The Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Association
HB Web Community
Surveys & Forums
Home Page HB Web Community Surveys & Forums HB History
City of HB Info HBNA Photo Gallery HB Crime Info HB Weblinks
Top Stories on This Webpage: Starting April 7, 2007
Read the complete news stories, just below on this webpage:
Trying to frame Hermosa Beach of 2007 an image at a time - Today, volunteers will start photographing every lot and building in the beach town for a time capsule to be opened in 2107. Hermosa Beach wants to give future residents a snapshot of what the town was like in 2007. Make that a whole lot of snapshots. Today marks the start of a citywide drive to photograph every house, bar, surf shop, McMansion and vacant lot in town for inclusion in a time capsule that will be unearthed by future Hermosans in 100 years. "To look back and see what this town was like in the early 1900s, '20s, '30s and '40s, and the changes that occurred -- it's just fascinating to watch," said Hermosa resident Bob McEachen, who helped develop the project. "I think the future residents would like to see what Hermosa Beach was like in 2007."
Millionaires: They used to be one in a million - But how big of a deal is it to be one today? In California, now they're likely to be your next-door neighbors. Hermosa Beach resident Craig Benjamin counts himself among this nation's millionaires. But how big of a deal is it to be a millionaire today? "The truth is, a million dollars isn't what it used to be, especially if you bought a house recently, with the cost of property taxes and other taxes," Benjamin said. "The cost of living in Southern California has to be one of the highest in the country. If you have a million-dollar net worth and you're in Peoria or Omaha or someplace like that, you're probably financially in a better place than if you're in one of the large metropolitan areas."
The date of the AVP tour in Hermosa Beach was moved to the third weekend of May, a full two months earlier than in previous years.
HB AVP Open fees won't change this year - But volleyball event's dates are moving -- to May -- and permit to add more paid seating was just for July. South Bay beach volleyball fans can count on another year of mostly free admission to the Hermosa Beach Open after all. The tournament's owners will continue charging admission to a quarter of spectators at this year's tournament, rather than the 90 percent of fans approved last month by the California Coastal Commission, said Dave Williams, market director for the Association of Volleyball Professionals. The AVP has agreed to charge 25 percent of spectators admission in exchange for moving Hermosa Beach's tournament up a couple of months, said Teresa Henry, South Coast District manager for the Coastal Commission. Traditionally a July event, this year's tournament is now scheduled for May 17-20 to accommodate a recently added tournament stop in Long Beach.
'In-lieu' parking policy fails Hermosa - The Hermosa Beach City Council is imprudently aiding downtown commercial owners and outside developers in the maxing out of restaurant/bar structure additions and new condo-office/restaurant structures by not requiring that these projects provide sufficient on-site parking. This just ensures more negative impacts and costs for existing downtown area residents, businesses and the city treasury; more downtown costly chaos. The additional Hermosa public safety costs already due to late-night bar and cab zone activity well exceed any day-to-day city revenue generated there when hotel, surf shop and some other daytime retail city revenue is excluded. Hermosa's council understands this but refuses to show its residents an audit of the true costs of its approved bar and cab district. A cost-benefit analysis of the ongoing substantial negative costs of Hermosa's downtown is always avoided, especially by council members who accept campaign contributions from vested downtown interests, while ignoring the city as a whole.
The mysterious 'Hey, That Laker Took My Cake' Caper - Lakers center Kwame Brown allegedly swipes a man's birthday treat in a Hermosa Beach incident, but the gooey case won't be prosecuted. Los Angeles Lakers center Kwame Brown isn't exactly a league leader in steals, but he allegedly scored one sweet takeaway in Hermosa Beach over the weekend. No matter how you slice it, Brown, known for small hands that occasionally bobble passes on the basketball court, enjoyed a real cakewalk Saturday, according to a police report. For reasons only he knows -- and he's not talking -- Brown allegedly snatched a man's $190 2-by-2-foot chocolate birthday cake out of his arms. Once he had the cake, Brown opted not to eat it, too; instead he allegedly hurled the single-layer chocolate dessert at the man, striking him in the upper back. It all went down outside the Blue 32 nightclub on Hermosa Avenue.
Woman who allegedly set up MB home invasion enters plea - Suspect in violent robbery last year at actor's residence turned herself in. Eleby met Kevin Scannell and Sheila Becker at the Blue 32 club in Hermosa Beach. A second woman suspected of setting up a Manhattan Beach actor and his friend for a violent home invasion robbery nearly a year ago pleaded not guilty Wednesday to six charges, including attempted murder. Tamieka Eleby, 27, turned herself in to the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, ending a manhunt that began soon after she was identified as a suspect in the March 1 attack, according to Deputy District Attorney Brad McCartt. Another woman, Edna Monrreal, 28, pleaded guilty in November to one count of home invasion robbery and one of assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to seven years in prison, McCartt said.
Former Hermosa Beach councilman dies at 68 - Roger Creighton had a reputation among friends and political foes alike as a gruff but passionate watchdog. Roger Creighton, a former Hermosa Beach city councilman known for a forceful but insightful approach to city politics, has died. He was 68. The lifelong Hermosa Beach resident committed suicide in his home Thursday night after a short battle with prostate cancer, said son Dane Creighton. Doctors recently diagnosed the elder Creighton with the disease and gave him a 50 percent chance of survival, his son said. A civic activist elected to the City Council in 1987, Creighton was notorious for being fiscally conservative. He was often called a tightwad by critics. Creighton did not run for re-election when his term was up in 1991 but did seek another term in 1995 as a write-in candidate. Creighton enjoyed weight lifting and had an imposing physical stature. He wore a suit and tie to every council meeting but often traipsed around town shoeless and driving old cars with bullet holes in the side. In his nearly lifelong role as a Hermosa Beach watchdog, Creighton was steadfast, persistent and known for hauling opponents into court when he suspected wrongdoing.
