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State of the City: Manhattan Beach is in 'Excellent Shape'

Feb 26, 2020 03:06PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Speakers at the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce's State of the City event included (from left): Manhattan Beach City Manager Bruce Moe, Manhattan Beach Mayor Nancy Hersman, Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Kelly Stroman, and Manhattan Beach Education Foundation Executive Director Hilary Mahan

The city of Manhattan Beach "is in excellent shape" proclaimed Manhattan Beach Mayor Nancy Hersman, at the start of a wide-ranging State of the City event sponsored by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce.

The annual event drew more than 250 people to the Joslyn Community Center on Wednesday morning, making it one of the largest State of the City events in recent memory, according to Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Kelly Stroman.

City and community leaders gave updates on finances, capital improvements, the homelessness issue, the Manhattan Village Mall reconstruction, and more.

Mayor Hersman on State of the City

Hersman began by citing the city's strong finances and its "outstanding" fire and police departments as among the city's assets. She also noted that the city had earned the top spot on Wall Street 24/7's list of "America's 50 Best Cities to Live" for 2020.

Hersman cited a variety of city improvements, including enhanced artwork and murals throughout the city, and increased efforts toward sustainability and clean air and water.

She also spoke out against statewide efforts to change local zoning laws, including the "infamous" SB 50, which would provide for additional density and the allowance of multi-family developments in single-family areas.

"While [SB 50] has failed several times, it is continuing to be pushed through, and they are telling us that it will likely pass in the coming year," said Hersman. "Our council is committed to continuing to fight these bills and other legislation that would negatively impact our city. As members of the California League of Cities and the South Bay Council of Governments, we are strongly lobbying against the elimination of local control of our zoning and the devastating effect that these laws could have on our very highly dense cities."

Added Hersman, "They tend to do a 'one size fits all' around the state and it just doesn't work."

Hersman also highlighted two upcoming events worth noting: The city will hold a town hall meeting on climate change on Monday at 6:00 p.m. at Joslyn Center. Additionally, Hersman said, a representative from the L.A. County Department of Health will be in attendance at next Tuesday's city council meeting to give an update on county-wide efforts regarding the coronavirus. 

Bruce Moe on City Finances

Manhattan Beach City Manager Bruce Moe concurred with Hersman that the city is in good shape. 

"The good news is, fortunately, we continue our tradition of having very stable budgets, stable revenues, controlled expenditures. So the tradition that earned us a AAA credit rating at one point from all three major credit rating agencies continues," said Moe. "We have a balanced operating budget this year and for the foreseeable future, and our revenues are stable."

Moe noted that 44 percent of the city's revenue comes from property taxes. (The city of Manhattan Beach receives about 15 cents on each dollar of property tax collected.) Property tax revenue continues to climb, he said, and it is a relatively stable source of funds.

The city also expects an increase in the TOT (transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax) this year from 10 percent to 12 percent, and again in 2022 to 14 percent. A new hotel is being built on Sepulveda at the site of the former El Torito, he noted, which would further add to city revenues.

Nevertheless, Moe listed challenges that the city is facing, including: 1) annual pension contributions rising from $9.2 million to $12.5 million in the next five years; 2) an unfunded actuarial liability/pension liability of $88.5 million; 3) unfunded capital improvement projects of $63.4 million; and 4) a storm water fund deficit over five years of $6.6 million.

Moe encouraged the audience to shop locally, noting that the city gets 1 percent back from purchases made in Manhattan Beach. "What you spend in Manhattan Beach, stays in Manhattan Beach," he said. 

Public Works Director Stephanie Katsouleas

Stephanie Katsouleas, public works director for the city of Manhattan Beach, outlined a variety of capital projects in the works for the city, including the Peck reservoir replacement, the city's Fire Station 2, and Polliwog Park improvements. 

The $20 million (largely federally funded) project to improve the Sepulveda bridge is on track to start in September or October. Projected to last for 15 months, the effort will widen the fourth lane on Sepulveda and seismically retrofit the entire bridge. 

