It is often said that hindsight is 20/20. This year, it might be said we would like to see 2020 in hindsight.
Like many, I have no particular desire to relive 2020. I do, however, feel fortunate to have been Hermosa Beach’s mayor for most of the year, witnessing firsthand incredible moments and acts of resilience at every level of our community.
This year will undoubtedly shape our community in profound ways for years to come. The pandemic had an impact on virtually every aspect of our lives — from our physical, mental and economic wellbeing to our children’s education and futures.
We tangled profoundly with the difficult moments and ultimately rallied to meet history when it mattered the most, coming together to support one another in many ways large and small. We brought groceries to our neighbors, supported our local businesses, reinvented our children’s lives and did so much more.
Although I passed the gavel to the City’s new mayor, Justin Massey, in November, he agreed to let me recount Hermosa Beach’s year in review.
Shifting city's operations response
From the pandemic’s outset, City Staff moved quickly to deliver services in new ways — shifting to working at home while rapidly expanding the City’s ability to provide services online.
City Manager Suja Lowenthal, Finance Director Viki Copeland and City Staff did a great job of recalibrating a balanced budget this year despite significant and unanticipated revenue shortfalls. They were able to balance the budget without requiring layoffs or major program reductions, without raising taxes and without dipping into Hermosa Beach’s rainy-day fund.
This pandemic has required many members of our staff to work tirelessly, with City leadership holding multiple meetings each week to coordinate the City’s response to the Public Health Orders and implement the many changes in City operations.
It became an additional full-time effort to deliver on all fronts and provide frequent updates for the community across many channels, including City Council meetings, the City’s website, social media, local news outlets and a regular and ongoing COVID-19 Update distributed to subscribers via email and the City’s website.
City Staff responded quickly to shift City Council and other meetings to online formats, including our first-ever Virtual State of the City presentation this year. They hosted virtual contests and celebrations, such as our recent Veterans Day tribute, that featured signs bearing local veterans’ names surrounding our Veterans’ Memorial. We also hosted our first city-wide celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month in June.
Supporting local businesses
Our local businesses have faced some of the most significant and devastating challenges during the pandemic, and City Council and City Staff have worked closely with them to respond. We advocated for our businesses with county and state agencies, most recently as members of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments in seeking more COVID-relief funding for our businesses from L.A. County and the Governor. We urged them to consider the South Bay Cities as a separate entity in determining restrictions placed on businesses.
The City Council and Staff also took several specific actions to assist our businesses, including:
Banning commercial and residential evictions during the public health emergency in certain cases.
Delaying business license taxes and waiving encroachment fees.
Establishing an Economic Development Committee and a Stakeholder Working Group of business owners, property owners, our Chamber of Commerce and others to advise the City.
Creating a Business Resources Page on the City’s website to provide updated information.
Establishing a temporary outdoor dining and retail program to help our local businesses accommodate the earlier COVID-19 restrictions and reconfiguring Downtown streets to accommodate outdoor dining decks. The State’s and L.A. County’s recent Temporary Public Health Orders issued earlier this month temporarily reclosed outdoor dining.
The City also expanded these outdoor opportunities to gyms, fitness centers and personal care services, including hair and nail salons. The State’s recent Temporary Public Health Order also temporarily reclosed personal care services and hair salons.
Out of these significant changes, we have been able to experiment with ideas and create a more walkable community, especially in our downtown.
Addressing racial and social injustices
The tragic murder of a Black man, George Floyd, during an arrest by Minneapolis Police in May brought much-needed attention to racial and social injustices the nation is still trying to eradicate.
Hermosa Beach Police Chief Paul LeBaron joined the City in April and stepped in decisively to lead the Hermosa Beach Police Department (HBPD) during these trying times.
Our officers supported multiple requests from surrounding communities, sending officers to assist in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Culver City, Long Beach and Redondo Beach during incidents of civil unrest. They also responded to support several vigils and peaceful protests in Hermosa Beach and were able to ensure there was no property damage or violence here.
Chief LeBaron and the department’s team undertook a review of HBPD’s use of force and made necessary changes, publishing a “Where We Stand” document to address current recommendations and best practices in law enforcement.
As mayor, I signed the “My Brother’s Keeper Mayors Pledge” that former President Barack Obama championed. It seeks support for My Brother's Keeper Alliance through four mayoral actions regarding common-sense use of force rules. This pledge was not a reflection on HBPD’s performance. Rather, it was an act of solidarity with all those across our country who help to set policies and guidelines for local policing agencies. It also serves as a reflection of our commitment to accountability.
Keeping the City moving forward
Amid the pandemic and civil unrest, the City Council and Staff continued to move forward with the City’s routine work and priority projects. In addition to hiring a new police chief, the City hired seven new police officers in 2020. The City also hired its first appointed City Clerk, Eduardo Sarmiento, who has made significant strides in updating and further professionalizing the City Clerk function.
We worked with the Hermosa Beach School District and our community to develop a Neighborhood Transportation Management Plan which helped move the Hermosa Vista School construction project forward and will benefit the next generations of our community’s children and families.
We also continued to advance many of our Capital Improvement Projects, including the largest sewer project to date, citywide curb ramp construction to improve access and the remodel of the Fire Department to ensure the safety of L.A. County firefighters.
Progress on environmental programs
After listening to residents’ concerns regarding the Stormwater Infiltration Project, the City Council reached a new agreement with our neighboring cities that established a better way to meet state requirements for reducing toxic runoffs into our oceans.
The City also continued its environmental leadership by adopting an ordinance to expand the City’s ban on single use plastic and polystyrene/Styrofoam products that prohibits certain single-use plastics, including stirrers, straws, utensils and Mylar balloons.
The City implemented an organic waste recycling program. It continued to certify Green Businesses committed to sustainable practices and Clean Bay Businesses that implement initiatives to protect ocean water quality.
Before the pandemic, City Staff also hosted an innovative sea level rise demonstration, called “Look Ahead Hermosa.” This was a day-long demonstration on Pier Plaza that used virtual reality to educate the public about what sea level rise resulting from climate change would look like in Hermosa Beach.
Thanks to our local heroes
While the City Council and City Staff have worked diligently to serve the public and help our community during this challenging year, we could not have done it without so many in our community who volunteered to help one another.
We are deeply indebted to our frontline workers — the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, police and firefighters, and all who continue to provide the essential services we need.
All these selfless individuals put themselves and their families at risk so the rest of us could rely on them in our time of greatest need. We can never thank them enough for their generosity, humanity and personal sacrifices.
While the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccine gives us great hope for the future, we can show our gratitude to our front-line workers by continuing to do our part to protect them until a sufficient number of people have been vaccinated.
For a while longer, we can stay home as much as possible, avoid mingling with people outside our immediate households, wear effective face coverings and keep our distance in public.
As 2020 comes to a close, I conclude the best theme for our community is we have been resilient, together — with the many hearts and minds of our people rising to meet this moment in history with urgency, excellence, compassion and courage.
We wish all of you a healthy holiday season and express our sincerest hopes the end of 2020 will mark the beginning of a happier and more prosperous New Year for all!