With ballots already arriving in the mail and sample ballots being sent out this week, voters will decide among five candidates for a Hermosa Beach City Council seat in an all mail-in election on May 11.
The candidates are from diverse backgrounds and recently discussed a few issues about outdoor dining and its impacts on local businesses, the importance of city’s small town feel while hosting events that attract thousands of visitors and world-wide attention and why they feel they offer a new perspective to the City Council.
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.
Randy Balik said his diverse business background and his 25 years of living in the city, raising a family and volunteering for youth sports, has allowed him to see “all aspects of Hermosa Beach living.”
“I've seen it through a few decades of significant change,” Balik said.
Balik, who co-owns and operates an environmental contracting business and is also a co-founder of a geothermal technology company, has run companies with as many as 75 employees. He said he understands which environmental programs are realistic and which are not.
Balik, who is married with two children in the Hermosa Beach School District, said large scale events such as Fiesta Hermosa and the AVP are "vital to our city” and showcases the city’s most important asset.
"I love our small beachy feel, but the fact is we cannot survive on revenue from our local residents alone. We require as a functioning city to bring in revenue in the forms of sales tax and hotel tax from outside visitors as well,” Balik said.
There are inequities between the restaurants benefitting from the outdoor dining and other retail and professional businesses, Balik said. There is increasing frustration amongst business owners, especially those on upper Pier Avenue, "who feel like they're getting the short end of the stick while they are also still supportive of the outdoor dining," he said.
The answers, said Balik, come down to parking and access issues. Some parking lots on upper Pier Avenue could be repurposed, he said, to allow more parking spaces for businesses. "I do feel that our outdoor dining patios should not extend into parking spaces that are beyond the storefront of an existing restaurant and encroach into the storefront space of a neighboring business," Balik said.
Balik added that opening outdoor patios that are closed during certain parts of the day should be considered.
“There should be some thought given to getting access to the public to use those tables during that closure period to get some more visibility to the businesses in the immediate area,” Balik said.
As a former federal budget manager with four decades of involvement with environmental and other issues in the South Bay, Dean Francois said he brings experience to handle complex issues faced by the City Council.
Francois said he's helped with diverting pollution away from the beach, overdevelopment and traffic issues on Vista del Mar. He's been involved with the Sierra Club, has been appointed to city commissions and has volunteered with organizations such as the Red Cross.
“Compared to the other candidates in this election, I have the proven independence and experience as an advocate testifying in front of the council, and by serving as a councilmember will have the best perspective of listening to those that advocate before me at city hall,” Francois said.
The City needs to consider all businesses, said Francois, not just restaurants and bars.
“It's been a great thing to be able to use our public parking and streets to allow restaurants to be able to stay in business and recover,” Francois said. “Because of that, the reality is they're parking spaces and it's public property and somehow we have to mold this into the future business model to see how it's going to work in the future.”
Francois said there was no doubt that large scale events help publicize the city in a big way.
“That's probably the main reason we have them and we can tolerate it to some extent because it helps the economy,” Francois said.
Francois said he is “confident we can keep the small town feel” and still host these events.
“I will ensure complete public airing, notice and transparency in the planning of large events,” he said. “I would not support sudden quick approvals such as what occurred with the Teen Choice Awards. That event could have been accommodated in a much better fashion with adequate planning.”
In August 2019, Hermosa Beach hosted the Teen Choice Awards at the beach, starring Taylor Swift and The Jonas Brothers. Parking, noise and set up issues around Pier Plaza caused consternation amongst residents and business owners alike.
Raymond Jackson said when his family moved to Hermosa Beach in 2014, he planned to take a year off before taking on a new job, but that never happened because he became so busy volunteering for schools and youth sports.
The retired military man said that's who he is in terms of public service.
"I think with my previous skill set, in terms of dealing with bureaucracies and working through complex issues... I think I have the skill set where I can hit the ground running and help move the city forward,” Jackson said.
Jackson, married with two children, first enlisted in the Army in 1980 and served until his retirement. He was later commissioned as an officer and reentered the Army where he rose to the rank of Colonel. He last served at the Pentagon in the Office of The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.
Jackson said there's room in the city for large-scale events and the city should promote them to bring in revenue because Hermosa Beach can't escape being a destination city.
