David Mendez

Redondo election roundup: Measure B’s failure spurs task force

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Meanwhile, District 3 runoff rivals Christian Anthony Horvath and Candace Allen Nafissi consider strategy

District 3 City Council candidate Candace Allen Nafissi and Redondo Residents for Responsible Redevelopment president Todd Loewenstein pose after a press conference in the wake of their March 3 successes. Photo by David Mendez

District 3 City Council candidate Candace Allen Nafissi and Redondo Residents for Responsible Redevelopment president Todd Loewenstein pose after a press conference in the wake of their March 3 successes. Photo by David Mendez

Two weeks after what had the potential to be a literally landscape-changing election, little has changed cosmetically in Redondo Beach. The power plant’s future is still up in the air; citizens are still concerned about the state of waterfront development; and City Council District 3 still has an election race to run.

What has occurred, however, is a political sea change. Grassroots organization Redondo Residents for Responsible Revitalization, which led the charge against Measure B, the AES-backed initiative that would have rezoned the land under the company’s Redondo Generating Station and cleared the way for a mixed-use development, has illustrated the importance of a mobilized electorate in civic elections. Redondo Beach’s District 3, which could be considered the organization’s home base, due to their support of Council candidate Candace Allen Nafissi, had the strongest voter opposition to B, defeating it 56 percent to 44 percent.

In response to B’s defeat, Mayor Steve Aspel has announced that he, in concert with District 2 Councilman Bill Brand, will organize a task force to determine the future of the area.

“After the election, I sat down with Brand, and we came up with a mutual agreement to try and get people together in the city,” Aspel said. “I don’t want to go through another contentious election where AES spends a million and our citizens are going crazy. That election got really contentious and mean; we’re just trying to take the mean out of it.”

Aspel’s plan, which he will illustrate further at his State of the City address on Thursday, March 19, looks to draw together about 30 people, including the land’s stakeholders; ten citizens, two chosen by Aspel and each of the councilmembers.

“The idea is to get something that everybody can vote on,” Aspel said, noting that major land-use changes within Redondo can only occur with the approval of a ballot measure.

Though the details have not yet been ironed out, Aspel hopes to have the task force’s work take place over the course of a year-and-a-half, in a publicly accessible, Brown Act-complying format. “We’ll take a few months to put it together; it’s nothing we have to rush into at this very second,” he said. “If we rush, if we leave people out or get the wrong consultant, it’ll just be a waste of time.”

AES Southland president Eric Pendergraft said that the company is uncertain what its next step will be following the defeat of Measure B and the mixed-used “Village Plan” the ballot initiative proposed, which would have replaced the power plant along Harbor Drive with a boutique hotel, 600 residential units, and open space. AES could apply for a permit to build a new power plant, or the company has contemplated other uses for the site — such as a battery storage project like the one it operates in Long Beach, or an ocean water desalination facility.

“We have not determined our next steps,” Pendergraft said. “We have several different ideas we are thinking about. We wanted to let the smoke clear from what happened [on election day], which was somewhat of a big shock for us, and not do anything reactionary.”

A joint press conference held by Todd Loewenstein, president of Redondo Residents for Responsible Redevelopment, the primary opposition for Measure B, and Nafissi, who remains in the District 3 race alongside fellow runoff candidate Christian Anthony Horvath, spelled out citizen concerns.

“What it came down to is that people in this town were very concerned about traffic and overdevelopment. The fact is, residential is a money loser,” Loewenstein said before praising Measure B for its inclusion of a 120-room hotel, which would have paid off in Transit Occupancy Tax.

“I think there’s a lesson for elected officials to pay attention to in this area: traffic and overcrowding,” Loewenstein said. “We had folks that didn’t even commute, that didn’t drive that much, concerned that the complexion of the town would change.”

“The property owner has rights, and we want to make sure those are protected. But we have to make sure that we don’t give up the rights to govern ourselves and our zoning rights. I don’t think our citizens want to do that – that sets a very dangerous precedent,” Loewenstein said. “AES has been a member of the community since 1998, and it’s important that their input is a big part of this. We want them to make money, but not at the expense of quality of life in the city.”

