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Hermosa Beach year in review: new city manager, embattled treasurer

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The City of Hermosa Beach has a new city manager, a new three-year contract with its employees and new environmental ordinances aimed at improving ocean and air quality.

Some news in Hermosa was no big surprise, such as the Mermaid restaurant and cocktail lounge on the verge of sale to a developer. Other news raised eyebrows, particularly the ongoing criminal investigation involving City Treasurer David Cohn. The city also saw a new mural go up downtown, and is considering whether a pedestrian bridge ought to go up over Pacific Coast Highway.


New City Manager

The city of Hermosa Beach this year found a new city manager in Tom Bakaly, a native Southern Californian who had been working as city manager for a well-established resort town in Utah.

City Manager Tom Bakaly

City Manager Tom Bakaly

Bakaly replaced Steve Burrell, who served the city for 18 years and retired in March. John Jalili, a former city manager of Santa Monica, was filling in as the temporary city manager.

Bakaly is married and has a teenage son. He is expected to bring his expertise with recreational events to the city. Park City, Utah and Hermosa Beach are very similar insofar both are located near major cities and both increase in population during the tourist season. Park City hosts the Sundance Film Festival and in 2002 helped host the Winter Olympics.

Bakaly has a masters degree in public administration from USC. He worked for the city of Pasadena in the finance department.

Among Bakaly’s first duties is looking for a new, permanent police chief. This month he also brought to an end labor negotiations with city employees.


Mermaid in escrow

The legendary Mermaid restaurant and cocktail lounge, a landmark in the city for more than 60 years, is set to sell to a group of investors that want to build a hotel on the site. The property was owned by the late Quentin L. “Boots” Thelen, and has been for sale since his death in 2007.

Diana Albergate looks out the Dutch Door of the Mermaid. Photo by Kevin Cody

Diana Albergate looks out the Dutch Door of the Mermaid. Photo by Kevin Cody

One Pier Avenue LLC, the prospective buyer of the Strand front property, is expected to seek city approval for a hotel that would stretch from 13th Street to Pier Avenue, along the Strand, and extend east on Pier Avenue for approximately one-quarter of a block.

The purchase includes not only the Mermaid, but also the adjacent Poop Deck bar and Good Stuff restaurant on the Strand and the Cantina Real restaurant, Pier Surf Shop and Tiki Mon Creamery & Café on Pier Plaza.

The final sale of the property has been repeatedly delayed, but Mermaid Manager Diana Albergate, Thelen’s step-daughter, has said that she remains hopeful the sale will be finalized soon.

Albergate said estate taxes since Thelen’s death have amounted to a large IRS debt that only the sale can wipe out.


No Privatized Parking Enforcement

The City Council decided not to pursue outsourcing the parking enforcement duties for the city of Hermosa Beach. Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko spearheaded the move as a way to reduce the city’s pension and healthcare obligations and increase revenue. Instead of sending out Requests For Proposals for private companies to take over the duties of the city’s nine parking enforcement officers, the City Council decided to stick with the city department as it is. In addition, the council also is pursing installing credit card-accepting parking meters, which have been shown to increase revenue in other cities, including Manhattan Beach.

Tony Papendrea writes a ticket on Hermosa Avenue over Labor Day weekend. Photo by Ed Pilolla

Tony Papendrea writes a ticket on Hermosa Avenue over Labor Day weekend. Photo by Ed Pilolla

The city is conducting a pilot program with several parking spaces on Upper Pier Avenue equipped with electronic parking meters. Revenue generated by parking citations in the city hit an all-time high last year with $1,956,290 collected, according to the city’s finance department. Revenue generated by the city’s 1,671 coin-operated meters generated $1,657,186 last year. The high-water mark for revenue from parking meters came in 2010 with $1,717,007.


No Mo’ Styrofoam

The Hermosa Beach City Council outlawed polystyrene takeout containers in the city, making Hermosa Beach the first community in the South Bay to enact such a restriction.

Max Riley, 8, holds a recycled paper tray now used on Fridays at the Hermosa schools. Photo by Ed Pilolla

Max Riley, 8, holds a recycled paper tray now used on Fridays at the Hermosa schools. Photo by Ed Pilolla

The ban affects restaurants, grocery stores and food vendors that distribute prepared foods in foam containers.

Environmental groups say polystyrene is a main culprit polluting the beach and ocean. The product breaks down into the tiny and toxic flakes that look like food to fish and birds.

The city plans to partner with the packaging industry, local businesses and environmental groups in an education effort before enforcement.

The ban applies to vendors at city events such as Fiesta Hermosa and excludes the Hermosa Beach City School District’s official school lunch program. In fact, excluding the Hermosa schools prompted a young brother and sister in the Hermosa schools to introduce recycle paper trays at lunch on Fridays instead of Styrofoam trays. Max and Reece Riley, a fourth- and second-grader respectively, began what is being called Foam Free Fridays at both Valley and View schools. Instead of Styrofoam trays, the schools now serve pizza on recycled and recyclable paper trays that can also be composted.

A variety of parents are donating $20 a week to support the switch of trays, and the program is being overseen by Grades of Green, a non-profit with the mission of bettering the environment for youngsters.


Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was a busy holiday for the city. The city’s 8-cell jail filled up at 10 p.m. and officers had to transport those in custody to neighboring jails or release them to family who picked them up. It was only the second time in 17 years that the jail has filled to capacity, said Hermosa Beach Police Sgt. Bob Higgins.

