Few fireworks at first Hermosa Beach City Council candidate debate
by Ryan McDonald
Just who won the first debate among candidates in the Hermosa Beach City Council race is open to interpretation. But there is no question about what received the most applause: Trent Larson’s call for bicyclists to follow traffic rules.
Larson’s off-the-cuff remark, in response to a question about the city’s participation in the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan, was one of few responses to generate a loud enough response from the audience to pause the debate,which was sponsored by the Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Association and moderated by resident Al Benson. For the most part, the six participants failed to land decisive blows, (The seventh candidate, Christopher Cenci, did not attend the debate, and did not reply to phone calls and emails from the Easy Reader seeking an interview.)
While none of the candidates have announced a formal alliance, incumbents Stacey Armato and Hany Fangary, along with school board member Mary Campbell, seemed to embody the progressive direction of the current council, while Larson and Matt McCool, a member of the city’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission, and former councilmember Pete Tucker were more critical, particularly on environmental issues.
“Anything that doesn’t get us something we can see and touch and use should be at the back of the list of city priorities,” Larson said.
Carbon neutrality provided the clearest dividing point. The issue emerged earlier this year as the city began public hearings on PLAN Hermosa, its updated General Plan and Local Coastal Program. Initial proposals calling for city-wide carbon neutrality by 2040 produced an outcry, and were later dropped from the document.
But at times, the tone of the debate made it sound as though carbon neutrality were still a part of the plan, which was adopted unanimously in August. The first audience question asked the candidates whether they believed in climate change: many of those who had denounced carbon neutrality in public hearings simultaneously questioned the science linking climate change to carbon dioxide emissions.
McCool expressed the greatest level of skepticism. He said he was “not a climate scientist,” and that the issue of whether humans were significantly contributing to climate change was “kind of up in the air.” Echoing many at previous public hearings, he said his opposition to the former carbon neutrality plan was a matter of principal.
“I felt that our individual liberties were being threatened, I felt that our property rights were being threatened, and I didn’t like direction that the government was taking our city,” McCool said.
City government intervention emerged again following a question about a recently announced program to educate residents about state laws prohibiting parking vehicles in a way that blocks the sidewalk. Activist Jeff Hirsch, who has called for aggressively issuing citations to achieve compliance with the law, asked the candidates what they would do if the education campaign failed.
Campbell, who lives on one of the city’s designated “Safe Routes to School,” said she is nearly hit by a car every day while walking her dog, but stopped short of the unpopular position of calling for more parking tickets.
“If we can create awareness about the risks, we can go a long way. That would be my hope,” Campbell said. “I’ve also talked to residents who are very concerned about the lack of parking. They’re living in Hermosa Beach and they really rely on these awkward parking arrangements.”
Fangary said that, if reelected, he would bring code enforcement back after the 90 days had finished and ask for suggestions, but would also incorporate solutions offered by residents worried about loss of parking.
“In areas closer to the coast, it’s not easy for us to tell our residents, ‘In 90 days, you’re done parking on the sidewalk,’” Fangary said.
One of the council’s other big decisions from the year, to dissolve the city’s department and contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, also came under scrutiny, with McCool and Larson claiming that the move was necessary only because of past neglect of the city’s department. Armato pointed out that the council, citizen’s advisory committee, and fire department staff all support the move.
“It’s going to be an increase in the level of service for our community, otherwise we wouldn’t have all of those groups agree on this issue,” Armato said.
Positions on alcohol and downtown safety, a perennial concern at neighborhood council debates, were less conclusive. Tucker, who has been involved in city government far longer than his competitors and seen previous plans to address the issue, was open about the difficulty at resolving it, saying it ultimately came down to controlling “the human element.”
“If you could find that magic bullet, you’d win this council seat unanimously,” Tucker said.
The second candidate debate, hosted by the Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau, takes place at the Beach House on Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m.