3 file suit against HB police over 2004 incident - Complaint alleges that two officers attacked at Pier Plaza, filed false statements and lied under oath. Three people who were acquitted last year on public intoxication and resisting arrest charges have filed a lawsuit against the Hermosa Beach Police Department, claiming officers roughed up two of them, filed false reports and lied in court about the arrests.
The Daily Breeze April 7, 2007
Trying to frame Hermosa Beach of 2007 an image at a time
Today, volunteers will start photographing every lot and building in the beach town for a time capsule to be opened in 2107.
Hermosa Beach wants to give future residents a snapshot of what the town was like in 2007.
Make that a whole lot of snapshots.
Today marks the start of a citywide drive to photograph every house, bar, surf shop, McMansion and vacant lot in town for inclusion in a time capsule that will be unearthed by future Hermosans in 100 years.
"To look back and see what this town was like in the early 1900s, '20s, '30s and '40s, and the changes that occurred -- it's just fascinating to watch," said Hermosa resident Bob McEachen, who helped develop the project. "I think the future residents would like to see what Hermosa Beach was like in 2007."
McEachen was inspired by a batch of photographs from old real estate listings. A local broker had given the Hermosa Beach Historical Society photographs of houses once listed for sale in town -- useless in today's era of electronic listings -- and people loved searching for their house and sales information, he said.
Why not make pictures of every building in Hermosa Beach, McEachen wondered. That way, future residents will know exactly what their homes and town looked like in 2007, when the city celebrated its 100th birthday.
So, volunteers from the Hermosa Beach Historical Society and local members of the Kiwanis Club, as well the associated Key Club, K-Kids, Builders and Circle K, will canvass the town today to photograph as many structures as possible, said Rick Koenig, president of the Historical Society.
Someone will snap a picture of the building and another person will cross the address off a list, he said, so Hermosa residents shouldn't worry if they see what looks like paparazzi loitering outside.
Today, though, is just the beginning of the tedious endeavor -- called the Hermosa Project by leaders. With City Hall counting nearly 10,000 structures in town, the project could take months to complete, Koenig said.
This September, the images will be buried inside a time capsule intended to be retrieved in 2107, when Hermosa Beach celebrates its 200th birthday.
By then, when Hermosa Beach residents are complaining about the lack of parking for their flying cars, they will be checking out pictures of their homes in an old-school style -- on microfiche, Koenig said.
"If we put it on a CD or DVD, in 100 years, they'll be saying, 'Yeah, OK,' " he said. "We're going to put it on microfiche. I figure, no matter what we've done to ourselves, there's still going to be magnifying glasses."
Depending on how well the Hermosa Project goes, McEachen thought the photographs might inspire a more frequent effort to photograph the evolving town.
And while he wasn't sure what future Hermosa Beach residents would think of their town in 2007, McEachen did know one thing:
"They're still going to think it's a wonderful place to live," he said. "I think they'll be amazed by what it was like. Think about 1907 and what (Hermosa is) like today. People from 1907 would be amazed."
Pictures must be 8-by-10 inches with a resolution of 300 pixels per inch.
Submit the image on a CD and follow this pattern to name the file: HBP (STREET NAME) (STREET NUMBER). City Halls file name, for example, would be HBP Valley 1315.
In the photograph, avoid obstructions in front of the structure. Try to keep the address numbers visible, and leave space between the structure and the photos top and side borders.
The Daily Breeze April 1, 2007
Millionaires: They used to be one in a million -
But how big of a deal is it to be one today? In California, now they're likely to be your next-door neighbors.
Hermosa Beach resident Craig Benjamin counts himself among this nation's millionaires.
Hermosa Beach resident Craig Benjamin counts himself among this nation's millionaires.
But how big of a deal is it to be a millionaire today?
"The truth is, a million dollars isn't what it used to be, especially if you bought a house recently, with the cost of property taxes and other taxes," Benjamin said.
"The cost of living in Southern California has to be one of the highest in the country. If you have a million-dollar net worth and you're in Peoria or Omaha or someplace like that, you're probably financially in a better place than if you're in one of the large metropolitan areas."
Not that long ago, the word "millionaire" conjured up visions of chauffeured limousines and extravagant shopping trips and elegant yachts. These days, a millionaire is more likely to be the guy or gal next door who saved carefully -- and perhaps benefited from the sharp run-up in housing prices -- but still worries about covering the exploding costs of children's educations, caring for aging parents and funding their own retirements.
Benjamin, who helps others arrange their finances through Marquis Financial, the El Segundo company he co-owns, said that people must simply live within their own means.
"Managed well, a million dollars can still go a long way," said Benjamin, 40, the father of two young girls whom he plans to put through college.
In Atlanta, Renee Weese, who is studying to become a financial planner, credits her millionaire status to good-paying jobs and windfalls when her startup insurance company went public and, later, when it was taken over by a bigger insurer. Still, Weese, 51, worries about how far the money will go.
As she puts it: "I know I have more money than a lot of people do. But I don't feel I can sit back on my heels. I have lots of years ahead of me, and elderly parents I help financially a bit, and kids and grandkids."
To people living paycheck to paycheck or who haven't saved much -- which is the bulk of the U.S. population -- a million dollars seems very far out of reach. But a growing number of Americans are accumulating that amount and more.
According to research from Merrill Lynch & Co. and the consulting firm Capgemini, some 2.9 million people in the U.S. and Canada have net worths of $1 million. The New York-based companies count all of an individual's financial assets except a primary residence.
Atlanta financial adviser Micah Porter, who has worked with Weese, estimated that about 70 percent of the wealthy clients his Minerva Planning Group sees have earned their money by building successful businesses or saving from their salaries. The others inherited all or part of their wealth.
But having that much money doesn't necessarily mean their financial concerns are over. He said a big worry is how long the money will last because "they've become used to a certain standard of living that may be difficult to support" when they stop working.
