LETTERS AND PRIORITIES
Addressing the past
Manhattan Beach has been sprinkled with fairy dust ever since I arrived here in 1977. Our town has seen the most unbelievable significant increase in property value in the entire United States for decades, creating billions of dollars in value; some of the lowest crime rates at the center of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world; and a meteoric rise in educational status, allowing the district to share spots in the top five among 1,000 California school districts. As time has passed, our virtual unknown existence has been transformed to world-renown fame with the home of some of the most distinguished members of entertainment, law, sports, aerospace, internet, footwear, and even gold medal-winning Olympians, to name a few. If ever there was a town in America that has had it so good for so long, one would be hard-pressed to find another.
Life is good and will likely continue to be so for a long time here.
With all we have and can look forward to, let it be our new history that we did everything that was “just” to answer for what our forefathers could-not — or would-not — understand. Now is the time to address our past, just as our fellow Americans are doing across the nation for the right reasons at the right time. Manhattan Beach pride is within our grasp today. We can show the world what it is to move forward correctly, taking the lead of a voluntary, symbolic atonement for the nation’s inability to truly live up to its creed of justice for all. Although it’s not easy to recognize that our community is not without its participation in racist history, we cannot move on unless we create a 21st Century sense of pride by “giving back” and “apologizing” for the wrongs of the past. It’s the kind of societal value we pray all of our children learn to cherish. Let it be not the price we pay, but the model for what an evolved society can do to eradicate the seemingly insurmountable disease of racial inequality.
—Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, September 9, 2021
Proposed cannabis initiative
She came to the door and tried to convince me that safety issues were of paramount importance when supporting the cannabis initiative for Manhattan Beach. I asked the solicitor why the “Economic Development Reform Coalition of Southern California” supports a law that exempts them from taxation. What businesses dictate their tax terms when they introduce themselves to a community? When did this become a concept? In other words, the new law would exempt support for the city, which includes the police. Safety issues? She could not answer the question and moved on. For clarification, yes, the initiative offers the discretion of the cannabis stores to provide a tax; however, it will be on their terms. Also, what city manager wants the responsibility to oversee an industry under significant separate terms compared to all other businesses? Subjecting a city manager’s discretion to regulate an industry minus normal council oversite is a complete head-scratcher. The arrogance of that proposal speaks for itself with respect to the democratic process in effect since 1912 in Manhattan Beach. Smoking and growing marijuana in Manhattan Beach has been legal for years. That issue is a subject matter that the voters decided on long ago. The problem becomes why this initiative proposes to dictate business exceptions that no other business would ever consider for the sake of embarrassment. What kind of economic development is that?
—Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, January 13, 2022
Manhattan Beach police chief recruitment
Re: “City seeks community input for police chief recruitment,” The Beach Reporter, 2/10/22 History has shown that over the last 100 years, hiring a police chief in Manhattan Beach within the ranks has been more successful than not. One notable exception to this rule was Chief Eve Irvine who did an incredible job [2011-2017]. Since 2017, excluding 2021, which has unreported crime stats, violent crime is down 39%, and property crime is down 12%. Despite the headlines or neighborly attention to crime shock value, the MBPD has done an incredible job protecting our community for years. To his credit, our city manager has outsourced the search for a new police chief and admirably has asked for community input to ensure transparency. I am sure competent applicants will apply. Given the above statistics speak for themselves — and as such, the present command, detective, and patrols successfully provide excellent results — why would we ask someone who garners no association with the department to take over? My vote is to seriously consider the present commanders who have worked hard with proven results.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, February 24, 2022
Justice vs. eminent domain
She had a dream that came true. She dreamed of owning beachfront property on the coast of California [Manhattan Beach], where she could raise a family in paradise and possibly create a business like no other. She developed a mecca for people who had never known the freedom emancipation had promised 40 years earlier. This magical location seemed to be the place where true cultural freedom was in place. Her property on the beach was void of persecution and racial judgment, unlike any other location she could find. Why would anyone want to give up a place where celebration, dance, recreation, and social fraternization were next to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. She didn’t; who would? When the city leaders created their version of justice by enacting the laws of eminent domain to force a nightmare of cowardly intention upon her dream, she fought. Manhattan Beach was the exception to the rule, she thought. “Colored people,” contrary to California law at the