Tag Archives: King Harbor

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Trojan Boat Ramp

Remember the story of the Trojan horse (nothing to do with USC)? The Greeks and Trojans were engaged in an epic battle. One day, the Trojans awoke to find a huge wooden horse standing outside their city gates. The Greek army was nowhere to be seen.

The Trojans figured their enemies had given up and honored Troy’s victory by building the horse, which was the ancient city’s mascot. They opened the gates and rolled in the statue.

The Trojans partied while the Greeks hidden inside the horse waited patiently. You probably know the rest. The Greeks piled out of the horse after the Trojans passed out and defeated them from inside, rather than outside the walled city.

The concept of a Trojan horse has become a metaphor for sneaking anything that’s disguised as something else past unsuspecting observers who choose to see what’s presented to them rather than what’s hidden inside. Measure C contains just such a Trojan horse in the form of a boat ramp.

Measure C supporters would tell you there’s nothing hidden about the boat ramp but I beg to differ. Granted, there’s nothing hidden about the fact the boat ramp could kill the CenterCal project all by itself.

By my estimate, the boat ramp would take 20%-25% of the land available for development. The ramp won’t generate any significant revenue. In addition to reducing the potential revenue-generating land, a ramp would cost the developer money.

One thing that’s hidden in Measure C’s language is the fact the ramp described in the initiative and the necessary space for parking and maneuvering vehicles could only fit one place, the area bordered by Samba, Captain Kidd’s and R/10.

Samba would get demolished to make way for the ramp. The entire parking area from the driveway behind the tollbooth to the water would be devoted to trailer/vehicle parking.

If you like the walkway between the fishing pier and South Bay Sailing, voting for Measure C may allow you to continue to enjoy a marina view from that long stretch of open sidewalk. Unfortunately, there will be a portion of that stroll that will tilt down to the water and require you to dodge boat trailers and trucks during your walk.

Measure C requires, “…safe launch and recovery in surge conditions…” I recently observed a surge of about three to four feet in the area of the Measure C boat ramp, on a fairly calm day. There were no waves breaching the breakwater, even at the lowest part near the harbor entrance.

The only way I can see to reduce surge in the area of the marina where surge is greatest (the boat ramp location) would be to build a detached breakwater inside the harbor. Can you imagine removing even more of the already tiny recreational space inside King Harbor? Probably not and it’s just as likely the state and federal agencies that would need to approve such an obstruction to navigation wouldn’t be able to imagine it either.

For that reason and others, it would be impossible to meet the boat ramp requirements written into Measure C. Measure C’s authors either didn’t think it through carefully or they didn’t care. Or…they want to add impossible requirements to our current zoning.

I have a boat on a trailer sitting in my driveway. I served six years as the Boater’s Representative on the RB Harbor Commission. Boats and boat ramps are important to me and many other potential beneficiaries of a King Harbor boat ramp.

That’s probably why it irritates me to see a boat ramp used by non-boaters to further their political agenda. A vote for Measure C is a vote for stalemate, more regulation and status quo. Allow King Harbor to become more than it is today. Vote NO on Measure C.

Supersized Regulations

You will see various Redondo city documents refer to the harbor area between Torrance Boulevard and Herondo as the Harbor Enterprise. Like most successful enterprises, the Redondo Beach Harbor Enterprise generates a substantial amount of money. Benefits of that cash are enjoyed by everyone in and around the city.

Lots of families pay their mortgages or rent, pay for their kids’ daycare, healthcare and much more with the money they make within the Harbor Enterprise. Their very existence comes from the work they do in that relatively small plot of land. Many of us derive great pleasure from the time we spend boating, fishing, swimming or just relaxing in and around King Harbor.

The Redondo Beach Harbor Enterprise makes enough money to pay all its own expenses and then some. Even those of us who don’t work in or even visit the harbor enjoy the benefits of that financial success.

Regulation is necessary to keep business from interfering with the public good. Elected officials at all levels of government spend a considerable amount of time crafting regulations that protect the public while enabling business to succeed and thrive. We expect them to find the balance between protecting the public’s interests and allowing businesses to succeed. Over-regulation upsets that balance. Business suffers as a result.