Katsouleas also highlighted what she called her "pet project:" installing low-profile solar pathway lights on the wood chip path to increase visibility without "lighting the Greenbelt up like a Christmas tree."

In a pilot phase on the project, the city had put out four lights along the Greenbelt, accompanied by a sign encouraging people to text in their votes about if they approved of the lights.

All told, the city received 513 responses, she said, with 76 percent saying "love it" and 7 percent "like it" for an 83 percent favorable rating. The City Council has since approved 70 lights. 

Also ahead are digital parking meter upgrades that will allow for pay by phone, Apple pay, and the ability to add time remotely (within allowed limits). Upgrades on water meters will allow for automatic reading, allowing consumers to monitor real-time consumption. And finally, the city is rolling out directional signage city wide for its Wayfinding master plan that aligns with the new city logo and design theme. 

George Gabriel, City Homelessness Liaison

George Gabriel, senior management analyst with the city of Manhattan Beach, has taken on the  title of "Homelessness Liaison" for the city as it implements its five-year plan to address homelessness. 

Gabriel reported that the current count showed 21 homeless individuals in Manhattan Beach, 25 in Hermosa Beach, and 174 in Redondo Beach. He noted, however, that there is a "transient nature" in that count as the homeless individuals tend to move between cities from day to day.

In April 2019, the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative awarded $330,665 in Measure H grant funding to the South Bay beach cities to be used toward towards homeless coordination, training and housing navigation services. The beach cities awarded a subcontract to a qualified homeless services firm, Harbor Interfaith Services, to provide three full-time equivalent positions to assist homeless individuals and families in the South Bay Beach Cities.

Gabriel said that anyone noticing a homeless person who needs assistance with outreach is encouraged to contact, or to contact the Manhattan Beach Police non-emergency number (as long as it is a non-urgent situation), at 310-802-5140.

Don Ziss, Manhattan Village Mall

Don Ziss, vice president and senior general manager of the Manhattan Village Mall, reported on the construction process that is underway as the mall gets a complete overhaul. 

The central "plaza" area is expected to finish in May, he said. It includes features such as a pond, and benches with lighting and charging stations.

The mall will be adding three boutique fitness destinations, including Coreology, Corepower Yoga, and Cyclebar. Additionally, the mall will fill out its roster of restaurants with new additions including Sweet Green, JOEY, Edo, Dan (modern Chinese), and Sidecar Doughnuts.

"We endeavor to be the best collection of food and dining in all of the South Bay," said Ziss. 

The two-story, 67,000-square-foot structure that used to house the men's and home section of Macy's will be divided up into four new sections. There will be three retail spots on the first floor and a 30,000-square-foot office on the second floor (now available for rent), according to Ziss.

Ziss noted that the sales tax generated by the three businesses ("well-known retailers") to be situated on the first floor is expected to be more than double what Macy's had previously generated in the entire structure.

Hilary Mahan of MBEF

Hilary Mahan, executive director of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation (MBEF), described how Manhattan Beach is one of the lowest-funded districts in the state of California. Due to Prop. 13 and other rulings from the 1970s, Manhattan Beach's share of property taxes that are dedicated to education are extremely limited. The Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD) also receives the lowest amount of supplemental funding under the state's Local Control Funding Formula to provide for foster youth, English Language learners, and free and reduced lunch recipients. 

Thanks to contributions from the community, said Mahan, MBEF provided $6.5 million to the Manhattan Beach schools this year, amounting to 8 percent of the MBUSD budget. 

That said, MBUSD is facing increasing fiscal challenges - flat funding from the state, declining enrollment, increased health insurance and pension costs, and increased special education costs, to name a few.

MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews has said that the district needs to make $3.5 million in cuts, or the equivalent of 35 layoffs, which it has prepared to announce at Wednesday night's school board meeting. 

"An investment in MBEF is more and more critical," said Mahan, adding, "We have to work harder to address this structural deficit." 

The city has designated March 21-28 as Support Our Schools week, in which local businesses will be leading efforts to give back to schools through MBEF throughout the week.

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