time, could not purchase land on any other beach in the Santa Monica Bay — another story. She found a place that worked for over 10 years. So why could it have not continued to work? It worked too successfully outside of the restraints of bigotry. When the Manhattan Beach City Council currently limits its focus to the facts for the case surrounding the lawful enforcement of eminent domain, they detract from the true “injustice” of the case and trial in 1924-29. This injustice should weigh heavily on everyone’s sense of fairness. More importantly, it just gives more credence to the only statement of value and importance at the time. It was when at the end of the trial Ms. Bruce said, “…the attempt to make a park out of these two blocks was a direct slap at us because we were not born white people.” Council, why are most of you focused on those who conspired for the indefensible rather than someone who was punished for dreaming? She died in poverty.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, November 11, 2021
Bruces Beach Park usage
Possibly twice a year for a few hours advocates for Bruces Beach Park are asking to celebrate a significant historic focal point. The result is that some view this as a threat to law and order. The apoplectic vitriol has generated so much fervor that all of a sudden our Parks & Recreation Commission and City Council find it necessary to review City Park policy for permits to access our cities parks. This should be an opportunity for our community to come out and celebrate with others the peaceful liberation from bigotry on this spot that has brought national attention to Manhattan Beach and now highlights the change and observance that it deserves. For most of us who recognize the real underlying hypocrisy, it’s time to encourage a better sense of community by stopping the back and forth, Next-Door Neighbor Facebook, yelling at each other judgments of moral high ground. This behavior is confrontational and divisive. Our strength is our resolve to share inclusive values no matter who you are or where you come from. That’s our true beach culture.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, March 17, 2022
Council Out Of Touch
In a May 4 Manhattan Beach City Council meeting, it was decided that there should be no more than one real estate agent on the city’s Planning Commission. The council has never made a requirement of distinguishing what you do for a living as criteria for serving on a commission. It was stated that this was the rationale. Notwithstanding the constitutional legality of this vote and decision, what message was this to licensed professionals or anyone else? Do we now have class distinction and bias based on what we do for a living? Should only one attorney, architect, plumber, health care worker, store owner, service industry, retiree, etc., be allowed on any city commission? Is this the precedent that we want to set in our community? There is a lack of understanding regarding the implications of such a move. It’s a prime example of incompetence by the current council in knowing about the city’s leadership. Want proof? There were three licensed real estate professionals on the Planning Commission. Yes, there are still two currently serving. The one removed had been a city commissioner for nearly ten years and earned the position to be the next chairperson. Only current Mayor Stern and Councilman Napolitano could see this for what it was, reckless and an insult to the entire profession. If the new requirement is that only one Realtor be allowed to serve, then should a special session be held to make sure the city council votes one of them off? I hope not because no one who serves on any commission deserves that kind of humiliation and lack of appreciation after serving their community honorably.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, October 7, 2021
Manhattan Beach Mayor Hildy Stern’s kindness initiative recognizes the sacrifices and dedication of citizens who personify playing forward positive community energy. Former Mayor Nick Tell created a similarly respected project during his term. For decades, one citizen would receive a yearly award in special recognition of ultra volunteerism called the Rose & Scroll presented by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce. Thousands of volunteers give their time and talents to our small community with no reservation or necessary thanks. It’s been one of the hallmarks of our community since its inception. Early on, Mayor Stern recognized the current unhealthy divisions we suffer from are deep-rooted like no other time in our community’s history. Only individuals with diplomatic, thoughtful, and open-minded approaches can begin to bring us back to our community’s famous laidback, one-step at a time problem-solving culture. People move here because it’s a breath of fresh sea air like no other community in LA County. So when three members of the City Council find fault with a program recognizing the kindness of our citizens because it takes too long, it makes your head spin. All mayors during their term are given the responsibility of creating a “Mayor’s Project” at their discretion. No council found any other mayor’s project objectionable after its inception. This majority decided to consider lessening its impact after its start by not presenting it as the mayor intended. The lack of respect, decorum, appreciation, and insight is astonishing, cavalier, and harmful to the community. It almost goes without saying that finding fault with a “Kindness Initiative” could not be more poetic in its ridiculous sense of irony. Councilman Steve Napolitano was correct in asserting the item does not belong on the agenda. Is this the best we can do? Council, what right do you have to assuage the sacrifices of our outstanding citizens?