For one thing, it's vulnerable to inflation -- someone who bought $1 million worth of goods in 1957 would need $7.3 million to buy the same goods today, according to Federal Reserve figures.
It's also vulnerable to longevity. Americans are living much longer than they used to, and that means they need larger nest eggs to get them through retirement.
Interestingly, it is workers' focus on saving for their retirement that leads Dan Sontag, an executive in the global private client division of Merrill Lynch, to predict that a growing number of Americans will achieve the million-dollar milestone.
He notes that many baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- have been contributing to company-sponsored 401(k) retirement plans and similar employer-backed programs for 25 years "and those account balances have mushroomed."
In addition, many of these people also own homes that appreciated greatly in the boom market of recent years.
"I think if boomers look at the numbers, between your 401(k) and your home equity, you may be a millionaire -- or pretty close," he said.
But Sontag also understands that those who accumulate that kind of money may not feel as if they've arrived on Easy Street.
"Your father and my father had a guaranteed income stream from pensions," he said. "But today's retirees aren't guaranteed the income flow. They're guaranteed a block of assets that they have to create the income against." That leads to uncertainty, he says.
Two baby boomers who recently hit the $1 million mark are Liz Pulliam Weston, 44, a personal finance expert, and her husband Will, 53, a professor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. As she put it in a recent column on MSN.com, "the day my husband and I became millionaires was a lot like any other day."
In fact, she said in an interview, she was updating her computer software and "like when a car's odometer rolls over, our net worth totaled out to seven figures."
Weston described the milestone as "feeling neat," but she also drew several practical lessons from it:
The average person may feel that $1 million is unattainable, but Weston points out that she accumulated her cache "putting away a little of every paycheck no matter what."
Hitting the $1 million mark doesn't mean you can stop saving. The couple has a daughter to educate and, with long-lived relatives in the family, a likely long-term retirement to finance.
"On top of that, we have a pretty expensive lifestyle, living as we do in Southern California," she said.
But David Bach, author of The Automatic Millionaire and other financial advice books, points out that "99 percent of Americans don't have a million dollars -- and to them, a million dollars is a fortune."
To the millions worldwide who live on $1 a day or less, "it's unfathomable."
His concern is that setting people up to think they can't have a good life or a comfortable retirement without that kind of money is counterproductive.
"Take a baby boomer who has less than $50,000 in savings -- which is what the average baby boomer has -- and tell them they need $1 million, you might as well give them a gun and tell them to shoot themselves," Bach said.
So while Bach believes $1 million is an achievable goal, especially for those who save persistently, he also believes it shouldn't be the only goal that's held out.
Benjamin echoed this thought.
"I have so many young clients who won't even spend a fraction of their wealth because they live so modestly," Benjamin said. "Their idea of a nice day is to walk to the beach, surf, play volleyball and walk back to their house."
The Daily Breeze March 29, 2007
HB AVP Open fees won't change this year
But volleyball event's dates are moving -- to May -- and permit to add more paid seating was just for July.
South Bay beach volleyball fans can count on another year of mostly free admission to the Hermosa Beach Open after all.
The tournament's owners will continue charging admission to a quarter of spectators at this year's tournament, rather than the 90 percent of fans approved last month by the California Coastal Commission, said Dave Williams, market director for the Association of Volleyball Professionals.
But the freer policy is more of a technicality than charity on the AVP's part.
The AVP has agreed to charge 25 percent of spectators admission in exchange for moving Hermosa Beach's tournament up a couple of months, said Teresa Henry, South Coast District manager for the Coastal Commission.
Traditionally a July event, this year's tournament is now scheduled for May 17-20 to accommodate a recently added tournament stop in Long Beach.
In February, when a divided Coastal Commission unexpectedly granted the AVP permission to charge 90 percent of spectators admission to Hermosa Beach tournaments for five years, that extended to the tournament scheduled for July only, Henry said.
To charge almost all spectators admission at a May event, the AVP would have to apply for an entirely new permit, and appear before the Coastal Commission again, possibly jeopardizing its new 90 percent seating ratio, Henry said.
Instead, it was agreed that the event could move to May but would stick with last year's admission ratio.
This is the latest development in an ongoing battle for the AVP to charge more spectators admission fees at its California tournaments. Association executives have long argued South Bay tournament stops were the biggest financial duds of all tournaments.
But the AVP has faced fierce opposition from local government, environmentalists, free-access advocates and the Coastal Commission -- at least until February, that is.
Hermosa Beach resident Dennis "Duke" Noor has been one of the AVP's loudest critics in recent months, and said a cheaper tournament this year is fine by him. "Hopefully, that will be a sign of the times, a sign for the future that that's the way it should be," he said of the higher ratio of free seating. "... It's good news for me."
But it likely won't last forever. The AVP has two years to activate a permit, and plans to charge 90 percent of spectators at Hermosa Beach's 2008 tournament. Also, the Manhattan Beach City Council opted last month to loosen its admission restrictions. The Coastal Commission will weigh in on that decision, then the council will settle on an admission ratio, likely in time for next year's tournament.
The paid seating includes a mix of ticket prices from $20 to $40, depending on where the spectator sits.
The Daily Breeze February 22, 2007
Paid seating at MB volleyball events gains momentum
Association may be able to charge 90 percent of spectators at beach tournaments pending final approval.
It took years of complaints of lost revenue and threats to bail out of South Bay tournaments, but the Association of Volleyball Professionals scored its second victory in a week when Manhattan Beach opted Tuesday to loosen its regulations over paid seating at beach events.
About a week after the California Coastal Commission permitted the association to charge admission to 90 percent of spectators at its Hermosa Beach tournament, the Manhattan Beach City Council followed suit and unanimously voted to amend its Local Coastal Plan -- a set of guidelines for coastal development and use -- to allow a similar set-up at its annual tournament.