Pendergraft said AES has not ruled out any options out for the site, but a scaled-down version of the Village Plan is currently not under consideration.

“The door is not closed forever, but this really comes down to economics,” he said. “If there are non-industrial plans that treat us fairly, we’d still be willing to look at them. But for now, as we said during the campaign, we are going to pursue our industrial options.”

Horvath has been steadily walking toward the finish line from the first day of his campaign, refusing to take anything he’s accomplished for granted, he says.

“I’ve had expectations in check the whole campaign. Everything that happened was a pleasant surprise,” he said, though he acknowledges that the inclusion of Measure B on this year’s March ballot had a significant impact on the race. “Had that not been on the ballot, that would have been a very different outcome. The split on the measure is almost reflected in a split on the candidates.”

But he views the defeat of B as an opportunity for his campaign. “The majority of the time was spent talking about Measure B for people who had lots of questions. Now we can focus on the long term goals for the district and the city,” he said. “I’m not changing my message; I don’t have to pivot away from Measure B, because the entire time we talked about it I would use that as a segue into a lot of concerns we have in Redondo and District 3 as a whole,” he said.

Horvath has also had the benefit of gaining a significant number of endorsements since March 3, as he’s gained the support of former Redondo Mayor Mike Gin, outgoing District 5 Councilman Matt Kilroy, and a majority of the Redondo Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education, including recently re-elected board member Anita Avrick.

But despite the gains he’s made in big-name endorsements, the key for Horvath will be overcoming the relationship Nafissi has with R4, and its passionate base of supporters and activists. “She is very lucky that she stepped into a built-in support system of groups that are passionate, have a point of view and are very well-organized,” he said. “The four other candidates did not have that. They were already involved in the city in a lot of ways and all know the same people, so we‘ve had to rely on ourselves and the people who are willing to help us.”

Horvath’s hope is that the city finds its positivity in the wake of a hostile election. “If Redondo wants to move forward, fighting all the time is never going to get us there. How do you find a way to create compromise and negotiate? I have ideas and opinions and I can offer them, but we have to create a dialogue and comfort level and at the end of the day, something beautiful comes out of it.”

The battle for Nafissi will be to dismiss claims that she is a one-issue candidate, as her close association with Measure B-focused R4 has allowed opponents to draw. Horvath has already made those implications a part of his repertoire, making clear that he’s been running on a multitude of issues, and “not just the one issue,” in post-March 3 interviews.

“I know that I get painted as a one-issue candidate,” Nafissi said. “But to say that is not giving me a chance to expand on my opportunities to even talk about what I’d like to do. The ideas that I have for this community are forthcoming, little by little. When I sat down and thought about what my platform was going to be, I thought about how residents are going to feel. If I’m going to be an elected official for this area, its important that I represent the values of the residents.”

Nafissi’s plan for developing her platform further, she says, is to “create opportunities for people to chime in,” she said. “I’m going to look at those things and have real discussions about how we fix those problems.

Nafissi’s main priority, she says, will be to focus on public safety, with an eye on waterfront and Redondo’s schools, an unsurprising tack given the education advocacy role she plays in her day job with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which has informed her belief that the role schools play as community centers and drivers of home values cannot be overlooked.

The biggest difference between the two candidates, Nafissi says, is her experience.

“Policy is what I do for a living,” she said. “I think about real world solutions and tackle a couple of solutions, rather than make a huge, long list of solutions … That’s not the way you deal with policy issues. That’s getting into the community, talk to people, and setting them up with the best way to solve problems.”

Her plan, she says, places importance on the inclusion of social media, and giving younger generations familiar ways to contact her.

“I want to give them an opportunity to feel like they’re part of the process, and to know they’re going to have accessibility,” she said. “I want them to feel excited about it, that they can jump on Facebook and get a hold of me. I want them to get used to it,  for it to be more of a learned behavior and to be excited about it.”

What the candidates should be most concerned about, however, is voter burnout. In the mayoral race in 2013, more than 12,000 voters came out for the general election; two months later, fewer than 9,000 participated in the runoff. In a district that turned out little more than 2,600 votes this year, it would only take a few voters deciding to sit this one out to make the difference for either candidate.

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