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, December 16, 2021
Compliance with state housing laws
It is critical for our community to know that if you choose to fight Sacramento about housing elements, the state has the leverage to dismantle our city planning department and run the development authority themselves. Some council political grandstanding members are taking out-of-touch, dangerous positions given the dire consequences. Ask Huntington Beach how their fight turned out. It is time for the community to understand the process. It is workable if cooler heads understand the system. The Manhattan Beach staff did the right thing abiding by current law, thereby not putting a target on our back with Sacramento. Two years ago, the city was gracious enough to send me to a statewide planning convention as a city commissioner. I learned the state was eager to make examples of those cities that go non-compliant. I sounded the whistle when I returned and made suggestions that went unheard.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, March 3, 2022
A few years ago, Sacramento sent a subtle message to wealthy communities. Start augmenting your local school district budget yourselves. Why? Because low-income school students' parents do not have enough money to do the same, their schools will get more money than yours. That has not changed and is not going to change anytime soon.
As a result, most communities of wealth choose not to fight because the amount of time and effort it would take to reverse Sacramento's mandate did not work with the graduating schedule of their children. Instead, they either created parcel taxes or foundations to make up for the loss. Even those approaches did not make up the difference, but it was something.
Does money make a difference in a child's education? Studies and the academic result proves it does. Of the 5 top among the 10000 districts in the State, Manhattan Beach was nearly the last to achieve a parcel tax.
So if our community had stuck its head in the sand and not made up the difference via our Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, how many billions of dollars in property equity would not have materialized? It's easy to hate more taxes, but at what price? More importantly, what about the passion for our children to learn? 47th in the country for education spending is shameful enough but blaming school boards who post their budgets and meetings for all to see on easily accessible websites and still not getting local support is only hurting children and the community. Gossip, fundamental philosophical arguments, and hearsay discussion about what's on the table for all to see in black and white are pointless. A vote against measure A is a vote against local education.
What does it take to realize that if an extraordinarily successful foundation ( 6-7 Million a year, unique in the nation for a public school) and a $225 sunset tax cannot keep up with rising costs, something must effectuate in the alternative? The State is not coming any time soon. Please get educated about measure A.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, May 2022
From 2017 through 2020, violent crimes in Manhattan Beach decreased by 39.6%. Property crimes decreased by 12.1%. 2021 statistics are not reported yet. So when an organization that labels themselves Manhattan Beach Strong and reports the incorporated "City of Los Angeles" crime statistics to reflect a crime increase in the "City Of Manhattan Beach" to allude to the record of our current and past Chiefs, it makes your blood boil.
Chief Irvine and Abell delivered nothing but outstanding results to the community and should be recognized as such, and we will be lucky to promote a new Chief within our excellent Police Dept. There is nothing "strong" about the group mentioned above other than its need to report inflammatory approaches at the expense of needless scaring the public. Don't believe me? Just check the published crime stats on the Police Department's web page. If you are a conspiracy theorist, I am sure you think that the Department reports these false statistics to the FBI, which by the way, is a Federal offense.
Boston and other cities bravely incorporated the "strong" label to show unity within the community. "MB strong" needs to change its name since unity is not its mission, especially regarding perceptions of the Manhattan Beach Police Department. Respectfully, stop embarrassing the citizens of our wonderful town.- Stewart Fournier January 2022
P.S. It was reported to me personally by command staff that MB Strongs substitution of crime statistics showed a lack of appreciation for the Police Department.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach February 24, 2022.
The Housing Element
There is a way to navigate this severe and essential paradigm shift in our understanding of the housing situation. I fully support the legal challenge regarding the constitutionality of local vs. State when it comes to zoning issues. However, simply positioning ourselves in an adversarial way with Sacramento has serious liabilities, which I firmly believe most do not understand. Just because only 3% are not compliant now is not a good reason to simply put ourselves in a non-compliant position and hope for the best. Do not forget that the State, at any time, can simply disband our local planning department and take it over themselves. I witnessed a lecture by State officials that guaranteed 400 Planning Commissioners ( myself included) that the State is geared up to face non-compliant cities. Yes, there could be some character-changing elements for our community; however, they will not happen overnight. For example, builders will not go on a rampage to rage over the R1 zoning changes because they would have to live on the property for three years. So please, it is so important to understand that our community, with all its brainpower and citizen resource, can adjust. We need to address each issue separately and stop being seduced by headlines that predict all the doom and gloom. The issues regarding housing elements are complex, numerous, and cannot be ruled by just political will.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach February 24, 2022.