But the AVP shouldn't start printing tickets just yet.
The Coastal Commission first must approve the amendment change, and then the council will reconsider exactly how many spectators the association can charge at the Manhattan Beach Open. That probably won't happen in time for this summer's tournament.
But if the Coastal Commission is as generous with Manhattan as it was with Hermosa, the council would have the power to choose a paid admission figure anywhere up to 90 percent of attendees at future AVP events, Councilwoman Joyce Fahey said.
"What I'm interested in is the City Council taking control of the beach," she said. "I don't want the Coastal Commission to tell us how to run our beach. We're the ones who need to make that decision."
Councilman Mitch Ward, who is up for re-election next month, said he would never support the full 90 percent figure for paid seating.
The council also decided that admission fees would be charged only in the tournament's grandstand and not in outside courts, as Hermosa's deal allowed.
The AVP has long complained that both South Bay tournaments are financial stinkers, with officials reporting last year's Manhattan Beach Open losses at about $509,000.
Charging admission to 25 percent of spectators was not enough to keep the company solvent, the association argued.
While a public company, the AVP has continually been reluctant to reveal financial details, instead directing the public to view its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
"We are only looking to lose less money," said Dave Williams, AVP's director of market development. "We don't even see profitability. We're trying to keep this tournament in Manhattan Beach and not hemorrhage."
But council members have required the association to prove its financial status to them in private before a decision is made about how many spectators can be charged admission fees.
Tuesday's discussion brought a drove of people, including several professional players on the AVP tour, to encourage the council to work with the association or risk the company leaving town.
"It doesn't have to be that Manhattan Beach is the epicenter of (beach volleyball)," professional player Carl Henkel said. "We need to embrace that."
A handful of people spoke against the amendment, arguing admission fees exploited the coastline and discouraged people from coming to the beach.
"Cash registers and beaches just don't go together, in my opinion," Manhattan Beach resident Bill Victor said.
Regardless of what figure the council chooses, any changes will not likely go into effect until next year's tournament, Director of Community Development Richard Thompson said.
The Coastal Commission likely won't weigh in on Manhattan Beach's proposal until September, about a month after the tournament has vacated the city's sands.
The Daily Breeze February 12, 2007
Monday Letters to the Editor
'In-lieu' parking policy fails Hermosa
The Hermosa Beach City Council is imprudently aiding downtown commercial owners and outside developers in the maxing out of restaurant/bar structure additions and new condo-office/restaurant structures by not requiring that these projects provide sufficient on-site parking. This just ensures more negative impacts and costs for existing downtown area residents, businesses and the city treasury; more downtown costly chaos.
The additional Hermosa public safety costs already due to late-night bar and cab zone activity well exceed any day-to-day city revenue generated there when hotel, surf shop and some other daytime retail city revenue is excluded. Hermosa's council understands this but refuses to show its residents an audit of the true costs of its approved bar and cab district. A cost-benefit analysis of the ongoing substantial negative costs of Hermosa's downtown is always avoided, especially by council members who accept campaign contributions from vested downtown interests, while ignoring the city as a whole.
Except for Peter Tucker, the council is now ignorantly accepting significant new downtown density by permitting the misapplication and outright abuse of a downtown "in-lieu" parking space ordinance never intended for use by new downtown commercial construction, whether it be for expansion of existing structures or for new condo office/restaurant projects.
Developers are being permitted to pay a one-time fee of $28,900 for each required parking space not provided on a project site, so as to receive city approval. It's become a total scam, and further it's based on insanely low parking-use counts to compute the number of required parking spaces a project even needs. The original intent of "in lieu" was to aid existing businesses in historic structures having a parking shortfall, not to aid the maxing out of new commercial structures and additions.
-- HOWARD LONGACRE
The Daily Breeze February 11, 2007
Hermosa firefighters, who say their ranks have become too thin as the town has grown, have been at odds with city on what needs to be done.
The call came over the Hermosa Beach Fire Department's intercom: A man having a seizure at a local grocery store needed medical attention right away.
With the rest of his unit on another call, Engineer Aaron Marks climbed into Engine 12 and headed out.
It was not the first -- or last -- time he would go on a call alone.
Hermosa Beach has the smallest fire department in one of the largest counties in the country, but the department's size is no measure of its internal strife.
For more than 15 years, the Hermosa Beach Firefighter's Association has pressed the city's top officials to increase staffing levels, raise pay, and build bigger and better facilities.
But the requests have been met with little more than what the union sees as empty promises, and their persistence has rankled city officials, some of whom believe a long-running skirmish between management and rank and file has gone on long enough.
The discomfort intensified recently as automatic aid agreements with other cities, heavier workloads and department injuries have taxed the small department, union officials said.
City officials believe a new staffing study will once and for all settle disagreements over how many firefighters Hermosa Beach really needs, but it remains to be seen if an independent analysis will calm discord within the department.
When Marks arrived at the scene that day, he found the man lying outside the grocery store's front door. He started helping as best he could alone until aid from another South Bay fire department could arrive. Luckily, an off-duty Los Angeles County firefighter who was shopping at the store assisted in the meantime.
Given the department's staffing, Marks said nearly every engineer has found himself in a similar solo situation, some worse than others.
Divided into three shifts, 18 Hermosa Beach firefighters work 10 24-hour shifts a month, alternating two days on duty and four days off.
That puts three men in one firetruck, two men in a rescue ambulance and a single man in a second firetruck -- likely the only one-man fire engine in the county.
Accounting for Hermosa's growth
While the department's size and facilities have stayed about the same for 30 years, change has swirled around the Pier Avenue firehouse.
Hermosa Beach evolved from a tiny beach enclave into a city, from a Bohemian mecca into an upwardly mobile hot spot with more buildings, nearly 20,000 residents and even more people flocking to town on nights and weekends.
