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Meet the City Council Candidates, Part 1: Local Businesses, Bruce's Beach

Sep 26, 2020 08:17AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
On Election Day, November 3, Manhattan Beach will vote for three City Council candidates out of a field of seven.

Earlier this month, DigMB asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. What follows is their responses to those questions. For this edition, we arranged the candidates in alphabetical order by last name. For the next story (coming soon) with further questions, we will arrange the candidates in reverse alphabetical order.

Protection for Local Businesses

How can City Council best protect local businesses, especially given the disruptions and limitations caused by COVID-19?

Mark Burton: Our City Council should prioritize protecting our local merchants, the small business owners and operators who are MB residents and our friends and neighbors. Historically, our small business owners consistently support our City and our MB Schools and, in their time of desperate need, we need to support them.  

With the Covid-19 State and County health orders, our Council should zealously lobby on behalf of our small business owners and their interests, so they can fully reopen as soon as possible. Our Council should provide tax and permit relief during this time the Covid-19, with forgiveness or deferment. Finally, our Council should explore giving "Economic Opportunity Grants" to businesses that need the financial assistance to survive this Covid-19 shutdown.  

Proactive, creative thinking and problem solving are what is needed. Our Council should immediately form a "Small Business Survival" Task Force comprised of the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem and representatives of the small business community, commercial property owners and the MB Chamber.

During times of emergency, urgent action is needed. This is one of those times. We need our Downtown MB, North MB and all commercial areas to be up and running, vibrant and ready to go when the health orders are lifted.

Chaz Flemmings: The City and the current Mayor are doing everything possible with the uncertainty and limitations around COVID19 to protect businesses by offering outdoor dining options and increasing hours of dining to support business revenue. Listening to the concerns of our residents and business owners in a sensitive time takes empathy and sympathy on understanding the need for solution based results around Government and Transparency. We can't look but to succeed as a Council on issues we cannot find solutions based on excuses, that's where we need to change the method of how we conduct ourselves as Leaders.

Grettel Fournell: We all know that our small, locally owned businesses are suffering. We don’t know how long this crisis will last but we do know that there may be lasting affects to these businesses and our city’s budget, at least in the the short-term.

I commend our city council for swiftly enacting the recent outdoor dining ordinance. This is a great example of the city listening to the businesses. I believe that this type of collaboration should continue, streamlining processes where necessary to quickly help our businesses as well as consider that there are no adverse affects to our residents.

I propose that city council form a committee, together with business owners to explore/promote creative approaches to help our businesses, now during this crisis and into the future.

Councilmembers need to be ambassadors for our business community and understand
that sales tax revenue comes from our charming downtown retailers and restaurants as well as our larger retailers like Ralphs and Target.

I have always believed that local government is at its best when residents/businesses/partners alike have input, are heard and acknowledged, and work together for the well-being of their community, and in this case their business corridor.

Joe Franklin: We have to find new and innovative ways to let our local businesses survive and thrive to meet these challenges. For example, the new outside dining is a very good, short term solution. I am in favor of letting this solution continue.

There has to be more discussion with, and trust of, our business partners to solve problems. They are good neighbors. They are entrepreneurs and take risks most of us would not even consider. They contribute to the fabric and charm of our community. They can find ways to address these challenges. Let’s let them be a much larger part of the decision process.

Phoebe Lyons: As a City, we need to be prepared to act to support our businesses in meaningful ways, whether that means working with the County and State on reopening procedures, being prepared to dip into reserves for this unprecedented crisis, or listening intently to our business owners about how we can best support them. We should also look at changes that have already been made, such as outdoor dining and changes to parking meters, and make sure that these measures are working for our business owners and whether as a City we should make some of these changes permanent.

This is a dynamic situation. As such, the City must continuously be reevaluating what
has already been done to make sure it’s still working for our businesses and also must
be anticipating and planning for the future. Being proactive rather than reactive will be
our best defense.

Richard Montgomery: This Council quickly and energetically moved to allow street dining.  This helps not only the restaurants but drives traffic to local retail businesses. Our hands are tied by the State and County, but we have aggressively lobbied them for some relief. In fact, I proposed that the South Bay Mayors send a “combined letter” to Governor Newsom stating that the South Bay cities be allowed to move immediately but safely into Tier 2. That letter, signed by all the mayors was sent to Governor Newsom this week. In addition, I voted to extend the due date of business license fees and waived parking meter fees to provide relief to our impacted businesses.

