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Meet the City Council Candidates, Part 2: City Budget, 'Defunding' the Police and More

Sep 27, 2020 08:47AM ● 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. In Part 1 of this story, published on Saturday, the candidates tackled issues relating to local businesses and Bruce's Beach.  For today's issue, we're looking at the city budget, "defunding" the police, and more. (Today we're arranging the candidates in reverse alphabetical order.)

City Budget

What do you think is the city’s biggest budgetary issue and how would you address it (pension shortfall, structural budget deficit, approaching recession, etc.)?

Steve Napolitano: COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to our residents, our businesses, and our City’s budget. There’s been no easy answers and no perfect solutions because there’s no playbook for a pandemic. Which means now more than ever, we need experienced, proven leadership to navigate these times. I’ve provided that leadership by working with my colleagues, and regional and state leaders to provide common sense solutions. We’ve followed the rules but also pushed back when they weren’t fair or didn’t make sense. I’ve worked with businesses to reopen safely, create safe dining spaces outdoors, and did all I could to successfully bring down our infection rates. Along the way, I’ve reduced our budget to address falling revenues, while maintaining our essential services at full funding, including our police and fire. Times like these are exactly why I worked so hard to build our reserves and establish our AAA bond rating years ago. Policies and solutions constantly evolve in situations like this, so it’s more a matter of approach than anything else as the situation continues to evolve. Knowing the stakeholders, knowing the budget, knowing our community, knowing what works and what doesn’t—that’s why experience matters.

Pensions are another looming budget issue, but we’ve incorporated their costs and have planned for them through budget set-asides and keeping our budget in check. When I was elected again in 2017, I brought a line-item approach to the budget, reviewing each expenditure for the next year. As a result, we’ve trimmed costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars each year while expanding core service areas like police and fire, parks and rec and infrastructure improvements. We’ve put those savings into a pension rainy day fund and I’ll continue to do that, as well as look at possible bonding options to stabilize payments to protect our budget.

Richard Montgomery This council cut $500,000 in unnecessary annual staff costs in 2017, maintained our triple A credit rating thru the pandemic, balanced our budget without using cash reserves and even added over $5 million to our cash reserves. Currently our Pension Obligations, the loss of sales tax and other revenue due to the pandemic and projected recession are the city's largest and most pressing budgetary issues. However, the lack of borrowing/bonds are impressive.

Phoebe Lyons: The City’s biggest budgetary issue that I foresee is the loss of revenue from Sales Tax and TOT due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and subsequent recession. 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. Thankfully, property taxes have been steadily increasing and we can expect the revenue from those taxes to continue to rise and hopefully offset some of the loss of revenue from Sales Tax and TOT.

Joe Franklin: Property taxes are the number one source of general revenue for our City. They represent 48% of our annual revenue- more than 400% higher than the second largest source of revenue, sales taxes. Anything that interferes with property tax revenue is a huge threat to the future fiscal soundness of our city.

Sacramento is attempting to make sweeping changes in our residential zoning laws to increase housing density and drastically reduce options for developing a property. This will adversely affect our way of life and have a huge negative impact on the value of our properties.

These onerous, non-sensical zoning laws will lower the value of home sales, inhibit rational new development and may cause a “flight” from Manhattan Beach of established and long term property owners. Property tax revenue will experience a downward spiral leading to fiscal disaster. The city council has to fight these mandates coming from Sacramento to secure the financial future of our city.

Grettel Fournell: I believe that the city’s biggest budgetary issue is that, because of this pandemic, our city is realizing less in overall revenues. We are seeing a reduction in sales tax, the Transient Occupancy Tax and User Fees. Overall, there is an economic downturn and we have seen how our small, locally-owned businesses are suffering.

However, despite the pandemic and economic downturn, the city’s history of balanced budgeting and long-term planning has prepared the city to maintain their services and high quality of life.

As a council member, I would ensure that the city continues to carry a 20% requirement of reserves for financial policy designation. The best practice is considered to be 17%. In addition to this reserve, I would also continue the reserve for Economic Uncertainty which is set at an annual $4 million. I would also continue to carry over the remaining monies into the undesignated fund reserves.

