when I think about the possibilities, fear.

I believe that in the end, the city of Redondo Beach will have to negotiate with AES. In the end, the city will need to compromise. If Measure A passes, it will do nothing but delay the inevitable and cause us to miss the opportunity to work with AES now, to get the best deal for the city of Redondo Beach.

Jim Light and Bill Brand have stated emphatically they will not compromise and they will not negotiate unless they get to define the basis for that negotiation. They’re willing to waste the taxpayers’ time and money pursuing a strategy that has very little chance of success. I’ve heard the Measure A camp state that under some circumstances, they will to sue the city . Are these the attitudes of people we want on the team that runs Redondo Beach? Can you really have a team with members who harbor deep resentment toward the institution they want you to vote them onto?

The city of Redondo Beach has big challenges ahead. We need leadership that understands and values cooperation over personal agenda and ego. I’m hoping the voters of Districts 1 and 2 will help Jim Light and Bill Brand continue to do what they do best, oppose, obstruct and disrupt. I’m just hoping the voters ensure they do it from outside Redondo Beach government rather than from inside and outside at the same time.

Does Particulate Matter, Matter?

The Jim Light/Bill Brand/Measure A Ticket in next month’s election uses a number of methods to convince voters to change zoning of the AES plant. One of their methods is the use of particulate estimates from the AES repowering application.

If the Light/Brand/A Ticket prevails, the city’s zoning will allow a park and limited commercial development on the AES property. Bill Brand has suggested 800 hotel rooms on the property could help fund his park.

Measure A is not a plan to build 800 hotel rooms. Neither were the zoning changes the Redondo Beach city council voted on in 2002 a plan to build 3000 condos. But the people behind the Light/Brand/A Ticket want you to believe the city was on the brink of building 3000 condos and they saved us from it. Back then, they objected to the remote possibility zoning changes would translate into a project to build condos, nothing more.

Let’s say someone, like me, felt the same way about Measure A for the same reasons, it will allow for the remote possibility of 800 new hotel rooms in the city. And let’s say while I’m trying to convince you this is a bad idea, I use air pollution as one of the reasons I think you should support an initiative I’ll call Measure Munns.

I would tell you something like this. Bill Brand’s estimate of 80% occupancy would translate to 640 rooms rented every day. Each one of those rooms would require one car or van trip to check in and one to check out. That’s 1280 car trips per day.

Then let’s assume the park attracts 200 visits per day. That’s one car trip in and one car trip out, 400 car trips for the park per day.

I’d also estimate the other allowed commercial uses such as a Birkenstock store, would need to get 500 visits per day or 1000 car trips. That turns out to be 2680 car trips per day, 365 days per year or 978,200 new car trips into and out of the city generated by Measure A.

We all know automobiles account for a vast majority of the air pollution we breathe. So on the basis of the facts above, I want you to vote for Measure Munns, which will change zoning to include absolutely no human use of the 50 acre AES property, because that’s really the only way to make it pollution free.

I know I’m right and everyone who opposes Measure Munns is wrong. But everyone other than a few of my closest friends might have a few questions.

You may want to know how much of that pollution is going to get into your lungs and the lungs of your family. You might want to see a model of how that pollution is actually distributed by things like prevailing winds and thermal air currents. You might also want to know how that increased pollution compares to pollution produced by alternative uses of that property.

The two biggest dots you might want me to connect for you are between the existence of an irrefutable increase in pollution and the effect on your health and the health of your family. I want you to agree with me and vote for Measure Munns but if I suggest everyone in the city will have emphysema in 5 years or your children will need to wear gas masks when they go to the beach, I’ll end up with no credibility and I’ll deserve no support.

So you, as a citizen, have a right to expect me to answer all those questions before you believe in Measure Munns enough to vote for it. Don’t you have the same right to get the same data from the Light/Brand/A Ticket before voting for Measure A?

The Light/Brand/A Ticket has invested considerable time and money to get your vote. What they haven’t invested in, is any kind of study that would answer all those questions about Measure A. If the Light/Brand/A Ticket is going to ask for your vote, don’t they owe you the most basic data on the effects of the pollution they’ve attempted to use to frighten you?

All I’ve seen so far is the particulate numbers provided by the AES application and statements by a couple doctors saying particulate matter is bad for our health. I think I can get the same doctors to say the same things about Measure Munns. If not, I’ll get some others.

Make no mistake, everything I mention above that you wouldn’t know about Measure Munns and that you don’t know about Measure A can be measured or fairly accurately estimated. Why hasn’t the Light/Brand/A Ticket spent some of its money providing you with those measurements and estimates?

Because while the Light/Brand/A Ticket hopes Measure A will be about pollution for you, it isn’t about pollution for them. If AES announced tomorrow that the new power plant would produce nothing but pure oxygen and Perrier, the Light/Brand/A Ticket wouldn’t skip a beat. They’d find a whole new set of reasons why you should let them plan our city’s future. A NO vote on Measure A is a YES vote for Redondo Beach.