Extending outdoor dining beyond the coronavirus pandemic and reducing homelessness were among the key issues five candidates for a vacated City Council seat discussed at a forum this week.
A special, all mail-in ballot election to replace former Councilman Hany Fangary, who vacated his seat when he moved his family to Manhattan Beach, is set for May 11. Ballots go out April 12. The five candidates are:
- Contractor and business owner Randy Balik;
- Retired budget director Dean Francois;
- Retired U.S. Army Col. Raymond Jackson;
- Daniel Rittenhouse, a renewable energy executive; and
- Film journalist Tara McNamara Stabile.
The candidates largely agreed the city should consider extending its temporary outdoor dining program — initially enacted as a lifeline to restaurants while indoor dining was banned — but also said doing so may hurt other businesses by limiting parking. The city has temporarily reduced Hermosa and Pier avenues to one lane for six months to bolster foot traffic.
“We have the opportunity to rebrand ourselves and become like a Riviera of the West Coast of the United States if we do it right,” Balik said. “It’s going to take some long-term vision and some long-term expenditure.
“In the near term, though,” he added, the city must “figure out a way to make sure the other businesses aren’t left in the dust.”
Stabile was more pointed about the costs of reducing parking options.
“I’ve talked to business owners,” Stabile said. “It’s taking up their parking spaces, and it is costing them business.
“So I think long-term,” she added, “we need to go back to having four lanes all the way across.”
Francois, though, said parking is a larger planning issue, and the city should extend the outdoor dining program so officials can effectively evaluate how it works.
Rittenhouse, meanwhile, said outdoor dining has been a bonus for Hermosa Beach.
“I really think the outdoor dining has enhanced the vibrancy and zest of Hermosa Beach,” Rittenhouse said, “and I think it should stay long after COVID is over.”
“We have a vitality downtown that we haven’t had before,” Jackson said. “There is excitement in the air and you can just feel the city alive with this outdoor dining right now. And when you sit down in restaurant, it’s quite often that you take notice of a business that you wouldn’t have taken notice of otherwise.”
The candidates also discussed homelessness, which has long been an issue across Los Angeles County and has touched Hermosa Beach as well. Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2020 survey — the 2021 count was canceled because of the coronavirus — Hermosa Beach saw an increase of people without permanent shelter to 28 from 25 the previous year.
“We have a prerogative to make sure that Hermosa Beach doesn’t (become) Venice or Santa Monica,” Rittenhouse said. “And I’m not just saying that the convenience of people that have lived here full time; it’s out of respect to not let people live in conditions like that.”
Balik said homelessness is “only going to be solved through public, private partnerships.”
Stabile, though, said the city could look into what Redondo Beach did recently and possibly build temporary Pallet shelters — prefabricated 64-square-foot aluminum cabins with onsite restrooms and showers — to help house people.
“I think that it is a really compassionate way to go,” Stabile said. “It is a place where they can stay and be safe and then also a place where we know where they are and we can get services to them.”
Other issues the candidates discussed included changes to the Greenbelt and increasing diversity of city staff — the latter of which the candidates said they supported.
Francois said he was committed to keeping the Greenbelt in “its natural state,” but that access for those with disabilities is essential — as is listening to the community.
“We need to involve the community, involve the residents, listen to people,” Francois said. “That’s on all sides of this subject, because people are passionate.”
Jackson, a first generation American who is the son of a Jamaican father and a mother who grew up in Holland, said he experienced firsthand “there are many in our town who don’t want to see any change” or “want to see diversity,” which he called sad and unfortunate.
“We have to walk the walk and talk to talk as well,” Jackson said. Hermosa must “value diversity of opinion, diversity of experience.”
The Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Association will host the next debate, via Zoom, at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 8.