by Mayor Michael DiVirgilio
As we prepare for the New Year, the State of our City remains strong, and its leaders have charted a path towards an even stronger future. With residents and business leaders increasingly involved in helping to determine that path, we can be more united in deciding where we’re headed and how we’ll get there.
We have mapped out the city’s first-ever strategic plan, and the city team has begun implementing the plan’s priorities already. In fact, we have already seen benefits in improved city services, a sound and more strategic financial footing, strengthened public safety, enhanced economic development and a more livable and sustainable city for Hermosa Beach.
From finding the best leadership possible for the city in a new city manager and police chief to settling a lawsuit that threatened Hermosa Beach’s financial future, Hermosa Beach’s former City Council laid the groundwork for delivering the first-class city services our residents deserve.
With this year’s election, three new councilmembers – Nanette Barragan, Hany Fangary and Carolyn Petty – joined Mayor Pro Tempore Peter Tucker and me on the Hermosa Beach City Council on November 26th. Voters also elected a new treasurer, Karen Nowicki. With this new leadership, the city enters 2014 well positioned to build on the accomplishments of the past two years.
As we all know, the year ahead holds many challenges and opportunities for our community. We are updating our General Plan, the blueprint for all land use decisions in the city limits. We are considering enhancements for the Civic Center and downtown / waterfront area, as well as for the Pacific Coast Highway and Aviation Boulevard corridors. We will also be putting together the final pieces of a major sewer project upgrade and will be engaged in a variety of owner-led development projects.
As if those decisions aren’t significant enough, our residents will also weigh in on a proposed oil-drilling project, the culmination of three decades of discussion.
By working together and by respecting each other’s viewpoints, I am confident that we will determine a future course for our city that we all embrace.
Improving City Services
The strategic plan the City Council adopted in 2013 created a vision for the city’s future and a clear-cut set of goals. Work is already underway on the plan’s priorities: a sewer replacement program, storm water quality plan, identifying opportunities for a civic center and other downtown properties and creating a city facilities plan. And, we continue to dedicate three-quarters of a million dollars towards our annual street repair program.
The new City Council will update the plan in early 2014, beginning with a two-day strategic planning session on January 3rd and 4th. The updated plan will be the roadmap for city staff for this year and future years, determining how the city allocates and prioritizes its resources, staff time and focus.
Maintaining a Financially Sound City
The city continues to be financially sound, with revenues outpacing expenditures this year. While the resurging economy is partly responsible, most of the credit goes to the significant expenditure reductions initiated by the City Council and staff over the last six years. We project a modestly improving financial condition over the next five years as the city strives to deliver on arguably the most far-reaching of its strategic goals to have a “high performing city providing first class services.”
Strengthening Public Safety
We have strengthened and improved public safety in the city with the hiring of a new police chief, Sharon Papa, a law enforcement executive with more than 34 years of experience. She brings a wide array of skills to the job, having served more than 15 years with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Our police and fire departments continued to provide excellent services throughout the year, with a special effort on the Fourth of July that significantly reduced the rowdy behavior that was status quo during previous Independence Day celebrations. Increased law enforcement and a concerted communications effort – that included videos, letters, calls, media coverage and more – ensured a safe and responsible celebration. We are committed to making this the new norm. To reinforce this new benchmark we will return with a similar proactive effort in 2014.
The city also launched a comprehensive review of its police and fire services through the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA). The results of this review will be released in early 2014 and will include recommendations for improving police and fire services based on community expectations and fiscal responsibility. The study is designed to help the city link staffing levels with its goals and the desires of the community.
Enhancing Economic Development
The City Council adopted its first-ever economic development plan this year, and the city staff is already moving forward to implement that plan. The plan aims to improve a number of areas, including our business friendliness, growing our business tax base, fostering an eclectic business mix and revitalizing our entry corridors.