Steve Napolitano: I’ve done everything I can to protect our local businesses and will continue to do that going forward. Over the last four years, I’ve worked with the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Business and Professionals Association, North End BID and others to come up with solutions to help our businesses thrive, from an extra week of free holiday parking downtown, to a review of Sepulveda zoning needs, to accelerating Manhattan Village’s remodel, to voting against increasing permit costs and many more. Businesses are best represented in groups, so I’d like to help create “business improvement districts (BID)” for the Sepulveda and Rosecrans corridors like we have for Downtown and the North End.

Since COVID-19 hit, I helped spearhead the flexible approach that have helped keep our businesses alive. We threw out the usual rulebook and quickly approved outdoor dining to help our restaurants. I initiated and pushed for the safe reopening of our retail businesses that led to Governor Newsom changing the rules so that all retail were treated the same. I voted to waive
fees and extend the deadline to pay business license taxes for several months. I also supported
an eviction moratorium for small business owners to help keep their doors open. Additionally, I
serve on the City’s Long-term Business Solution subcommittee and am working with our business stakeholders to re-envision the downtown and other commercial areas on how to best
serve our residents and businesses going forward.

When I was elected again in 2017, the City’s relationship with our businesses was rocky at best.
I’m proud to have reestablished a positive working relationship that helps all of us. We meet and
talk regularly and work out issues along the way. That’s how things get done and that’s what I’ll
continue to do. It’s that kind of relationship and collaboration that has made the difference in
keeping as many businesses open as we have.

Bruce's Beach

What should the City Council do to recognize the history of Bruce’s Beach? Should the city provide reparations to the Bruce family?

Mark Burton: Although the Bruce's Beach story is a story about the racist actions of a Council and its residents from a time long ago, it's a story we, as Manhattan Beach residents, should "Never Forget".

I was the only candidate to take a public position on Bruce's Beach some time ago. I urged the Council to have a Council meeting and address the full history of Bruce's Beach and to permit changing the plaque to accurately reflect that history. Council listened and held such a meeting. Now, Council is forming a Task Force whose sole mission is to determine the words to be placed on the plaque. And, we will be 2021 before this Task Force comes back with its recommendation. I don't think it is necessary to have a Task Force working almost six months to find words to put on the plaque after the Council had a meeting addressing the full history. However, the Task Force does move this discussion past the November election.

Regarding the reparations question, my position has been clear for some time. As a former City Attorney, I know that the California Constitution, the California Government Code and Statutes and our Municipal Code place severe restrictions on the deeding of taxpayer owned land and payment of taxpayer funds. So, I don't think it legally possible and our City can only do what is legal. However, I am sure there is a way "to make amends".

I don't believe our community is a racist community. Of that, I am certain. I am also certain acts of racism to occur. We need to commit to being an anti-racist community, always welcoming Black people and people of color with respect and kindness. We can, and will do better!

I believe the vast majority of our residents are accepting, caring and respectful to all. In fact, our greatest asset as a community is not our weather or our schools, it is our residents and the way they treat people with kindness.

Chaz Flemmings: Currently, we have a task force that has been created which will help give understanding to the history and issues surrounding this subject of Manhattan Beach History. The Council has stated they cannot give reparations. The State has formed AB-3121 Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans so maybe this will be our next step in finding reparation for the Bruce Family in an amended bill.

Grettel Fournell: What happened to the Bruce Family was hateful and wrong. The harassment that they and other black families endured was unconscionable. The renewed interest in Bruce’s Beach is part of the racial injustice/inequality issues which continue to this day.

The City Council has created a task force to address Bruce’s Beach. They should review the historical facts of Bruce’s Beach, acknowledge the real racist history and the pain that it caused the family, and then consider how best to recognize this history. It may be in the form of plaques, art, education or scholarship. I am hopeful that the task force will formulate an appropriate recognition.

I do not believe the City should provide monetary reparations to the Bruce Family. Reparations means to “repair the harm”. This can be done without returning the land or providing monetary reparations. It can be done by acknowledging the harm and recognizing it through other alternatives.

Joe Franklin: Honor the Past with a new Memorial: The full history should be displayed in an unvarnished and frank manner. Let’s not perpetrate the sin of omission. Bring the entire story to light as was attempted in 2006. I am in favor of recommissioning a more appropriate memorial to the Bruce Family in the immediate area of the existing park or on the Strand by the County Lifeguard Station.

