Saturday, September 21, 2013

What Interests Me About Hermosa Beach

Stop Oil in Hermosa@NoBPinHB17 Sep

@ArthurCSchaper you live in Torrance so what is your interest in Hermosa Beach?

Honestly, though, what does a Torrance resident have to do with Hermosa Beach? The seaside beachfront community has 19,000 residents, compared to 150,000 in Torrance. Hermosa Beach is a wealthy enclave, while Torrance is a middle class metropolis. However, despite the diminutive size of the Beautiful City compared to the rest of the South Bay, I find that a number of big issues are getting bigger in this tiny town, and residents, civic activists, and statewide representatives should pay more attention.

Consider the matter of public education.

While other school districts enjoy a stable or suffer a steadily declining enrollment, the Hermosa Beach City School District, a two-school K-8 arrangement, is witnessing a marked student population increase. The district leaders have requisitioned eight modular classrooms, and now the school board is discussing how to expand. The last time that HBCSD had 1,000 plus students, there were six school sites! While other schools are rebuilding or closing, HBCSD is expanding. Quite a record.

Then another issue looms. For a school district with such high test scores, with such committed parents, with a dedicated interest to open discussion on education matters (eight candidates running for school board this year), why is it that the state legislature feels compelled, if not justified, to take away funds from high performing schools such as HBCSD? The drive for funding equity in California schools should not be a race to the bottom, yet if a school district demonstrates reported success, they lose funding. Where's the equity, the justice in that? The issue of scholastic achievement, wealth vs. poverty, and the sources of student success can find no better forum of discussion (and criticism) than in Hermosa Beach.

Then there's the E and B Natural Resources settlement, a fifteen-year battle which has (not quite) come to an end. Imagine, a wealthy enclave facing an even wealthier lawsuit, one which would bankrupt the city irreparably. A previous contract from a former city council joined with one oil company for drilling. In 1998, Hermosa Beach residents voted to ban oil drilling in their fair city. A lawsuit ensued for $750 million -- !!!. Can anyone shout "Lawsuit abuse?!" Like a page out of a John Grisham novel, city leaders ran their own mock jury trial, then decided to settle instead of go to trial (and lose). A little locale facing off against a Big Corporation: this kind of drama one finds in movies, never in one's backyard.

Then there's the creeping in of the Green agenda, and I mean green as in environmentalism, which wastes the green, as in money. Aside from New York City, I cannot think of any city council leadership besides the sitting majority in Hermosa Beach which has applauded banning smoking from an entire city's public thoroughfares, along with other nanny-state, micromanaging policies. I cannot recall of any city where a former mayor would spend more time vetting his green credentials with foreign visitors, like from China, instead of maintaining the daily well-being and quality of life in his hometown. I also cannot think of any other city where local residents are also vocal ones, whether in the press or in person, to resist these colorful encroachments.

And of course, a microcosm of California’s statewide pension crises/abuses is center stage in Hermosa Beach. Public parking enforcers make the same salary as a teacher, yet work far less (if I may be so bold). The city has had one murder in a decade, and very few fires, yet why do public safety leaders receive such large salaries and generous pensions? Why do public sector union leaders claim that cutting costs and reforming pensions would lead to a mass exodus of public safety talent from Hermosa?

The Los Angeles Country Civil Grand Jury cautioned Hermosa Beach city leaders about these pension obligations. City leaders who take on these issues face off with union leaders, and sometimes to the detriment of their privacy. If LA Weekly takes time and space to take public sector unions to task in Hermosa, then reformers throughout the state of California ought to pay attention, too. These ongoing battles between city leaders and unions over budgets and pensions, over present security and future solvency, are playing out all over the state of California. Yet in Hermosa Beach, the conjunction of highly-paid service leaders compared to the fraction of crimes and public disturbances would suggest that a move for reform is not only long overdue, but would serve as a welcome example for California’s other struggling municipalities.

And just for fun, a cat’s visit to city hall, plus haggling over who can endorse whom during a city council meeting, just adds a little more spice to a little city with lots of drama, where residents take leadership seriously, and where activists can learn how best to deal with the encroachment of the state, the potential abuses of extensive government power, and the best means for maintain public safety, fiscal restraint, and a high quality of life.

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