As a council member, I would work to reduce the structural deficit that currently exists without adversely affecting the delivery of services to our residents. These reductions in turn would increase the general fund from which to draw our reserves, financial policy designation and economic uncertainty fund.

Chaz Flemmings: [Did not respond as of press time]

Mark Burton: A Savings Plan for Manhattan Beach:

  • Save $5 million Over 5 years by reducing total FTE (Full-Time Employee) to under 300
  • Save millions in future annual expenditures by eliminating city funded deferred compensation for new management employees
  • Save over $2 million dollars of city transportation funds by cancelling the Sepulveda Bridge Expansion Project that jeopardizes the health and safety of our residents by eliminating the deceleration lane to our mall!
  • Save hundreds of thousands of dollars by slashing consultant contracts by 20%
  • Create a culture of savings, not spending, by setting aside 5% of city revenue for “Depreciation Account”
  • Identify additional cost saving “efficiencies”

"Defunding" The Police?

How should the City Council respond to calls to “defund the police” in Manhattan Beach?

Steve Napolitano: I have and will always support full funding for our Police Department. If changes need to be made to ensure an absence of discrimination in our policing, we’ll deal with those by changing our practices and procedures, not by defunding. I also agree that some of the things the police currently do should be done by others such as counselors, code enforcement officers and mental health clinicians—and they already are. I voted to support the use of counselors and mental health clinicians to address homeless issues and they’ve already yielded positive results.

I support more of these efforts, especially since our Police have been called on to do so man more things than they’ve traditionally done. But we still have crime and criminals, and that’s where I want our Police focused and I support hiring more cops, not less.

Richard Montgomery: We are blessed in Manhattan Beach to have excellent police, firefighters and paramedics. Our residents insist upon a very high level of service and public safety.  I absolutely oppose any efforts to defund or "re-imagine" the delivery of safety services in our city.  I have spent literally hundreds of hours on Police Department ride alongs and that only reinforces my pride in our police department. In addition, this council approved the hiring of four additional officers, a property clerk and $130,000 in safety equipment. This council, as part of our Full Funding commitment to MBPD, approved funds for Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR’s) in 2017, then approved and installed four additional ALPR’s citywide at the request of our Police Department for increased safety of our residents.

Phoebe Lyons: There is no question that MBPD does invaluable work in our City. They have recently apprehended several stolen vehicles as well as the shooter at the Residence Inn. These types of crime prevention and safety operations are exactly the type of work they are best at and should continue to perform. One way we could support our Police officers while also maintaining safety for all in our community is to utilize community services such as social workers and counselors to address nonviolent calls such as mental health crisis or homeless outreach. These specialists are trained for these specific situations and utilizing their expertise would actually free up our officers’ valuable time and resources to focus on crime prevention and community safety, our City Council’s highest priority.

Joe Franklin: Our Police Department has an excellent record of service and strives every day to provide the best possible service to residents and visitors. They have the best training resources available. Along with a grass-roots group of residents, I am a Contributor and Volunteer for the ‘Thank You MBPD & MBFD’ sign drive to show our appreciation for their efforts.

I support maintaining the current level of funding and funding for future needs for our Police Department. We must ensure Chief Abell has the tools and resources he needs to continue keeping our residents and visitors safe.

Manhattan Beach is now a national and international destination where we welcome all visitors. Adequate Police funding is needed for future policing needs like the expanded Manhattan Village Mall (which has a police substation), upcoming major sporting and entertainment events at the SOFI Stadium where fans are sure to include a visit to the beach and the 2028 Olympics.

The performance statistics of our Police Department, their excellent training, and rigorous hiring process set the bar high and should be a model for any municipal police force. I see no need to defund or redirect our Police budget.

Grettel Fournell: The City Council should respond to the calls to “defund the police” by confirming that the police department will not be defunded. Public safety is one of the most important services a city provides to its residents. We all want safe streets and to feel safe.

