Four council hopefuls make their cases

Two City Council incumbents stressed their civic bona fides and accomplishments in office during a pre-election debate, while two newcomers took aim at them on topics such as crime, a neighboring power plant and a long-running lawsuit that could bankrupt Hermosa.

The four, who squared off in a debate in the City Council chambers organized by Leadership Hermosa Beach, are competing for two council seats up for grabs in the Nov. 8 election.

Incumbent Peter Tucker, 64, said he took a “leading role” in the remake of upper Pier Avenue, the town’s iconic main drag, and lauded its environmental features, such as an innovative control of storm-water runoff that has won awards from the federal and state agencies.

hermosa beach city logo

Tucker called the makeover “a project that has re-energized Hermosa Beach with pride.”

He pointed out that Hermosa became the first area city to negotiate a two-tier pension system, in which new employees will see reduced benefits, and he pledged to continue cutting “legacy costs” if he is reelected.

Tucker ticked off highlights from a long list of civic involvement including helping to establish and maintain Hermosa’s Veterans Memorial, preserving the historic Vetter windmill, recasting the once-threatened Tim Kelly surfer statue at the base of the pier, and serving on the Planning Commission. The Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year in 2010 for his volunteer work.

Incumbent Michael DiVirgilio, 40, said when he came to office the repair of city streets was not clearly planned out, and it was hard to tell which roadways were next up for repairs. Now, he said, the city stands within two or three years of having all its streets repaired.

“We have a serious street repair plan,” DiVirgilio said.

DiVirgilio pointed out that he helped reinstitute meetings of the City-School Compact to find ways City Hall and the city school board can work together, and he helped spearhead Project Forward, in which school officials, city officials and residents worked to heal a rupture between the school board and many residents that followed the building of a controversial gymnasium at Hermosa Valley School.

Peter Tucker

He said he is “proud of the progress we have made on the downtown,” where residents have complained about noise, rowdiness and public urination associated with the weekend nightlife. DiVirgilio called for a police “surge” into residential neighborhoods to fight the problems.

DiVirgilio has served on the Public Works Commission, Hermosa Arts Foundation and Hermosa’s Centennial Committee.

Newcomers Hany Fangary, 44, and Stephen Powers, 62, stressed professional backgrounds that they said would make them useful council members.

Fangary, an environmental engineer and lawyer, said his background would give him a leg up as the council deals with the potentially bankrupting breach-of-contract lawsuit by Macpherson Oil Company, and a looming reconstruction of the 52-acre AES power plant just over the city line in Redondo Beach.

Fangary also has served as first co-chair of SCPI Charity for the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation, a judge pro tem for Los Angeles County Superior Court and a pro bono legal advocate for the Surfrider Foundation before the California Coastal Commission.

Powers, who retired from May Department Stores as executive vice president and was president and CEO of a women’s clothing company, said he has managed multimillion dollar and billion dollar budgets, and can think “outside the box” while watching the financial bottom line.

Michael DiVirgilio

The challengers made their cases that the current City Council has fallen short on some important matters.

Crime

Powers said the city has done too little to fight crime, focusing his comments especially on the nightlife-heavy downtown.

Powers said the January-through-July period saw Hermosa’s crime rate climb 25 percent from the year before, while the crime rate across Los Angeles County dropped 13 percent in January through August.

“We need to be able to walk on the Strand” and go to downtown restaurants on weekend nights, he said.

“If you ask 100 people, 90 of them will say they will not go down there after 8 p.m.,” Powers said.

He said over three years, the city’s firefighting budget has been cut $450,000 and the police budget has been increased $500,000. The net increase, he said, has done little “to protect us.”

“I have to say, it hasn’t been a priority,” Powers said.

He said eight months ago a child was struck by a car and recently a crossing guard was struck and suffered minor injuries at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Pier Avenue.

Powers said two residents “passionately” asked the council to do something to make the intersection safer, and council members answered that “we have departments that do that, they deal with that.”

“My answer would have been, ‘Come back in two weeks, and I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it,’” Powers said.

Hany Fangary

He said crime issues have not taken a prominent enough role in the council campaign, and he said he was disappointed that the debate organizers asked no questions about crime in Hermosa.

Powers has said he wants to work with Police Department to secure additional funding for law enforcement, and he has stressed throughout his campaign that the safety and security of residents is his top priority.

The big lawsuit

Fangary said the City Council has not been diligent enough in fighting the Macpherson lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in January. He said the city’s five most recent motions have been rejected by judges, and the City Council has not done enough to guide the city’s lawyers.

“We probably have not been fighting hard enough,” he said.

“The Macpherson litigation is by far most serious issue facing our city,” Fangary said.

Fangary said residents who voted for the anti-oil Measure E in 1995 should have been told that the measure could result in a $700,000 liability.

He said it was a “serious issue” that City Attorney Michael Jenkins did not anticipate potential losses in the Macpherson lawsuit when he prepared his required analysis of Measure E for the ballot.

Jenkins wrote in the analysis that it was “not clear exactly how the measure would affect” the Macpherson lease, adding that permits for the oil project had not been issued and were “delayed by pending litigation.”

Steve Powers

The city’s position in the Macpherson lawsuit is that officials canceled the oil lease not because of Measure E, but because they learned of significant safety concerns related to the planned oil drilling.

DiVirgilio countered Fangary by saying it is “very easy to criticize” efforts to fight the lawsuit from outside the council’s deliberations on the subject.

