The Manhattan Beach City Council has agreed to extend its "ambassador" program - contracted security staff who monitor crowded
areas of town - through Labor Day. The council agreed to authorize up to $125,000 for the program during that time.
These "ambassadors" are tasked with a variety of responsibilities
including crowd control, parking management, patrol assistance,
business and visitor assistance, and face mask handouts. (The ambassadors
do not have the authority to hand out citations and they are separate from the discontinued "mask ticketing" program, which was contracted through a different company.)
Since COVID-19 public safety engagement efforts began, the city has
spent approximately $325,000 to employ contractors through the
Contemporary Services Corporation (CSC) for the ambassador program.
The city expects that some, if not all, of the ambassador program
expenses will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) as a COVID-19-related expense. Although city officials have submitted paperwork to FEMA, they have not
yet received word about the amount of reimbursement.
Many downtown businesses and visitors have found the
ambassadors to be helpful during the pandemic, especially when police
forces were stretched thinner and needed to prioritize more emergency
situations. But when pandemic needs began to wane, the council had agreed to review the program after the Memorial Day weekend
At Tuesday night's City Council meeting, members decided that increased crowding and traffic downtown, plus the fact that the Manhattan Beach Police Department is still down by several staffers, justified continuing the program through the summer months.
Crowding, Parking Issues Continue Justifying Need
In its accounting of expenses for the ambassadors program, city staff reported that the program has cost approximately $28,000 per month. Because the ambassadors are contractors, the city can adjust the number of contractors and hours based on the need of each weekend. If a weekend is overcast and not likely to be filled with beach crowds, for example, the staffing needs can be reduced.
"They are very flexible," said Manhattan Beach Police Lieutenant Andy Herrod, who manages the ambassador program. "They help me manage the needs of the city, and they help me understand the needs of our city."
Manhattan Beach Police Chief Derrick Abell said that the program has been helpful at a time when the department is down by five
staffers and has been unable to fill those positions during the COVID-19
pandemic. Now that the city is being flooded with people celebrating pandemic restrictions being lifted, it is important to have the additional support, he said.
"Any help that we can have to help mitigate some of these issues, I’m happy to have it," said Abell. "It keeps our boots on the ground and gives us the eyes and ears we need in the community."
Several restaurant owners and downtown business leaders spoke in favor of the ambassadors program as well. More than one speaker mentioned that a particularly friendly ambassador had been directing traffic while entertaining crowds with his theatrics over the weekend.
"I think positive interactions like that do benefit everybody," said Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley. "It calms everybody down; it lowers the stress level. It's good for the whole organic feel of downtown. I hear clear direction that we should continue through the summer and then we’ll reevaluate."
The CSC staffers are expected to be used primarily during the weekends, but the police department will have the flexibility to deploy them on other days if needed.
In other action at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, council members agreed to defer a decision on whether to charge restaurants for using parking spaces and public right-of-ways for outdoor seating. The council agreed to wait until after June 15 when directions from the state about possible new restrictions were more clear.