"The city has been getting bigger, taller, even more dense," Marks said. "We're still at the same staffing as we were 30 years ago, when the city was filled with beach bungalows. It's important that we meet that growth."
The union believes three daily shifts of eight men would meet that growth ideally. That staffing level would put two captains, two engineers and four firefighter/paramedics on duty at any given time, and fully staff lonely Engine 12.
At the department's lowest staffing level, 12 men recently struggled to cover 18 spots on the force, as a high number of department injuries and personnel in paramedic training depleted the work force.
Firefighter/Paramedic Carlos Lopez worked nearly 70 shifts of overtime last year, he said. In 15 of those overtime shifts, the Redondo Beach resident was "force hired," or required to stay to cover an upcoming shift.
In his longest stretch, Lopez said he worked nine days in a row. Engineer Mike Smotrys' record topped 12 days straight.
When a firefighter covers an extra shift, he is entitled to time-and-a-half pay or a compensation day. If he chooses the latter, another person must fill his shift, and the cycle continues in short-staffed Hermosa Beach.
"Right, now we're expending more overtime than usual because of injuries," Chief Russell Tingley said.
Firefighters were paid about $399,000 in overtime pay from July to December 2006, records show. At that rate, by the end of the current fiscal year in June, Hermosa Beach is positioned to well exceed the $533,000 paid in the last fiscal year.
The overtime money adds up and thickens wallets, so the men don't complain about the extra cash. But everyone has a limit, Firefighter/Paramedic Lee Lickhalter said.
"I'm happy with two extra shifts a month," he said one brisk night at the station. "But when you work four or five extra a month, I mean..." He trailed off, turning his attention to the ham soup cooking on the kitchen's industrial range.
The long hours are hard on anyone, but adding a family into the mix makes the labor more difficult, the men say.
Like a lot of the guys, Smotrys leaves behind a wife and two small children when he comes to work.
"(My wife) has to get used to it," the Sierra Madre resident said. "She gets by."
Stressful being away from family
Tingley, himself a veteran firefighter, understands the unique pressures firefighters endure, given the long hours away from family and the physically and emotionally straining work environment.
"I'm a firefighter and I know what it's like being away from their family," he said. "I know it can be very stressful."
But conditions in Hermosa Beach have improved, Tingley said. An agreement with the union sets a minimum of five men on duty per shift. Even on its leanest days, the department never had fewer than six men working, he added.
To help maintain staffing levels, Tingley just before the holidays issued an edict that no firefighter could take a vacation or schedule off-site training unless he could find a person willing to cover his shift. That rule is still in effect.
City officials are also hammering out an agreement with the Manhattan Beach Fire Department to "borrow" firefighters during shifts with vacancies, Tingley said. The deal could be OK'd soon and would help ease tight scheduling.
And more firefighters have returned back to work in recent weeks, slowly increasing the number of working bodies to 14, he said. But with two firefighters suffering long-term injuries that could take years to heal, the best the chief can hope for is 16 men to fill 18 spots.
"The end is near," Tingley said. "But it doesn't mean we won't end up there again."
The union is keenly aware of that possibility, too, but the group's solution to add more men is not that easy, city officials said.
Money is the main deterrent. With no real industry or major sales tax contributors, a small town like Hermosa Beach doesn't have extra cash to spend, city officials said.
The city already devotes half of its general fund to police and fire services, Mayor Sam Edgerton said.
"I think it would be very expensive (to add more firefighters)," he said. "It's just a question of cost. You can make it better, but it comes down to the level of service. You do it to a level where you provide good service and you stop at that."
The firefighters have long argued they are among the lowest paid in the area, with a starting base salary of $4,804 a month. Marks said a recent salary and benefits survey conducted by the union places the department at 11 percent below its counterparts in other cities.
"I know we're not paying top dollar to these people," Edgerton said.
Even with limited staffing and possibly lower pay, all parties believe Hermosa Beach residents receive top-notch service from its Fire Department. But the firefighters suffer in the end, the union said.
"If we flooded the city with firefighters, of course, it would be safer," union President Paul Hawkins said. "I don't think the public is in danger (because of current staffing levels) as much as the firefighters are."
Still, the City Council last month agreed to spend almost $30,000 on an independent analysis of the department's staffing levels.
City officials heralded the study as a way to finally settle once and for all what the fire department needs to maintain adequate safety levels for residents and fire personnel alike.
But it sure didn't go over that way when the study was first pitched in January.
The firefighters union expressed dismay that the city would pay $27,000 to prove something they've been saying for years, and wondered why Tingley, the person most familiar with the department, wasn't performing the study.
The council was expected to easily approve the staffing study that night, but instead a lengthy debate erupted focusing on Tingley's leadership.
"I don't want to spend money to have someone telling us what the chief should be telling us," Councilman Kit Bobko said afterward.
Chief, union have fought
Tingley called the meeting a "train wreck." The uncomfortable public exchange turned a spotlight on what some city officials see as a persistent squabble between an aggressive union and management.
"There's a long-running skirmish between the chief and the rank-and-file," Edgerton said. "They feel as though (Tingley) has not been an advocate for things that they want. They've become very, very strident about it."
Just more than a year ago, before contract negotiations took place, the union took a vote of no confidence against Tingley, alleging he either ignored or was incapable of leadership, management, decision-making and strategic planning needed in the department.
The union a year later says the vote was a last resort, a desperate plea to make their voices heard.
"We're not angry," Hawkins said. "We still respect our fire chief because we have to."
Calling the vote of no confidence a "disappointment," Tingley said the department has moved past the disagreement.
"Unfortunately, the Fire Department had to suffer through that," he said. "I continue to do my job and the firefighters have their issues. We've moved on in a great way."
Tingley came to Hermosa Beach in 2000 from the Upland Fire Department, where he served as division chief. He started his career there as a reserve firefighter and was hired full time within a year.