To vote is a "political choice." To force taxpayer-paid government staffers to draft a political statement to then be approved by a governing body is egregious, incorrect, and grossly undemocratic. Whether you are a supporter or not of the Gascon recall effort, the gross overstep by a majority of the Manhattan Beach City council to force city staff to draft a statement officially endorsing an election position is wrong. Notwithstanding the obvious that your boss may be asking you to do something you don't believe in, it's frightening to see members of this council simply ignoring a concept that holds this country together. That concept is a separation of partisan politics inside the administrative duties of government employees.
No responsible council has the inherent right to order its employees to draft a political position as a condition of employment. I have never seen this done before in Manhattan Beach.
Council make a motion to recall Gascon. You have that right. But draft your own work and make sure your community knows staff was not involved in your "political choice .”
- Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, April 8, 2022
In observing Manhattan City Council meetings for over 40 years, I have never witnessed the type of City Council member Hildy Stern has proven to be.
Agree with her or not, the work, dedication, thoughtfulness, and attention to detail are unprecedented. Many times when a leader like herself, who does not yell from the rooftops, comes along, we assume they are not making a difference because they, as a rule, do not dramatize their point of view to demand the spotlight. Truly influential leaders focused on respecting their constituents know that ultimately that is what the job should be.
The amount of boring and nauseating repeated political rhetoric that has reached a fever pitch in this town, like no other time I have witnessed, needs to be addressed by someone with sensible, calm, and perspicacious input. Headlines do not scare this councilwoman. She forages ahead with strength, fortitude and conviction despite being obviously outnumbered. If you listen closely to all of what she says, you will learn something new every time she speaks. She does her homework like no other council person I have ever witnessed. Give the attention her carefully crafted words deserve and your food for thought will advance your understanding, even if you disagree.
Despite her rich foundational justifications for her point of view, I am often amazed how the others on the dais move on because, frankly, it is obvious they don’t know how to address her poignant facts because they have not done their homework.
It is the kind of leadership a highly educated city like ours should repeatedly be demanding. I am looking forward to see what comes next when it is her turn to be our Mayor.
— Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach Reporter August 2021
Tim O'Brien, for years, has been the acting Battalion Chief on many Manhattan Beach Fire Department responses. Tim is a 911 hero who, along with his partner, was recruited by the New York Fire Department to represent Manhattan Beach and work for a week at the tower's disaster location. He and many other Manhattan Beach firemen represent the quintessential character of what we strive to keep in Manhattan Beach. So when he publicly challenged our City Council to look again at the labor debacle playing out before us all, the needle moved.
It took nearly a decade in the 90s for a former Fire Chief to establish Manhattan Beach as one of California's most sought-after departments by firefighters. As a result, an inevitable sense of family and pride swelled into the ranks of those lucky enough to call MBFD home in great measure because of the great pay and potential career advancement. Manhattan Beach residents have been the beneficiaries of emergency health care response on steroids, given that 100% of their Firemen are paramedics. As a result of their pay and pride, our community receives some of the best emergency services any community can expect.
It should be the concern of the City Council to review any department overtime question. They are to be applauded since we elect them to oversee any issue, no matter the political backlash. The problem, however, is when you have employment positions that are unfilled forcing acting Battalion Chiefs and others to cover via overtime for years and blame the Fire Association predetermined contractual agreements, moral high ground over clarity fails. As a result, we have overworked, demoralized, and politically active city employees that have had enough. Two of the 27 firefighters have left for better opportunities at other firehouses.
The City has every right to negotiate a new contract with Firefighters. The goal should be to assure that the public feels the trust between the two sides is being sought and established long-term. Acting Battalion Chiefs overworked and demoralized well-paid firefighters do not make the citizens feel safe. It's time for the citizens of Manhattan Beach to feel public safety is not in question. Both sides need to let go of what went wrong and focus on what will make MBFD firefighters continue their deserved sense of pride at their "home." The paramount issue is that every day the negotiation table stays empty; the citizens lose and are at risk.
- Stewart Fournier, Manhattan Beach, September 2022