by Ed Pilolla
When Tom Bakaly was hired a year ago as city manager, he arrived from a popular Utah resort town with a strong history of hosting major recreational events, including the yearly Sundance Film Festival and co-hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Over the past year, Bakaly said he has had a chance to see for himself the many different events Hermosa Beach hosts. Bakaly shared with Easy Reader what he thinks the city does well as far as recreational events and what can be improved.
Bakaly draws a distinction between community events and events that attract large numbers of people from outside the city. Two true community events with plenty of local participation are the St. Patrick Day Parade and the Sunday summer concerts south of the pier, Bakaly said. He called Hermosa’s St. Paddy’s Day Parade sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce “one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Bakaly said the city is moving toward a more centralized calendar with more predictable costs and fees for organizers and participants.
“My sense is that we have great events for community members, but I think we’re still working on what’s that right balance – what’s good for the community and when we are inviting visitors,” Bakaly said. “And I think we definitely have a mentality of we want visitors in town but we’re a little concerned that they aren’t respecting our town.”
Bakaly said proactive policing lowered the intensity of this year’s Fourth of July and that will continue next year. This year’s Fourth of July in the city was less crowded than last year but still very large, with lifeguards estimating 125,000 people on the beach – compared to 200,000 last year.
“Just in my personal opinion based on my experience with large events, there were a lot of people at 125,000,” said Bakaly, who credited the police department for getting the word out that officers would be cracking down on public and underage drinking. Officers this year also disbursed a growing knot of young adults at the Second Street beach before it could reach 2,000 people as it did last year.
For the city manager, a telling photo from the Fourth showed the “No Alcohol on Beach” sign next to a Budweiser tent and the Tim Kelly surfing statue. “I show this to people and they say, that’s Hermosa,” Bakaly said. “And so that’s what we’re trying to balance.”
Bakaly, who observed the 39th annual Ironman competition with nearby police on the Fourth, noted that participants were not generally young adults but rather more mature adults. Competitors run a mile, paddle a mile and chug a six-pack of beer on the beach where alcohol is otherwise not allowed. The event raises money for charity. Critics noted that this year’s city’s zero tolerance for alcohol began at 10 a.m., after the Ironman competition finished.
Bakaly’s concern was whether the event set a tone for the rest of the holiday. “People could argue alcohol is not allowed. You were there. You allowed it,” Bakaly said. “Again, our goal is to mitigate the impact from drinking, and we see those on the Fourth of July primarily starting around 10, 11 o’clock and building to a crescendo in the mid-afternoon. And from my observation, the impacts we’ve seen that cause health and safety issues did not seem to be connected to Ironman.”
Bakaly said that Ironman organizers were very responsive and unplugged the event on time. When asked if he thinks the event ought to be around for many years to come, Bakaly said, “I don’t know.”
One event he was not expecting to be so large was Fiesta Hermosa, including the large number of vendors from outside the city.
“I went to the  Labor Day Fiesta and frankly was a little surprised. It was a big event,” Bakaly said. “But they raise a lot of money that goes back into the community, that goes back into non-profits. So it’s a long way of saying I think the events reflect who we are. You know, we want to be laid back and we want to be Hermosa, but we’re trying to put a little structure to it so it doesn’t impact us adversely.”
Matt Bennett, communications and special events manager for the HB Chamber of Commerce, said in order boost local participation, vendor booth prices for Hermosa Beach-based artists are half the regular $575. The local booth pricing began this year, with both Memorial Day and Labor Day Fiestas and will continue next year.
“We really want to highlight the local artists and get them involved as much as we can,” Bennett said. “If there was something that was lost, it was certainly unintentional. We really want to make an effort to really reiterate that we want them to feel welcome. We want them to participate in fiesta.”
Bennett, who would not say how much money the Fiestas produce, said ten charities receive proceeds from the Fiesta beer garden. Bennett characterized the Fiestas as the primary funder of the Chamber.
“It’s our operating budget,” Bennett said. A lot of that money goes back to sponsor events in the community, Bennett added, including the St. Patrick Day Parade, the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony, various sidewalk sales, and for the past few years the summer concerts as well as other campaigns.
“It’s money that’s used to promote the area and to re-invest in the area,” Bennett said.
Bakaly’s one-year anniversary as city manager is Sept. 4. He said the highlights thus far has been getting to know people around town. Bakaly had spent 17 years in Park City and before that he worked for the city of Pasadena where he grew up.
“My recent experience has been that people just knew me and trusted me, and so this year has been about building relationships,” Bakaly said. “That’ll obviously continue. You can’t do that in a year.”
So far, Bakaly said he is very pleased with the strategic planning work city staff and the council has done to set one- and five-year goals. He said he is also pleased with the team coming together at city hall, including a new assistant to the city manager, Diane Strickfaden, and new police chief, Sharon Papa, who is undergoing a background check before taking the oath. The police department has been without a permanent police chief since Greg Savelli resigned in January 2012.
Asked about the morale at the police department, Bakaly said, “I think it’s been a struggle for them not having a permanent chief. I think frankly they had some concerns over the last year and I think we’ve had a great interim chief in Mike McCrary. And I think they performed great during Fourth of July. My hope is they’re optimistic for the future.”
Over the next year, Bakaly said finishing the broader community dialogue that identifies shared values and the proposed oil project are the most significant items. He said it’s important that voters decide on oil drilling by November 2014 and he would not support delaying that election.
“While this community is very engaged and the people are very involved, my opinion is there is only so much tension we can take and it’s going to be time for a decision one way or another,” said Bakaly, adding that the city’s economic analysis of the oil project should be completed in January. It is the first time the city is conducting its own independent economic analysis of a potential oil recovery project since the idea was floated in the 1970s. ER