As a bureaucrat, Tingley said he misses the day-to-day excitement of firefighting and rescue. When his men left on a call one recent afternoon, the 56-year-old's eyes followed the departing trucks outside his office window.
"Discipline is not easy. Saying no is not easy," Tingley said. "I have a willingness to work with the union."
The mayor said he has full confidence in his fire chief -- even if the perception is his firefighters do not. The union-management disagreement preceded Tingley's arrival, Edgerton said.
"I ask, 'Why don't you run for chief?' and they don't want to do it," he said. "I've kind of thrown up my hands at the whole thing. ... I don't think it's Tingley; it's anyone in the hot spot. They want their chief to be a total advocate for their seat and their agenda."
The union argued it is only looking out for its members' best interests, yet its advocacy is unfairly dismissed as the ramblings of bitter city workers.
"This really has less to do with the fire chief than the issues. It really just happens to be that the fire chief controls the issues," Marks said. "Everything's always been turned into, 'They're just disgruntled employees.' "
Both sides say publicly that the union-management relationship is not adversarial, but jokes, comments and whispers around the firehouse suggest otherwise. And the discontentment has also seeped into some parts of the community.
Citizens take sides
Kelly Kovac-Reedy, a resident who helped organize the city's Neighborhood Watch program about a year ago, said she's had difficulties working with the department leadership on emergency preparedness issues.
The firefighters are doing their best under difficult circumstances, Kovac-Reedy said.
"These guys are my heroes," she said. "I don't look at them as a labor group, ever. They're like the stepchildren over there. They've gotten a bad rap. I'm here with a few others to make sure that changes."
But staffing issues aside, Hermosa Beach's Fire Department is undeniably one in transition, already feeling the inevitable growing pains that come with change.
The department in September hired its first female firefighter, Aushley Baker-Wilhite.
She's been mostly out of the station since starting paramedic training in October, but a woman living with men for the first time in department history has sparked some logistical problems.
The cramped firehouse has no facilities for women, so Baker-Wilhite must shower and use the restroom at the police station next door.
And with no space for private sleeping quarters, Baker-Wilhite will bunk up with a fellow firefighter. The only change that can be made will be requiring everyone to sleep clothed, Marks said.
But even if she uses the police station's bathrooms, Baker-Wilhite must still stow her belongings in the fire station's communal locker room, and the cabinets are easily within eyeshot of the bathrooms and showers.
When she starts working the floor in a few months, a system will be worked out, and the department will move on.
It always does, Hawkins said.
"The guys can do a lot when they see light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
The Daily Breeze January 30, 2007
Lifeguards rescue HB pier jumper
A man who wanted to experience a jump from the Hermosa Beach Pier before he died was rescued Monday after he leaped into the ocean.
The unidentified man told lifeguards someone was trying to kill him and he wanted to "experience life one last time," Los Angeles County lifeguard Capt. Mike Inscore said.
The man jumped from the end of the 200-foot-long pier at 4:25 p.m. in front of numerous witnesses.
Two lifeguards leaped into the water from the pier and another swam out from the beach. They rescued the man as he clung to a pylon, Inscore said.
The water was 57 degrees and man was fully clothed, including a sweat shirt, creating a recipe for drowning, authorities said.
About jumping, the man told lifeguards, "I always wanted to do that," Inscore said.
Police took the man to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for psychiatric observation.
The Daily Breeze January 27, 2007
Manhattan Beach Open's plan for all-paid seating killed
Panel passes on 100 percent plan, but volleyball tournament could still get OK to require entrance fees for more spots.
Also next month, the Coastal Commission will decide whether AVP can charge full admission at its Hermosa Beach tournament.
The Manhattan Beach Planning Commission has spiked a proposal to allow the owners of the Manhattan Beach Open volleyball tournament to charge every spectator an entrance fee, saying it didn't have enough information to approve the change.
"I need to have the argument fleshed out a little bit," Commissioner David Lesser said. "I wasn't clear why we needed to do this now."
To allow more paid seating at the mostly free summertime event -- the so-called Wimbledon of beach volleyball -- the city first has to amend its Local Coastal Plan, a set of guidelines for coastal development and use, which the California Coastal Commission must ultimately approve.
The City Council initiated the amendment process nearly a month ago, when the Association of Volleyball Professionals, which owns the Manhattan Beach Open, persuaded it to consider changing the plan to allow total paid admission.
The council then sent the modification to the Planning Commission, knowing full well the Coastal Commission would probably balk at 100 percent paid admission. Once the amendment process began, a more realistic paid-seating ratio could be worked out, the council agreed.
But Lesser said the Planning Commission couldn't settle on a number Wednesday, saying it seemed arbitrary to choose a ratio without more information or a dialogue with AVP.
"I'm not categorically opposed to (paid seating), but I wanted more information to make the finding," he said. "We had to do something beyond just echo and mimic what the City Council directed."
It's not match point yet, though. The association has another serve next month, when the City Council weighs in on the plan amendment.
Also next month, the Coastal Commission will decide whether AVP can charge full admission at its Hermosa Beach tournament, giving the Manhattan Beach City Council a good understanding of how much the commission is willing to bend on paid seating.
Since 1993, the commission has let the association charge about a quarter of attendees admission fees, but AVP officials now say that is not enough.
The Manhattan Beach Open has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year since 2001, with a loss of about $509,000 at last year's tournament alone, executives said. Levying admission fees is a way to make the public company solvent, they said.
Dave Williams, AVP's director of market development, was confident the Planning Commission's decision wouldn't derail the association's quest.
"What happened was unfortunate, but it doesn't even slow us down," he said.
But Dennis "Duke" Noor, a longtime volleyball fan and South Bay resident, believed the commission's decision was a step in the right direction and an indication the beach would stay accessible.
Both men, however, agreed on one thing: The debate over paid seating on the beach has gone on for a long time.
