City council members came together on Friday and Saturday to prioritize future goals. Photo by Chelsea Schreiber
During a strenuous 18-hour, two-day strategic planning meeting, the Hermosa Beach City Council and city staff discussed and outlined new goals for the upcoming year.
Three newly elected city council members, Nanette Barragan, Carolyn Petty and Hany Fangary joined previously elected members Peter Tucker and Michael DiVirgilio to discuss the city’s goals for the first time. The workshop began on Friday morning and continued until late Saturday evening.
At the top of the list was an item previously unmentioned as a separate goal – a greater focus on public safety.
“We all decided safety was priority number one,” said Petty, in an interview afterwards. “Before we went into this I realized we all took it for granted, and I don’t think we should. It’s good were all on the same page.”
DiVirgilio added that public safety was previously part of other city priorities, but not separate. The new council decided to pull it out of relative obscurity and give the issue it’s own set of goals in order to improve the city’s understaffed police and fire departments.
“In breaking it out and focusing on it as its own long term goal it gave us more latitude to brainstorm more things to help us do that,” said DiVirgilio.
Suggestions for improvements include hiring more police officers and firefighters to comply with the city’s recommendations, as well as adding opportunities to discuss the city’s expectations of service. Fire Department Chief David Lantzer additionally identified a need for more emergency workers with multiple skills sets.
Another important goal the newly formed council set for the city was improved economic development, including moving forward with the PCH/Aviation improvements as well as more of a focus on zoning and retail development.
“It almost has to be number one because if you don’t have money, you can’t pay for safety,” said Petty. “In the end, economic development and growth is how you maintain safety and infrastructure.”
“We created economic development as a long term goal last year but there weren’t a lot of short-term goals,” said DiVirgilio. “This year it was the item with the most suggested actions, goals and improvements. It’s the first time in a long time the council has thought in a proactive way about economic development.”
Economic improvements suggested included looking at underutilized land, retail shops and increased foot traffic.
“The biggest thing the community will see related to economic development will be new movement about engaging existing businesses and courting new businesses,” DiVirgilio said. “Also getting vacant land developed and doing it in a way that’s mindful of the goals of residents and the city, as opposed as being immune to it.”
Petty said that each of the council members brought something important to the two-day meeting.
“Hany is an engineer and he’s a lawyer,” said Petty. “Pete is a construction guy, Michael is in communications, Nanette’s in law, and I’m in finance. Having a cross section of people with different skill sets is good for the city. You almost want to divide and conquer… and coming up with a way people can bring forth their skill sets is the best way to run an organization.”
She added that two important projects that need to be undertaken in the near future include updating the sewer system as well as updating the stormwater management systems so it complies with local regulations.
“What’s so great is that everybody gets that,” said Petty, who added that updating South Park also made it onto the list as a priority. “It’s the first step towards making it happen… It means it’s an action item so we said to city staff, yes, continue to move forward on it.”
Community members were periodically allowed to speak to the council about their concerns.
“I’m glad the city does planning that stems from this meeting,” said Fangary. “It’s helpful to get input not only from council members but from people who came and spoke about what’s important to residents, and why they enjoy living in the city.”
An important issue for both Fangary and Barragan was the city’s focus on communications and the service level wanted from a public relations firm.
“Based on talking to people, the PR company did a great job dealing with oil litigation and the Fourth of July, and changing the non-smoking ban on Pier Plaza,” said Fangary. “In 2014 we’re going to have a significant amount of information we’re going to have to communicate to the residents, which is my better served with a PR company. I don’t think we’ve given them enough credit for the work they’ve done.”
Barragan, a proponent of examining such spending more thoroughly, questioned the city’s $10,000 a month retainer with the city’s current PR company at the last City Council meeting. Fiona Hutton & Associates, the city’s PR firm, subsequently gave their 30-day notice to terminate their contract. Council members discussed the issue at Saturday’s session and agreed to agendize the need for a PR company in a future council meeting.
“It was clear that all five of us and staff felt similarly an interest and desire to be more engaged and better communicators,” said DiVirgilio.
Fangary also said that prioritizing the evaluation of the city’s carbon neutral plan was an important step for the council.
“It’s not just an issue of environmental importance, but also ties into the economic development and branding of the city,” Fangary said. “I look forward to working with other council members to explore the issue further… to explain the issue and the advantages Hermosa can gain from proceeding quickly to become carbon neutral.”
Barragan agreed with Fangary on pushing the city’s carbon neutrality goals – adding that the meeting was a good opportunity to come together as a group to talk about what they want for the future of the city.
“The group was great, and we really focused on the issues,” said Barragan. “We may disagree on things and fight hard on issues, but at the end of the day I think we need to come together and work together.”
She said that at the end of the meeting, after the cameras were turned off she had a special moment with Petty and Fangary, ending in a group hug.
“It was good to see that the three new council members kind of had the same thoughts and ideas we’ve had in the past,” Tucker said. “To me it shows that everybody understands where the problems are and the things we need to do to make the city a better place to live.”
The goal of the session was to provide short and long term goals for the council and city staff to work towards in the upcoming years.
“I’m proud of how we communicated,” DiVirglio said. “I think that it’s no fault of anybody’s in particular, but the last year or two the council wasn’t getting along and everything was a battle. There was always tension and there wasn’t a lot of trust between each of us, and I think it’s largely gone and everybody was very interested in hearing other points of view. We did well last year, but we did it better this time.”
DiVirgilio said that he was impressed by the five members’ consensus on almost every item.
“There weren’t a lot of wholesale changes to what the council had already addressed, just a lot of refinements and improvements,” said DiVirgilio. “
City Manager Tom Bakaly said that the meeting helped give city staff more clarity on the new council’s goals as well as helped to better inform the council members of the city’s current issues.
“I’m very proud,” said Barragan. “The hard part here is we’re not done yet, it’s just the start of coming together.”ER