Mobile History Exhibit: Along with a new memorial, I propose a mobile historical exhibit be created so residents across the city can view and learn the Bruce’s story. The 2012 Centennial Committee, of which I was a member, created a mobile exhibit of Manhattan Beach’s 100 year history. Throughout the Centennial Year it was taken to all parts of the city including the Pier, Manhattan Village Mall, the Creative Arts Center and Polliwog Park. Thousands of residents and visitors were able to view it. The mobile historical exhibit could reside in the County Library, Joslyn Center, City Hall or rotate among the schools when it is not traveling.

Teach the Bruce Family history in Manhattan Beach Schools: I would suggest that our school system develop the necessary curriculum to teach the story of the Bruces in all our schools. This is an opportunity to bring to life, and provide perspective on, issues of civil rights, discrimination, and peaceful protest. This curriculum could take shape like the Mission Project in the fourth grade where students study the material and take a field trip to see the subject matter firsthand.

Should the city provide reparations to the Bruce family?: Over the course of 100 years the Bruce family presumably had access to legal recourse to pursue any apparent or provable legal basis to a claim. The two dozen other families, Black and white, reinvested their payments into other land and properties within the boundaries of Manhattan Beach. Another complicating factor is the city’s limitation on gifting public funds. Also, there is no way to know if the Bruce’s enterprise would have survived the challenges of Prohibition (1920-1933) and the Great Depression (1929-
1941) which ravaged many businesses and family fortunes. As such, my position is that there can be no restitution, restoration or reparations of funds or assets to the Bruce Family from the City of Manhattan Beach. Moving forward, I ask only that Manhattan Beach residents are judged, not for the racist acts perpetrated by past generations, but for how our residents react to any such acts in the present.

Phoebe Lyons: I am glad to see the Task Force getting off the ground and I have been encouraging many to apply! I was glad to see that the Council indicated that the group’s first course of action will be to address the historical accuracy of the plaque and possibly reimagine its form. The fullness of the history of the park should be known an addressed in our City. As someone who grew up here, I was not aware of the history at all which I think is a significant indication that the history has been hidden for a long time.

One idea for reimagining the plaque that I would love to see, and that Councilmember Napolitano has hinted at, is some kind of public art piece. The City has funds dedicated to public art and this is a perfect place to use some of these funds. Commissioning a piece by a Black or POC artist, with input from the Task Force and a Bruce family representative, would demonstrate that the City is serious about reckoning with the past. The City is currently using a significant amount of public arts funds on an art piece inside City Hall. We should show the same attention and care to the Bruce's Beach piece.

One public art piece that inspires me is the Biddy Mason Memorial Park in Downtown LA ( It tells the story of a slave who came to CA, sued for her freedom in court, became a landowner, and dedicated her life to philanthropy.

Additionally, I am waiting to hear what the Council proposes for larger conversations about equity and race in MB. I am advocating for workshops open to any and all residents as well as working with MBUSD to teach about Bruce's Beach in schools. I will be interested to hear what the Council proposes.

Richard Montgomery: This Council established the Bruce's Beach task force to present us recommendations. Clearly the plaque at Bruce's Beach should be revised. The Bruces and the other 29 property owners were paid fair market value as determined by the Los Angeles Superior Court at he time of the eminent domain proceeding just before the onset of the Great Depression.  No further monetary compensation is due. In addition, any attempt to provide monetary compensation would be considered a “gift of public funds and would make the supporting council members personally liable.”

Steve Napolitano: It’s time to come together as a community on this issue. I voted to have a full public discussion on the history of Bruce’s Beach and the treatment of the other African American families who lived nearby whose land was wrongfully condemned for racist reasons. I am now the Co-Chair of the City’s Task Force to correct the public record that has been wrong for so long so that we can "own" our past and promote the education of the true history through a significant public artwork or memorial and other measures the Task Force will recommend to the full Council.

We’ve heard a lot of different ideas already, so I’m encouraged as we move forward. Once this initial task is completed, we will discuss other issues of race and equity that we identify. That said, I don’t support any change in the use of the park as a park. I also don’t support reparations, restitution or restoration of the property. The City doesn’t own the land and can’t give it back, neither can it give away public money for private purposes without a court order.

What the City did nearly 100 years ago was wrong and racist, but today’s Manhattan Beach is a welcoming community entirely different from that past. We cannot fix or change that past. What we can do is learn from it and teach our children to do better.

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