"They've been going around and around on it for years," Noor said. "And it needs to be resolved for the better of the coast, for our natural resources. We want to protect it for years to come."
"This is always going to be a lightning rod issue in the city," Williams said.
The Daily Breeze January 17, 2007
No matter how you slice it, Brown, known for small hands that occasionally bobble passes on the basketball court, enjoyed a real cakewalk Saturday, according to a police report. For reasons only he knows -- and he's not talking -- Brown allegedly snatched a man's $190 2-by-2-foot chocolate birthday cake out of his arms.
It seems that several Lakers headed to the watering hole following their 109-106 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday, according to a Hermosa Beach police report. Just down the street, Alexander Martinez, the man who filed the report, was celebrating his 30th birthday at the Shore Restaurant and Lounge.
Martinez continued walking along Hermosa Avenue, then stopped with his cake in both hands in front of Blue 32. According to Martinez's report, Brown came along, grabbed the cake out of his arms and threw it at him.
That's when Lakers forward Lamar Odom entered the food fight, leaving Pedone's Pizza. Martinez walked up to him and confronted him about the stolen cake. Another man believed to be Odom's bodyguard pushed Martinez into the street, yelling at him to get away from Odom, the report said.
The Daily Breeze January 4, 2007
Woman who allegedly set up MB home invasion enters plea
Suspect in violent robbery last year at actor's residence turned herself in.
Eleby met Kevin Scannell and Sheila Becker at the Blue 32 club in Hermosa Beach.
A second woman suspected of setting up a Manhattan Beach actor and his friend for a violent home invasion robbery nearly a year ago pleaded not guilty Wednesday to six charges, including attempted murder.
Tamieka Eleby, 27, turned herself in to the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, ending a manhunt that began soon after she was identified as a suspect in the March 1 attack, according to Deputy District Attorney Brad McCartt.
Another woman, Edna Monrreal, 28, pleaded guilty in November to one count of home invasion robbery and one of assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to seven years in prison, McCartt said.
One of two male accomplices, 30-year-old Rolland Wormley, pleaded guilty to one count each of attempted murder and home invasion robbery and was sentenced to 14 years in prison, according to McCartt.
Like Eleby, Monrreal and Wormley originally were charged with two counts each of attempted murder, home invasion robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.
According to evidence presented at a hearing in June, Monrreal and Eleby met Kevin Scannell and Sheila Becker at a club in Hermosa Beach. The foursome went to Scannell's home to continue drinking and doing drugs and to engage in sex acts.
While they were partying, two masked men wielding golf clubs entered the home and beat Scannell and Becker. They left with cash and personal electronics.
Monrreal and Eleby were identified after police released bar surveillance photos to the news media. Wormley was later connected to the attack through cellular telephone records. A second man remains unidentified.
Eleby is scheduled to return to Torrance Superior Court on Jan. 18.
Her attorney, Seymour Cohen, declined to comment on the case.
The Daily Breeze December 15, 2006
Hermosa Beach City School District get OK for gym
Court says construction of the facility, along with classrooms, is legal. The project is scheduled to be finished in spring.
Years of legal wrangling over an ongoing construction project at Hermosa Valley School have been put to pasture.
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a petition by the Committee for Responsible School Expansion, closing its case against the Hermosa Beach City School District over the building of a gymnasium. The group appealed to the state's highest court in October after its claims were previously denied at both Superior Court and appellate levels.
"I don't know what else to say except hallelujah," said Cathy McCurdy, a 15-year veteran of the school board who was appointed president this week. "It's frustrating, in one sense, that we had to go through this, but it's very satisfying that we've prevailed."
McCurdy said the district has spent nearly $140,000 from its general fund on legal fees.
The imbroglio began in March 2005, when the district approved plans for the project, envisioned as a 26,000-square-foot structure on the school's southwest corner that would house a library, two science labs, two new classrooms and a gymnasium with offices and changing rooms.
With a total cost estimated at around $7.5 million, it would be funded by money from Measure J, a $13.6 million bond that voters approved in 2002.
By April 2005, the citizens committee had formed and filed suit against the district, alleging that because a gymnasium was not specifically cited in the Measure J ballot measure, actually building a gym would be illegal.
Its request for an injunction prohibiting the district from proceeding was denied.
The court simultaneously found that the school system was in compliance with the state constitution, which, it ruled, does not require a specific list of projects to appear on the ballot. The committee later appealed that ruling and lost, prompting it to file the petition for a rehearing with the state Supreme Court that was denied this week.
The Supreme Court's petition denial, announced at the school board meeting Wednesday, inspired cheers and claps from the sparse audience.
The news inspired only silence from local architect Jerry Compton, who owns a home near the school and has been a committee spokesperson. Reached at his office Thursday afternoon, he seemed stunned.
Asked about the ruling, he said: "This is the first I've heard of it." He declined to comment further, deferring to attorney Joseph DiMonda, who represented the committee.
"The school board was always trying to paint this as a bunch of disgruntled neighbors who didn't want a gymnasium near them, which was certainly one of the issues in the beginning," DiMonda said. "But there were many other issues, tax issues, that went way over their heads.
"The issues were bigger than Hermosa," he said. "Where it stands now, nobody knows what a school board has to disclose and voters now, with all sorts of bonds, are casting their fate to the wind."
The school system failed in June to pass another bond measure, the $13.1 million Measure A, to finish the complex and launch other improvements at all its campuses. Subsequently killing plans for two new classrooms in the gym building, McCurdy said Thursday that the district "will still pursue trying to get that done."
The scaled-back gym project is scheduled for completion by late May or early June, she said.
The Daily Breeze November 10, 2006
Oh, no! Are they killing South Park?
A Woman's Club letter suggests it's time to give the Hermosa Beach recreational space a name that doesn't evoke the crude TV show.
This move might finally really kill Kenny.