I recently read the proposed language for Measure C, the ballot initiative that claims it will “Revitalize not Supersize!”. The citizens of Redondo Beach are being asked to enact this extremely complex set of restrictive rules that I can only describe as the worst case of over-regulation I’ve seen in years. Every voter in Redondo Beach should read the document posted on the city web site before stepping into the voting booth. http://www.redondo.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=31297

You have to ask yourself, do I really care about most of this stuff? Do things like the type of keys used in hotel rooms matter to me? Do I really care about how long a hotel owner maintains records of room rental rates? Do I want to approve a boat ramp that will take away 120 parking spaces directly adjacent to the harbor without conducting a study to see if any of those parking spaces will ever be used by boat owners?

Perhaps the most important questions are, who thinks 27 pages of incomprehensible, new regulations are a good thing for Redondo Beach and why do they try so hard to sell it to us?

The citizens of Redondo Beach approved Measure G in 2010. It took years of hard work by city councils, mayors, commissions, city staff , consultants, and citizens to come up with that complex set of regulations. A majority of voters agreed, those land use guidelines were what we needed to move forward with reasonable redevelopment of King Harbor. An additional 27 pages of regulations was not needed then and it is not needed now.

The proponents of Measure C say it was “…written by residents for residents”. I’m a resident of Redondo Beach. I didn’t write this business-crushing set of unnecessary regulations. Did you?

The Worst Laid Plans

We generally categorize ideas as either good or bad, beach volleyball – good idea, beach basketball – bad idea. Some ideas can be both good and bad. Bringing your laptop to the beach could be tempting. You could get some work done while you’re enjoying a day of surf, sun and sand. But laptops don’t like salt and sand. Plus, you’d probably struggle to see the screen on a sunny day.

The plan that’s currently underway for a boat ramp in King Harbor is just such an idea, good and bad. It’s good because people like me, who keep our boats on trailers, would have an easier way to get in and out of the harbor.

Any boat that’s too big to carry has two options for launching in King Harbor. The King Harbor Marine boat yard has a hoist called a Travelift that can get a boat in and out of the water. Redondo Beach Marina has a hoist that can take a boat off a trailer, put it in the water and retrieve it when it’s time to put it back on the trailer. Most trailer boaters use the Redondo Beach Marina facilities.

The idea of building a boat ramp in King Harbor is as good as the idea of bringing your laptop to the beach. Unfortunately, salt and sand are minor considerations compared to the problems facing a boat ramp. Lots of questions should have been asked before Redondo Beach embarked on the path it appears to be following toward construction of a boat ramp

The first question that should have been asked is whether or not the trailer boating public needs a boat ramp. Imagine pouring millions of dollars into a boat ramp and finding out no one wants to use it.

Why did the city of Redondo Beach skip this most fundamental step prior to making their decision to proceed with plans for a boat ramp? The city council seems to have interpreted a relentless barrage of repetitive requests for a boat ramp from a single individual as a substitute for facts.

To its credit, the city has commissioned studies about the best location for a boat ramp. In my opinion, the best location for a boat ramp would be the current location of the King Harbor Yacht Club. I like the KHYC and I’m not suggesting the city replace it with a boat ramp but if we were starting with a blank canvas, that’s where I’d put it.

A city couldn’t just start planning an alternate use for the parcel of land KHYC occupies while the club is still there and it shows no signs of wanting to leave. That would be wrong. However, the current plan for a boat ramp will remove Joe’s Crab Shack and eliminate that location as a place for a restaurant in the future. I’m not sure why that isn’t wrong.

There is no good location for a boat ramp in King Harbor. If there was, a ramp would already be there.

One of the biggest issues surrounding the boat ramp is parking. A boat with a trailer needs two spaces. One of the things the city council would have noticed about nearby boat ramps if they had studied them, would have been they have ample parking for anyone who shows up even on holiday weekends in the summer.

That is simply impossible in King Harbor. There has been talk about using the AES property but is that something that can really be incorporated into a plan at this time?  How long will the new King Harbor boat ramp remain successful when the word gets out that after planning their day, packing up the family and provisions, then driving to King Harbor, boaters couldn’t find any place to leave their car and trailer?

Even if there was some place to park cars and trailers like the power plant or the open space under the power lines up the hill on Herondo, having to hike a quarter or half mile back to your boat after launching it would have the same effect as having no parking. It would drive boaters away.