Police on horseback patrol the Second Street beach. Photo by Ed Pilolla

Police on horseback patrol the Second Street beach. Photo by Ed Pilolla

Authorities used horses to clear out a dense pocket of partying by 2,000 16- to 21-year-olds at the Second Street beach.

The City Council responded by asking city staff for a report of how other communities deal with a massive infusion of visitors on a holiday. City officials pointed to Manhattan Beach, which began regulating short-term home rentals during the popular six-man tournament as a possible model for Hermosa Beach.


Third Mural Unveiled

The third mural produced by the Hermosa Beach Murals Project was unveiled on Hermosa Avenue. The theme of this year’s mural was West Coast Jazz, and renowned mural artist John Pugh included images of jazz greats Chet Baker, Howard Rumsey and Gerry Mulligan in his piece on the north-facing wall of 1007 Hermosa Avenue.

The mural Hermosa Jazz is unveiled. Photo by Ed Pilolla

The mural Hermosa Jazz is unveiled. Photo by Ed Pilolla

Pugh, who is renowned for his 3D-style mural art, said Hermosa Jazz is a fresh mix of past and present images.

“My whole schtick is creating illusion,” Pugh said. “Everyone likes to be tricked. People are drawn in.”

The non-profit murals project’s first mural was unveiled in 2011 with Art Mortimer view of downtown Hermosa Beach in 1924 on the north-facing wall of the downtown municipal parking structure at 14th Court and Hermosa Avenue. The second mural depicting Hermosa Beach in 1909 was done by Chris Coakley at Pier and Manhattan avenues on the side of the New Orleans Café.


PCH Bridge?

Mayor Jeff Duclos has spearheaded a drive to build a pedestrian bridge spanning Pacific Coast Highway. Duclos believes the bridge’s construction can be paid for entirely with a variety of grants, creating a new city landmark linking both the east and west sides of the city.

The project, which is still in the conceptual stage, has been met with support as well as questions about operational costs and where exactly the bridge might be located.

The city owns property at the southwest corner of Pier Avenue and at northeast corner Aviation Boulevard, making for the possibility of a diagonal bridge between the two locations. There’s also the possibility of building a bridge at Artesia Boulevard or at 16th Street. Duclos envisions future “scoping sessions” involving community members to provide input on any and all potential bridge sites.

In the end, Caltrans must issue permits to construct a bridge spanning PCH, and the city will have to compile a project study report with traffic and pedestrian data in order to convince Caltrans that a crosswalk isn’t good enough for safety.


No smoking

The city outlawed smoking at all of Hermosa’s outdoor dining areas, the popular Pier Plaza, the city pier, the Strand, the greenbelt parkway, and all city parks and parking lots. Smoking was already outlawed on the city-owned beach.

Violators of the ban can be fined $100 to $500, and after a third police citation, a misdemeanor criminal charge can be sought. City officials said they hope to avoid citations, and proponents of the ban have predicted it will be self-enforcing. Banners announcing the ban have been hung on the Strand and throughout the city.

It is perhaps the most aggressive outdoor smoking ban in the region.


Treasurer controversy

City Treasurer David Cohn has been identified by police as the victim of an extortion attempt, and the case has generated

City Treasurer David Cohn speaks at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting. Photo by Ed Pilolla

City Treasurer David Cohn speaks at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting. Photo by Ed Pilolla

enough controversy that the City Council increased its oversight of the treasurer’s duties. The tawdry details of the crime have emerged over the last month, focusing on a massage Cohn received in his home Nov. 3 by a 26-year-old masseuse he met on Craigslist.

Cohn has said he has done nothing wrong. During a preliminary hearing at the Torrance Courthouse on Dec. 17, police said Cohn paid for a sexual favor as part of a massage from the masseuse on Oct. 26. After the massage in his home on Nov. 3, a dispute over payment appears to have erupted between Cohn and the masseuse. Cohn accused her of stealing his iPad when she left his house, and she has been charged with attempted extortion. Cohn took the stand in the preliminary hearing and a trial is expected to unfold next year. Cohn, who was elected to office last November, has said he plans to serve out his four-year term.


New Employee Contract

The city of Hermosa Beach reached a deal with its employees after several months of contentious negotiations. The City Council ended up supporting a new, three-year contract for city employees that balances an increase in what they pay for retirement benefits with an increase in their salary.

Under the terms of the new deal, the city will no longer pay the employee share of their retirement contribution to the state’s CalPERS pension system. Instead, the city gives compensates employees with an increase in their salary over three years to match what they will have to pay into their retirement package.

Under the terms of the deal, a cost-savings third tier will be added to the city’s retirement system beginning in January. The new contract will be retroactive for six months and remain in effect into 2015, officials said.

Editor’s note: Additional 2012 year in review articles will be published over the next week.


In this article: Mermaid property near sale [UPDATE]

In this article: Hermosa Beach Treasurer David Cohn testifies about massage gone bad

In this article: Hermosa Beach inks three-year deal with employees

In this article: Aggressive Hermosa Beach outdoor smoking ban to begin

In this article: Hermosa Beach pedestrian bridge over PCH focus of forum

In this article: Jazz mural unveiled in Hermosa Beach [PHOTOS]

In this article: Fourth of July fills Hermosa jail

In this article: Fourth-grader greens lunchtime at Hermosa Beach schools

In this article: Hermosa Beach won’t outsource parking duties

In this article: Hermosa Beach selects new city manager


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