In early 2014, we expect to hire a new staff person focused on economic development. This newly created position also includes the role of ombudsman to help those who are planning new projects navigate the city’s permitting and planning processes. There is also plan to create an opportunity strike team, led by the ombudsman, that would be a collaborative effort between the city, the chamber and other interested residents and business owners.
Coming improvements to PCH and Aviation Boulevard are a top priority and will have a favorable economic impact on our largest business tax base. Potentially implemented in stages, the community can expect to see several common sense upgrades like increased foliage, improved signs, more distinct walkways and raised medians.
While the impact won’t be immediate, in 2014 we anticipate beginning a process for a potential new hotel where the Mermaid sits. If this project is done well, it will have a significant long-term favorable economic impact.
Creating a More Livable and Sustainable City
Our commitment to creating a more livable and sustainable city is evident in the Blue Zones Community Policy designation Hermosa Beach received. Hermosa Beach is the first community in the country to achieve this recognition of its adoption of numerous policies that improve the health of its residents.
Hermosa Beach was also the nation’s first city to adopt a Living Streets Policy, committing itself to making its streets friendly for all types of users.
The city also launched a General Plan update this year with a focus on sustainability and coastal protection. Funded in part by a $410,000 grant, the new plan will be one of two components of the city’s effort to connect three areas of sustainability: our environment, economy and quality of life. Doing so is what we increasingly refer to as our “carbon neutral” initiative.
The second component is to develop a “carbon neutral” plan for the municipality itself. In essence, this plan will be a decision matrix to guide the city toward acting on the most impactful and achievable projects first.
Launching a Public Review of the Proposed Oil Project
The City Council voted unanimously in 2012 to secure the city’s future by agreeing to a settlement that ended the Macpherson Oil Co. lawsuit. The lawsuit sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the city’s alleged breach of its contract with Macpherson. The settlement included an agreement to place a measure on the ballot for voters to decide if they wished to end the current ban on oil drilling in the city and permit E&B Natural Resources Co. (a party to the 2012 settlement agreement) to drill for oil from the city’s maintenance yard located at 6th Street and Valley Drive.
The City Council made a commitment to provide voters with the information they need to decide the fate of the proposed oil production project. To do so, the city first began preparing the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as required by law. But, to further fulfill that commitment, the City Council also voted to conduct two additional studies, which are not required by law, to answer questions not addressed in the EIR. Those two studies are a Cost/Benefit Analysis and a Health Impact Assessment.
The next major step in the process is expected in early 2014, when the city releases the initial drafts of all the reports. Residents will receive post cards notifying them of the drafts’ issuance and of our interest in seeking their comments on the drafts. Public meetings will also be held to answer questions about each of the reports and to provide additional opportunity for public input. Those questions and additional public input will help improve the reports prior to the completion of the final versions.
If all goes as scheduled, voters could be casting their ballots on the proposed oil project in November 2014.
Engaging the Community
With so many important decisions ahead, the City Council voted to launch an unprecedented public engagement process, called a Community Dialogue. Beginning with a well-attended open house in July, the Community Dialogue continues as a series of civic forums where residents have an opportunity to discuss their values and priorities for the city.
Public input from this process will inform several of the projects on our docket. In addition, the data from the dialogue is being used to create a decision-making tool to help guide us all as we make choices regarding Hermosa Beach’s future.
Moving Forward Together
The New Year is a time to reflect and prepare.
I’m proud of what we have done to get to this point. I know there are changes ahead. I know change can be threatening. And, I know those threats will challenge our ability to remain united and positive.
Yet, I’d rather be excited about having my hands on the wheel, playing a role – with you all – in defining our future as opposed to having it define us. As a community of innovators, iconoclasts and champions, isn’t that truly what Hermosa Beach is?
As your mayor, I pledge to continue to work with you, the residents of Hermosa Beach, my colleagues on the Council, city staff, the business community, the schools and all stakeholders to keep us focused on what’s most important.
By doing so together, we will ensure that Hermosa Beach continues to be “The Best Little Beach City.'” ER
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