He pointed out that as part of the settlement efforts, a judge prominent in municipal bankruptcies who oversaw the high-profile bankruptcy of Orange County, was brought in to give representatives of the city and Macpherson a clearer idea of what they faced in court.

DiVirgilio lamented that, despite settlement efforts led on the city’s part by him and Tucker, the Macpherson lawsuit is headed back to a trial court where lawyers will “battle all the way to the end.”

He said municipal bankruptcy is one possible outcome, and said that, at the least, “we would not be forced to liquidate” by selling off assets such as buildings and fire trucks. But, he said, a possible bankruptcy could hurt the city’s “long-term budget” and lower Hermosa property values.

Power plant

Fangary said the current council has not responded sufficiently to the emerging future of the sprawling AES power plant site. He said a nine-year construction project, followed by decades of continued operation, looms for the AES power plant.

“So far the [Hermosa] council has not put that on the radar screen,” Fangary said.

Tucker countered that the Redondo Beach City Council has not “come up with a plan” for the AES power plant, so the Hermosa council does not have a concrete proposal to respond to.

Tucker said he has helped watch the power plant for more than 12 years, and said the council filed a lawsuit over the “Heart of the City” redevelopment plan for the power plant area, and won. The Heart plan was killed when it was withdrawn by Redondo officials.

Tattoo parlors

Asked by moderator Sandi Pfister whether any problems have been associated with a number of tattoo parlors that have opened after courts ruled that Hermosa could not ban them, Fangary, who is suing the city over its tattoo parlor regulations, said the City Council has missed opportunities to more tightly control the parlors.

He said the city “must comply” with a state appeals court ruling that tattoo parlors are protected by the First Amendment, but he said the City Council could have imposed greater restrictions on their operations.

“The issue is whether the City Council did that,” he said.

When the appeals court ruled against the city, Fangary said, the council should have sent the matter to the Planning Commission to help determine the parlors’ closing times and how close to homes they may be located. He pointed out that under existing regulations, Hermosa could have as many as seven tattoo parlors.

DiVirgilio said there have been no significant issues with the parlors, except for one of them having a live band and a caterer, both without a permit, at its grand opening.

“The police were quickly on the scene,” he said.

DiVirgilio said the city has spent $50,000 over three or four months fighting the lawsuit by Fangary and other residents, but added that suing the city “is an option” if residents believe their concerns are “not heard” by city officials.

Powers said he does not know “why the residents think they could be smarter” than the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that tattoo parlors practice a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.”

“I think when the dust settles, that is the ruling,” he said.

Powers said a parlor on Pacific Coast Highway is “acceptable” and another on Hermosa Avenue, near Fangary’s home, was opened after an expensive remodel of its building and is “nothing to be ashamed of.”

Tucker said he checked with the police chief and found that the tattoo parlors have not caused problems.

“We fought this case, we took it to the Ninth Circuit,” he said. Then city officials asked the League of California Cities whether it would help seek an appeal to the state Supreme Court, and was turned down, he said.

“It’s an item that is again draining our resources,” he said of the Fangary lawsuit.

“I kind of equate it to suing ourselves,” Tucker said.

Tucker said the tattoo parlors often appear empty of customers, and he wondered whether they would all “make it.”

Rest of ballot

All four candidates back Measure N on the November ballot, which would raise about $200,000 by increasing business license taxes on some busy nightspots and imposing the taxes for the first time on some previously untaxed businesses. Measure N also would lower taxes for many small businesses, and give a tax break to new businesses in their first year.

All four candidates also opposed the competing Measure Q, which would drastically raise the business license taxes for many downtown nightspots.

Before the debate, activist Jim Lissner, who led the drive to place Measure Q on the ballot and later repudiated it, said he had hoped the event would include pro-and-con arguments over Measure N.

Lissner, who opposes Measure N, said debate watchers would “hear just one side, the ‘yes’ side.”

Ryan D. Nowicki, board chairman for Leadership Hermosa Beach, said Lissner approached him a week before the debate, but time was short, and the possibility of setting aside time for Measure N was not a high priority among debate organizers.

The race for city treasurer was not mentioned during the council debate, but both council incumbents back incumbent John Workman and both the challengers back challenger David Cohn.

The war chest

Powers was leading the fundraising race in the early going, with $8,300 in donations as of Sept. 29. Michael DiVirgilio was the only other candidate to file early fundraising records with City Hall, but more were likely to file the documents by a formal deadline late next week.

Powers gave his own campaign $2,000, and received donations from supporters around California and the nation, including a number of business executives and movie and TV producer David Katzenberg.

DiVirgilio had raised $830 from donors in California and New York, including Hermosans Susan Balco and Douglas T. Gneiser.

Hermosa’s campaign finance regulations limit donations to candidates to $250 from an individual or $500 from a couple. There is no limit for a candidate’s self-funding.

Further forum

The Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau will sponsor a City Council candidates’ forum 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Beach House, 1300 The Strand, in the Strand Café Room.

Topics will include fiscal and budgetary policy, developing and retaining businesses in Hermosa, the business tax structure, city services for businesses and residents and long term financial viability of the city.

The candidates for treasurer will be invited to give brief statements, along with City Clerk Elaine Doerfling, who is running for reelection unopposed.

There will be a no host bar and a light buffet will be served.  

For more information see www.hbchamber.net.



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