"This isn't a quaint little quiet beach town, it never has been and never will be," Jackson said. "We are a bedroom community on the outskirts of a city, a huge metropolis, so let's embrace who we are, let's promote who we are. And let's do it reasonably, responsibly, and help the city move forward...we just need to make sure we've got the right mix moving forward."
Jackson said he does not want to turn Hermosa Beach into an open flea market, but outdoor walking, dining and shopping should be promoted in the city to add a sense of vitality and vigor. But while outdoor dining is doing well, other retail stores are losing parking spaces.
“There's nothing better than strolling through a town with your mocha cappuccino, children are doing a little window shopping or doing a little rack shopping, or just stopping at the bench and just chilling and taking things in without spending a dime,” Jackson said.
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Daniel Rittenhouse, who earned his degree in political science and government from Harvard University, said he helped start one of the largest renewable energy investment groups in the country and he feels he will add an expertise in environmental causes to the dais.
Rittenhouse co-founded the Zions Bancorporation Renewable Energy Division, which has invested billions of dollars into wind and solar projects and has become one of the largest renewable energy banking groups in the United States. He subsequently co-founded two additional renewable energy companies focused on building solar and storage infrastructure.
“Given my age and what I do for a living. I think I'm really well positioned to contribute to the number of environmental issues that the city is going to be facing,” which he said includes removing the AES Power Plant in Redondo Beach.
What makes Hermosa Beach great town, Rittenhouse said, is its small town feel. But larger events like Fiesta Hermosa and AVP volleyball tournaments, put the city on the map.
“I'm not talking about bringing huge festivals every other week… but if we were able to help our businesses, really add that beach vibrancy that makes us such a beautiful community, I think having these events makes our town a great place,” Rittenhouse said.
The pandemic has hit local businesses and restaurants hard. He said outdoor dining helps increase foot traffic and can be economically beneficial, not only for restaurants, but retail stores as well. But retail stores need a boost as well since they are losing parking spaces to the outdoor dining.
"I think there's a parking perception problem as you come down on Pier Avenue from PCH," Rittenhouse said. "Signs, I think would be helpful to place there and let people know where parking is, to make it really obvious where you can park."
Tara McNamara Stabile
As a journalist, Tara McNamara Stabile said she will bring a different perspective to the Hermosa Beach City Council.
“I'm used to rooting around and researching for causes, looking at potential consequences and societal outcomes as a result of decisions that are made or attitudes that are projected in society,” Stabile said.
Stabile said one of her bold ideas is a problem-solving app that she feels would increase engagement, communication and transparency with citizens and city government.
“What I really want to do is get all perspectives at the table, I want to create this problem-solving app where we can all share our ideas for how to improve the city, and how we can on an equal level, put your idea out there," Stabile said. "Other residents can vote them up or down. We start to see who has the best idea. The city can come in and guide it.”
Stabile said she loves Hermosa Beach’s history and its small-town vibe, but while she wants visitors to come to the city and shop and eat, “but the idea is that we want our lives to be as hassle free as possible.
To solve parking issues, said Stabile, the City could implement parking valets or a resident parking forgiveness program. But a traffic lane does not need to be lost on Pier or Hermosa Avenue for outdoor dining to continue in the post-pandemic economy.
While restaurants have benefitted from outdoor dining, some retail has taken a blow due to a loss of parking spaces.
“We also need to let the services thrive," said Stabile. "We (also) don’t want to see any more restaurants go out of business. We love our restaurants.,” she said.
In 2004, Stabile co-founded KidsPickFlicks, to create young movie critics as a way to develop critical thinking. She then worked at Common Sense-Media to advice parents on questionable film content. She created the 80sMovieGuide.com as well as co-hosting a podcast with her daughter. She also co-founded a talk radio show in Washington D.C., with a format to crowd-solve issues with diverse voices.
How to vote
The candidates are vying to replace former Councilman Hany Fangary, who vacated his seat when he moved his family to Manhattan Beach. Votes won't head to the polls on May 11, but the election is being conducted entirely by mail.
Ballots postmarked by Election Day have until the following Friday, May 14 to make it to the registrar's office. The deadline to return ballots in person to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office, in Norwalk, is 8 p.m. on Election Day.
If you want to cast a ballot in the May 11 election, the deadline to register or transfer voter registration is April 26.
The registrar will likely begin releasing early returns after 8 p.m. May 11. The registrar is tentatively scheduled to certify the results on May 24.