Over 100 Hermosa Beach residents packed into the historic Clark Building in Hermosa Beach for the second stage of the city’s new community-oriented planning process on Thursday. The evening was intended to help the Virginia-based consulting firm CZB understand the resident’s core values and priorities for moving forward with a strategic plan.
At 10:33 p.m. that night, not long after the conclusion of a contentious, occasionally antagonistic almost three-hour meeting, a CZB consultant emailed the city to say the firm was quitting.
“We resign effective immediately. We will send our final bill next week,” consultant Charles Buki emailed Hermosa Beach City Manager Tom Bakaly from his iPhone.
At 10:26 p.m., Mayor pro tem Michael DiVirgilio had sent Buki an email sharply critical of the firm’s preparations for the meeting. The council had first been asked not to participate, and then asked that morning to participate.
“You couldn’t have given us more notice about participating?” DiVirgilio wrote in an email to Buki and JoAnna Schull, another CZB consultant. “…At best this is sloppy work. But, I fear that it’s worse, as I’m left with a growing sense that CZB is simply unqualified to lead our Community Dialogue effort.”
By Friday morning, the city was in negotiations with CZB in the hopes of preventing the firm from resigning from the project.
DiVirgilio said on Friday that his communication may have contributed to their resignation. Mayor Kit Bobko, who was present at the meeting on Thursday, said he wasn’t surprised by their email.
By Monday, Bakaly said that negotiations were successful and the firm would continue to work with the city.
“They’re back on board for the project,” Bakaly said. “They did not officially resign; they expressed concern after the contentious meeting. They’ve reconsidered and they’re refocused now.”
“Despite some tricky moments this last week in the course of our work as consultants to Hermosa Beach facilitating a community dialogue, czb remains a committed partner in this important endeavor,” Buki wrote in letter whose subject line was, “HB Recommit.”
“…I want to reiterate that we never in fact officially resigned, and in fact remain fully on board.”
Thursday evening’s meeting repeatedly came to boiling points when both Schull and Buki were put on the spot by residents. They were aggressively criticized about a community survey the company had conducted earlier in the month and had their motives fiercely questioned.
“We have designed this survey to help us partner with the Hermosa Beach community to better understand what deeply held values are shared by residents and stakeholders,” the survey said.
But many survey-takers thought its questions were slanted to create in outcome favorable to higher-density, multi-story projects within the city. Questions like, “During the community dialogues do you feel you would benefit by having a presentation and discussion on the subject of density in Hermosa Beach?” made some residents question the intent of the survey.
“Some people were not entirely civil,” said Bakaly.
DiVirgilio was also unhappy about the nature of the questions.
“There were no questions about things that are important in Hermosa Beach,” DiVirgilio said on Friday. “Like schools, for instance.”
“I was completely appalled and angered by that survey that was put out,” one citizen said on Thursday night. “You guys put that together? You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Thursday’s meeting grouped residents present into multiple small groups. During the first activity, each group was given a large paper divided into four sections, along with photographs of Hermosa Beach. The groups were asked to cut out the images of places or ideas in Hermosa Beach and organize onto specifically labeled areas of the paper based on importance and values. The final box was left open for residents to discuss what they “would be willing to trade” to keep certain aspects of the city. After the groups came together residents shared their answers and multiple speakers expressed concern about the question, saying that they do not want to give up anything.
“If we are creative and innovative we can make Hermosa Beach the forefront of the Beach Cities,” resident Gila Katz said.
Once the groups came together to discuss their answers with the room, things started heating up.
“You guys need to tread a little lighter here. There are a lot of issues that are very emotional to people,” resident Elka Worner said. “I’m just saying you’re kind of brushing off people and being a little condescending. We’re just expressing our views and trying to find out where you’re coming form and why we need to make choices. I think your job here is to listen, right?”
“None of this is easy. I think you recognize that,” Schull said.
“We’re listening. I’m just not getting the impression that you’re listening,” Worner said.
Throughout the meeting Schull and Buki attmepted to mollify complaints and explain the reason for the meeting to all in attendance.
“This process is about taking the long view,” Schull said later on during the meeting. “It’s an opportunity to build a capacity to deal with these issues.”
The next community meeting has yet to be scheduled.
CZB did not respond to requests for comments. Visit http://www.hbmovingforward.com for more information. ER