Sitting in the hot seat before a council chamber full of Manhattan Beach residents Thursday night were a retired municipal counsel, a small business owner, a two-time former councilman and the city’s current mayor, all vying for one thing come election day on March 5: one of three vacant spots on next term’s Manhattan Beach City Council.
Hosted by the Manhattan Beach Residents Association and moderated by Sandra Seville-Jones, the 90-minute forum spanned across various topics and issues, including safety, union negotiations, government transparency, city infrastructure as well as small and large businesses.
With the exceptions of candidate Mark Lipps, who was out of the country on a prior commitment, and candidate Viet Ngo, who excused himself within the first 10 minutes claiming criminal acts by his colleagues, each candidate spoke their views on the given topic for one minute.
Sitting on the far left of the spotlight was Mark Burton, a 50-year South Bay resident and former senior assistant city attorney for the City of Los Angeles. To his left was two-time former mayor Mitch Ward, who owns a small business and served two terms on the Manhattan Beach City Council from 2003 to 2010. To Ward’s left sat Tony D’Errico, a 17-year Manhattan Beach resident, former executive in the service industry and owner of two downtown businesses. And sitting at the very right was Mayor Wayne Powell, a 60-year South Bay resident and former CPA and CFO, running for reelection.
Kicking off the forum was the issue of safety. Manhattan Beach Chief of Police Eve Irvine has stated that the community has seen increased crime as a result of California’s 2011 Criminal Justice Realignment Act (A.B. 109), which, as a step toward ameliorating state prison overhaul, consigns lower-level, non-violent offenders and parole violators to county supervision. Chief Irvine further added, according to Seville-Jones, that she fully believes “we have not seen the full effects of realignment.”
Burton, who cited his experience as general counsel for LAPD and lead negotiator in LAPD reform, said he considers himself a “recognized expert on all public safety issues.” He echoed Chief Irvine’s concern about realignment’s current and anticipated impact on Manhattan Beach’s public safety, deeming it to be “job number one, particularly now.” In addition, he proposed hiring a “foot beat” police officer in downtown. “It’d be great for our brand, and our business community would truly support that,” he said.
D’Errico and Powell both agreed with Burton. “A.B. 109 is the most significant reform in a century to the penal system,” D’Errico said, adding that since the Realignment Act went into effect, aggregated assault has increased 20 to 25 percent in the city. “I’d like to see more patrol cruising the neighborhoods.”
Powell, who cited his 10-year volunteerism with the police department and graduation from the community police academy, rallied for more focus on community-based policing. “We are the eyes and the ears of our community,” he said.
Ward strayed from the majority opinion, citing his two years on the Los Angeles County Criminal Justice Court as an advisor to county leaders and city councils during the realignment process.
“There could be some spike in crime, but it’ll most likely occur in our outlying cities that are poorer than Manhattan Beach,” Ward said. “We know that the individuals who are being realigned will most likely not take up a home on The Strand.” He waved away the need for the proposed “foot beat” patrol officer, and reassured that Manhattan Beach is not expected to see any kind of significant increase in crime.
The next topic concerned pension reform and the city’s ongoing union negotiations, underway now for more than two years. Ward noted that pension costs are costing the city nearly $7 million every year, and suggested a two-tier approach of bringing in new employees and avoiding a drastic salary spike at the end of a career.
D’Errico signed off on the two-tier approach and suggested a thorough review of “matching revenue to expense.” “City services and public safety is critical, but we must have a maintainable and sustainable cost associated with it,” D’Errico said.
“Skyrocketing pension costs have been unsustainable for years, but I have good news,” said Powell, the only candidate currently serving on council. “We have been negotiating in good faith with our police, fire and teamsters union and we’re very close to consummating a two-tier system, the first in our city’s history.”
Upon this statement, Seville-Jones asked him why the council has not yet shared this information with residents. Powell replied that, to his knowledge, negotiating in public could be deemed as unfair labor practice.
Burton, who said he considers himself a “recognized expert in open meeting laws in California,” respectfully disagreed with Powell. “The better practice would’ve been to put on your agenda every single meeting during the negotiations a status report … that at least keeps the community actively involved about what’s going on and allows them to give public comment.”
Burton further noted that because the issue of unfunded pension liability is critical, the public should have the opportunity to weigh in. “I know you don’t like surprises. I don’t like surprises,” he concluded, prompting faint, scattered applause from some audience members.
Candidates offered varying takes on the role of the city in helping small businesses thrive. While all candidates strongly advocated promoting synergy throughout Manhattan Beach’s business districts in downtown, north end, Sepulveda Corridor and along Rosecrans Avenue, opinions varied regarding City Council’s recent endowment of $75,000 to the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce.
D’Errico and Burton, both staunch advocates of the chamber under the new leadership of president and CEO James O’Callaghan, pressed for a close partnership between the city and the business organization.
“We should help support that chamber because that chamber will bring back tenfold of what we spend if it’s done right,” said D’Errico, who cited his experience as executive board member and treasurer of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business Association. Burton added that the second biggest source of the city’s revenue is property tax from businesses. “They’re kind of our ambassadors in getting people to shop MB,” he said.
Powell noted that while he initially voted to cease funding the chamber last year due to a budget shortfall, he too is optimistic about the chamber under the direction of O’Callaghan. He also defended the council’s decision to approve the subsidy, adding that an amount of up to $75,000 was granted “based on a laundry list of things that the chamber would do … efforts promoting the city, promoting commerce…”
Ward once again deviated from the majority. Noting that the council he previously served suspended funding for the chamber during a financial constraint, Ward stated that local governments should not subsidize private enterprise. “I’m not aware or privy as to how the money got reallocated to the Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
The city can help small businesses thrive in alternate ways, such as through the Business Improvement District, “which is a legal tool that businesses can self-assess themselves and upgrade streets and signage…” he explained. “That’s where the city can help the small businesses in the community thrive.”
Other topics of discussion included transparency, a city government’s role in federal- or state-level issues, city infrastructure and the proposed expansion of Manhattan Village mall. For the full video of Thursday night’s forum, tune into public access channels 8 or 35 every day at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Upcoming candidates forums:
- Neptunian Woman’s Club forum takes place Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Neptunian Woman’s Clubhouse (920 Highland Ave.)
- American Martyrs Alter Society Ministry forum is on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Blessed Kateri Room on the corner of 14 th Street and Church Street.
- Older Adults Luncheon Forum is next Thursday, Feb. 21, at 11:30 a.m. at the Joslyn Community Center.
- Rotary Club of Manhattan Beach forum takes place Monday, Feb. 25, at 7 a.m. at the Manhattan Beach Marriott (1400 Parkview Ave.)
- Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce forum takes place Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Police/Fire Community Room on 15th Street.