Traffic is always an issue but in looking at the half-baked plans for a boat ramp, it’s hardly the most compelling reason to abandon the plan. Boat traffic is a different story. The harbor is about to get 24 transient moorings. Almost every visiting boat will arrive with a dinghy, which doubles the number of boats at any given time. Stand up paddling continues to grow in popularity. The 1500 boats in slips need to move freely in and out of the harbor. Peddle boats are everywhere in the nice weather. KHYC has a very active youth program, which puts dozens of small boats with kids in the harbor. The list goes on.

In short, there are a lot of boaters vying for the limited space inside the King Harbor breakwater. I welcome them all but safety is a concern especially as the numbers increase. I wish the city had studied boating safety issues surrounding the plan it has undertaken to build a boat ramp and increase traffic density in the harbor. It hasn’t.

There’s also an issue with the seawall. It’s about 3 to 4 feet above the grade of the land where Joe’s Crab Shack and the Portofino Hotel are located. If you cut through it for a boat ramp, you might as well destroy the whole wall. The protection it provided will be gone.

We don’t know how much demand there is for a boat ramp. We don’t know how it will affect vehicle traffic. We don’t know how it will affect boat traffic. We do know that the very expensive seawall that protects the land where the boat ramp will go will become nearly useless in high seas if it’s cut down to grade.

It makes you wonder why the city of Redondo Beach would be spending money to develop plans for a boat ramp before they bothered to ask these critical questions. Every city official I’ve heard speak on the matter says roughly the same thing. The Coastal Commission requires it.

So what happens if no one uses it or so many people use it traffic in the harbor comes to a standstill or boats and paddlers become engaged in mortal combat or a big swell from the south wipes out the land where the ramp sits? What do you suppose the Coastal Commission will say if the city pins the blame for an ill-conceived boat ramp on them?

Does anyone believe the Coastal Commission wouldn’t amend their requirements if evidence was presented to them about impracticality or threats to public safety? That conversation doesn’t seem likely because the city has begun planning the project without examining any of those issues.

I don’t expect anyone to have all the answers. But is it too much to expect that our elected officials, at very least, ask the right questions?

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.

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 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?

The $100,000,000 decision

One of my major complaints about Redondo Beach city politics is that city staff has way too much influence on everything from the strategic plan to the award of contracts.

Opponents of this opinion would say that’s the way city government was designed. Our elected officials are volunteers who generally have full-time jobs. In some cases, they have young families that require quite a bit of their attention. Council members rely upon professional staff to take the time to delve deeper into issues than they are able to do themselves. The city pays the staff to provide guidance on some issues, especially the ones they don’t have time to thoroughly research.

I’m sure this is very helpful in some, maybe most instances. Anyone who’s read a city council agenda has seen each item has some indication of what the staff recommends. Some recommendations are  written on the agenda. Other items have a staff report attached within which the staff recommendation is clearly displayed.

Staff reports usually weigh the pros and cons of an issue in a way that appears unbiased and fair. Recommendations are usually explained briefly after the major issues have been weighed and discussed.

We can’t know how much each council member relies upon staff recommendations. I suspect they would deny any claim that the staff exerts undue influence on their decisions. I beg to differ.

More often than not, the information provided by the staff makes up 100% or nearly 100% of the information that’s entered into the public record on a particular issue, other than council discussion. In addition, council decisions follow staff recommendations something like 96% of the time.

I’m not suggesting there’s anything inappropriate about that. Maybe the staff gets it right 96% of the time. Just don’t try to tell me the staff doesn’t wield major influence over the direction our elected officials lead this city. I have evidence to the contrary.

I do think there are times when staff recommendations are not appropriate and may call into question the reasons why staff attempts to move the council toward or away from a particular decision.

Case in point, the staff recommendation on the award of a contract for development of the 15 acres that’s available in the center of the pier/marina complex. The staff has issued a recommendation the way they always do. I have no opinion one way or the other about who gets the contract. In fact, I trust the council will make the decision that’s best for the city. But if there was ever a time when the council should exert some leadership over the staff, it’s now.

Unlike something like waste disposal or pollution standards, there’s no reason to believe city staff would have more access to relevant information than members of the council. There’s also no reason to believe the council won’t invest all the time and effort necessary to make the best decision.