Chaz Flemmings: [Did not respond as of press time]

Mark Burton: I believe that Manhattan Beach is one of the best cities in these United States to live, raise your family or successfully age. The "Cornerstone" to our being such a great city is we feel safe. As a former Prosecutor and the General Counsel to the Los Angeles Police Department, the General Counsel to the LAX Airport Police and the General Counsel to the Los Angeles Fire Department, I know the value and importance that our MBPD and MBFD provide to our community and our exceptional quality of life.

I wrote a BR Letter To The Editor opposing defunding. I wrote that letter in response to the calls to defund the police. Now, more than ever, fully funding our MBPD is of paramount importance.

To make Manhattan Beach the safest city in California, we must do the following for these departments:

  • Hire more patrol officers
  • Hire more “Foot Beat” officers for Downtown MB, North MB and the Mall
  • Expand MBPD’s ALPR (Automated License Plate Reader) Security Camera Program at our points of ingress and egress in El Porto, the Tree Section and East Manhattan Beach
  • Expand MBPD’s ALPR Security Camera Program for the perimeter of Downtown MB and the Mall creating a “Ring of Steel” for maximum safety and security
  • Enhance MBPD’s Security Camera Registration Program with MBPD’s partnership with “RING” doorbell security cameras

  • Increase MBFD’s budget for Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
  • Develop a succession plan for MBFD with a focus on MBFD promotions
  • Develop and adopt an MBFD compensation plan with equitable pay grades consistent with MBPD and other city departments
  • Create a Training Firefighter/Paramedic position

What Distinguishes You as a Candidate?

What distinguishes you from the other City Council candidates?

Steve Napolitano: Manhattan Beach is my hometown. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve served our community for more than 25 years. During this time, I also served as Senior Deputy to LA County Supervisor Don Knabe for 12 years, representing him in the South Bay and beyond, and overseeing several County departments and County-wide issues for him. I also own a small business and I know the challenges they face.

This has given me a depth and breadth of experience where it counts most—in local government. As I’ve said, knowing the stakeholders, knowing the budget, knowing our community, knowing what works and what doesn’t—that’s what I bring to being as a Council member. As a result, I’ve been able to trim our budget, get rid of unnecessary staff and cut out expensive consultants. At heart, I’m a problem solver and believe in a nonpartisan approach to local government—there’s no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole, people just want it fixed. I’m never at a loss for new ideas and new approaches and have proved that time and time again, but experience makes them even better. There’s less trial and error and more success.

Four years ago, I ran to get our city working again, get things done and provide independent, common sense leadership that puts our residents first, is fiscally responsible, keeps us safe, and protects our small town atmosphere and low profile development. That’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’ll do.

Richard Montgomery: I am the only candidate to guide the city through the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the Pandemic as Mayor. That experience is invaluable and unique! In addition, I am a 32 year resident, former Hometown Fair President, former Planning Commission Chairman and have 12 years of council experience.

Phoebe Lyons: As a young person who has lived her entire life here, I have a unique perspective that most of our City Leadership does not have. As I grew up, I thought little about City government except what was discussed around the dinner table. City Hall and the City Council Chambers felt distant, unattainable. I want to close that distance for the young people of our city and other groups who have felt outside of the conversation. People my age, who were educated in our fantastic schools, spent free time at our beautiful beaches, played soccer in our AYSO leagues--we are the future of this City. So why not start leading now??

I also know what I don’t know. I know that there are areas in which I do not have all the knowledge or experience. In those areas I am dedicated to learning, researching, and growing. Unlike the other candidates, I was very recently in college, so I am in the mode of studying and researching--I will bring this into the job and be open to examining new evidence or new modes of thought. I am prepared to ask purposeful questions with the intention of learning and examining all relevant facts.

Joe Franklin: Action to help our residents, small businesses and restaurants. The incumbent candidates have a record of what they have done on council. The non- incumbents have only what they say they will do. I have a record of doing what I could to help our city. When I saw the ravages on our small businesses caused by the unfair shut down mandated by the County Department of Health, I staged a rally to demonstrate how they could do just as good a job of protecting their customers and staff as the businesses deemed “essential” by the County. I did this before the important Memorial Day weekend which would have added even more financial hardship if the businesses could not re-open. The City Council saw our numbers, heard our arguments and found a way to ignore the County’s mandate and our small retailers re-opened. The restaurants followed shortly after.