The major risk I see with following the status quo of staff leadership on this issue is the possibility that a losing bidder some other commercial interest or the public would question the basis for the staff’s recommendation. There’s potentially $100,000,000 at stake. That’s more than enough to make people ask questions.

One question that could get asked is whether anyone on the city staff, their relatives or associates has any prior relationship with the bidding companies or anyone connected to those companies. They might also want to know exactly what contact each staff member has had with the bidders and their representatives. It would also be fair to ask whether there are any financial relationships, even something as seemingly insubstantial as a pension invested in one of the companies, its parent company or some subsidiary. If I lost a $100 million bid I’d certainly be asking these questions and more.

Of course, council members should be held to the same scrutiny. But staff recommendations are a single source with a verifiably powerful influence on council decisions. I’d like to see the council tell city staff, “We’ve got this one.” and instruct the staff not to provide recommendations. That would bolster the confidence among everyone involved that the contract award is a council decision based on what’s right for the city.

Council gets it right

A series of events that wouldn’t seem remarkable by themselves, have come together to create an opportunity to develop a considerable amount of property in King Harbor. It comes to about 15 acres, most of which is contiguous. There hasn’t been this much property available for development since the marina was built in the 60s.

The events that enabled this exciting opportunity have been recorded and reported but it hasn’t always been clear how they depend on one another and how they all fit together. The first event was the completion of the city’s asset management plan. A consultant named Larry Kosmont prepared a comprehensive report that outlined how the city should plan for the future of the pier/harbor complex. Kosmont presented his plan to the city council and harbor commission in January, 2008.

One of the most unambiguous elements in the Kosmont report was the advice that the city should aggregate existing leaseholds. At the time there were approximately 35 individual entities contracted with the city to control some portion of the pier/marina complex.

That patchwork of different sized properties controlled by different people and companies created one of the biggest obstacles the city faced if it wanted to encourage any kind of cohesive development. The Kosmont report provided some guidance for overcoming that obstacle.

Then came the business plan, which wasn’t really a business plan at all. It was more of a conglomeration of a bunch of existing documents. Having a business plan was a worthwhile goal. So generating the document the city calls the business plan had a purpose. The plan they came up with failed to lay out any comprehensive outline that included a timeline, benchmarks and budgets. Still, the city had a business plan that included all the elements of the Kosmont report. It was approved in August, 2010.

By then, the city was hard at work consolidating various disparate land use documents into one set of zoning regulations that would define the amount of development the city would allow in the harbor along with what types and where development would be allowed.

The amended land use document was approved by the city council. Measure DD made it necessary to give the voters the ultimate decision on any major zoning changes in the city.

Ambiguous zoning was as big of an obstacle to meaningful development as the collection of unrelated properties. That obstacle was overcome in November 2010 with the passage of Measure G.

At the end of 2011, the city announced it would acquire two leaseholds that comprise the entire upper deck of the main parking structure, where the courthouse was located and the boardwalk, the shops, restaurants and bars along the water in Redondo Beach Marina. Those two deals brought two parcels of property that were previously controlled by different, private companies, under city control.

In May the city of Redondo Beach signed an agreement with JJJ Enterprises, Ltd., the company that holds the master lease for Redondo Beach Marina. It gives the city the option to buy that lease for $12 million. The property lies immediately north of the boardwalk.

End to end, the city now controls a 15 acre parcel of property that stretches from Torrance Boulevard to Portofino Way. Redondo Beach also has a pretty clear goal to determine the best use of that property and do whatever it can to facilitate development.

Word had gone out the city needs a partner. It hopes to attract some of the best and brightest visionaries from the pool of potential developers.

It’s exciting to think that sometime in the foreseeable future; Redondo Beach might have a place beside the water that was designed and built according to the present and future interests and needs of the community. It will be a place where our friends and neighbors will want to spend more time. It will rival Pier Plaza and downtown Manhattan Beach in its ability to attract and retain people from the community. We’re looking at the possibility of getting a downtown in Redondo Beach after a half century of living without one.

So much has been done yet so much remains to be done. It’s a fantastic vision that’s been a long time in the making. The people of this community deserve to have the vision realized.

Past experience forces me to wonder, what could possibly happen to mess it up? The answer is, only what we allow to mess it up.