During the riots of May and June police departments were painted with the broad brush of charges of systemic racism due to the actions of a few police officers thousands of miles away. I joined with a group of fellow residents who thought this was an unfair characterization of our Police Department and our first responder Fire Department. So we printed and distributed the “Thank You MBPD & MBFD” signs. What started with a modest printing of 100 signs and posters soon grew to printing and distributing over 1,000 lawn signs and 700 posters around town increasing the morale of our first responders.

In addition, unlike any of the non-incumbent candidates, I started small businesses in which I hired employees. Owning and operating a small business offers a completely different perspective. You have to figure out how things work. You find innovative ways to save money. Your business lives or dies by excellent customer service.

Other things I have done include:
• Current Parking and Public Improvements Commissioner
• Appointed by City Council to several City-wide Committees including Facilities Planning and Centennial Committee
• Worked on all MBUSD Bond measures, supporting a strong City-MBUSD relationship
• Co-Creator “Do Stop Don’t Speed” Traffic Safety and “Stranger Danger” Programs
• Treasurer- Mira Costa Football Boosters
• AYSO, Little League, MBYB Coach for both my children for 10+ years
• Pacific School PTA/School Site Council President
• Big Brother- Big Brothers of America
• Daily Breeze “My Turn” columnist
• Traveled to 31 countries and all 50 states

These are all strong qualities needed by your Council member.

Grettel Fournell: I have my bachelors degree in management information systems and mathematics. I worked for 17 years as a management consultant with Ernst & Young to help clients design, develop and implement financial, process improvement and customer improvement systems. I bring an extensive knowledge in financials and inner workings of various industries and working together with small and large project teams.

I have a 20+ year track record of volunteering, leading, and accomplishing things. I have served on the executive boards and in leadership positions of various community organizations including; Sandpipers, Grand View PTA MBMS PTA, MCHS PTA, MB Sister City Association, MB Youth Council, Sandpiper Juniors, Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and the MBUSD District Advisory Council. I have committed myself all of these years to public service in Manhattan Beach and know this community very well.

Since 2012 I have been and continue to be the Lead Advisor to Sandpiper Juniors (they are the Junior division of Sandpipers). I have guided over 130 girls annually in their local community service and philanthropic efforts. Together we volunteer more than 4,000 hours a year. I am also a founding Board Member and Treasurer for South Bay Cares, Inc since 2017 and continue to serve in this capacity.

My professional background and ability to work and collaborate with others, as well as my leadership and consensus building skills are a differentiator between myself and the other candidates. My unparalleled service to the community and long-standing relationships with various organizations also distinguish me. I can work with everyone at all levels and am able to
bring people together to get things done and make tough decisions. I am the only candidate endorsed by the entire current MBUSD School Board as well as former school board members. I am endorsed by several former city council members and have bi-partisan support. And, I am the first Latina who would be elected to MB City Council.

Chaz Flemmings: [Did not respond as of press time]

Mark Burton: As a former Manhattan Beach City Council member and Los Angeles City Attorney, I am "Well Qualified To Serve". I have a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise regarding all aspects of city government that clearly distinguishes me from my fellow candidates. My public service career was distinguished by integrity, good common sense judgement, an incredible work ethic and obtaining good results. The Los Angeles Police Department awarded me their "Distinguished Service Medal", the highest award a civilian can achieve.

In regards to city government, I am a recognized expert in the Brown Act (California's Open Meeting Law), the California Tort Claims Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, city contracts and negotiations, labor relations and negotiations, city risk management and insurance, police operations and procedures, fire department operations and procedures, emergency operations and procedures, internal affairs and use of force investigations, criminal and civil trials, civil service hearings and many other aspects of city operations and law. I am # 1 on the ballot, running for one of three seats on Council. 

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