Hermosa Beach has decided to explore new names for South Park, its modest open space at Valley Drive and Fourth Street that happens to have the same handle as a popular television cartoon known for killing one of its main characters in almost every episode and treading heavily on delicate subjects.
Throughout 10 seasons of child abuse jokes, anti-Semitic comments and overall irreverent antics, "South Park" has endured the wrath of the Church of Scientology, both ends of the political spectrum and educators across the country.
And now the controversial cartoon's bad language and crude humor has prickled the Hermosa Beach Woman's Club.
After more than 80 years do-gooding in town, the group recently offered to donate a sign for South Park, but also wanted to change the park's name.
"The ladies feel that with the notoriety of the cartoon ... the name is not appropriate," stated a letter to the city's Parks and Recreation Commission.
Members offered up Centennial Park -- a nod to the city's upcoming 100th birthday -- as an alternative, but instead the commission decided Wednesday to let a subcommittee look into new names as it develops a master plan for South Park, said Community Resources Director Lisa Lynn.
Diane Miller, the club's treasurer, said the moniker modification was more of a request than a contingency.
"I guess most of the people feel if (the city) would allow us to do a sign, maybe we should come up with a different name rather than South Park," she said.
And while Miller never noticed the park's connection to the fictional Colorado hometown of Kyle, Cartman, Stan and Kenny, she said the club's chief beef with the show is its rude language.
"I personally like the show 'South Park,' " Miller said. "It is a filthy-mouth show. But it's not as bad as Roseanne Barr or Eddie Murphy."
Billy Meistrell, whose father cofounded Body Glove, asked the commission on Wednesday to consider an homage to the city's place in surf culture history and Body Glove, which once donated part of its land to make the South Park's parking lot.
"I would say my take is it doesn't bother me because of the show at all," he said. "It would be much more valuable to the city if they change it to a name that locks in the city's history."
Resident Maggie Gross, who took her daughter to the park to play Thursday, thought the city should stick to its roots, regardless of the coincidental namesake.
She doesn't have to worry yet.
The City Council must first OK the commission's initial decision to explore a change, and would later approve any selections, said Lynn, the community resources director.
Whether Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning creators of "South Park," would come to Hermosa Beach to weigh in on any decision was unclear Thursday.
The duo was working on another episode and unavailable for comment, a Comedy Central spokeswoman said.
At 67, Miller acknowledged she was probably out of the show's target demographic, but appreciated the humor. She thought the city could compromise.
"Maybe they'll pick a more common, nicer name," Miller said. " 'South Park' has become a very big show and it's going to continue."
The Daily Breeze September 17, 2006
One of the stained glass windows at St. Cross features
the Rev. Richard Parker, who oversaw the church from 1939-1981.
HB church marks centennial
St. Cross has been home to generations of Episcopalians and provided beach parking for many others.
First her grandparents in 1948, then her parents in 1971 and now Jennifer Brownlie is getting married at St. Cross by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in a few weeks.
She couldn't imagine taking the plunge anywhere else than the Hermosa Beach church.
Celebrating its centennial this weekend, the city's first church has baptized, wed, nurtured and eulogized four generations of Brownlie's family and thousands of South Bay residents for 100 years.
"Everybody knows your name there," Brownlie said. "You know every single person there. Everyone new is greeted and welcomed in. When I was little, I was always bringing my friends with me. It wasn't the kind of church you dreaded going to."
The Brownlie family is just one example of the parish that now tops 1,000 members, said the church's rector, the Rev. Paul Lawson.
While no means a megachurch, St. Cross' Sunday services usually attract 350 people from throughout the South Bay and the church has one of California's largest Episcopal congregations -- pretty good for a church that started outside a post office.
St. Cross was born on a spring night in 1906, when Hermosa Beach was little more than rickety cottages scattered along the sand. The city's first postmistress helped organize an evening prayer session.
Services soon moved to a schoolhouse on Monterey Boulevard and 18th Street, but -- even then -- separation of church and state was a hot topic and the parish was asked to leave, Lawson said.
The church found its first permanent home on Manhattan Avenue and 14th Street, where the parish held its first services in a little pitched-roofed redwood building enclosed by a picket fence.
But through the years, the church's membership skyrocketed. At its first prayer session, Hermosa Beach's entire population numbered 300, but by World War II, the church's membership had swelled to 1,000 communicants and the 125-person sanctuary's pews buckled.
Ground was broken for the parish's current brick building in 1952 on the same spot as the schoolhouse where it started years before.
Today, the church is tucked among million-dollar homes, its parking lot a tempting sight for weekend beachgoers preferring the sun to God as their idol.
But, rather than battling with the local beach culture, the clergy make it work for them.
St. Cross by-the-Sea's name is an obvious nod to the nearby ocean. A stained-glass window showing the sun and the ocean sits among the colorful depictions of biblical events lining the sanctuary's walls.
Bordering on playful, a tiny triptych near the altar depicts Jesus Christ not suffering, but surfing on a cross -- during Lent, the side panels close, revealing Calvary amidst a purple backdrop. Mass is sometimes held beach-side, and the softball team makes for fierce competition.
"When I was a missionary, I learned you need to be a part of the local culture," said Lawson, who often wears Hawaiian-print clergy shirts, highlighting the white tab of his clerical collar. "We are a beach parish. ... The Gospel's message is ageless. How we transmit it is much more open to change."
The combination works, but like any family, the church has been through its trials in the past 100 years.
In the 1980s, St. Cross' preschool was alleged to have ties to the McMartin child abuse case. All active clergy quit after allegations of sexual abuse and the school was closed in October 1985.
No ties to McMartin were ever proved.
"We've had our rocky times," said Torrance resident Caren Brownlie, Jennifer's mother. "We were pulled into that McMartin fiasco. We lost a whole bunch of people over it. But we lived through it, and have grown from it."
St. Cross has chosen to celebrate 100 years of growth this weekend.
The parish hosted a big benefit dinner Friday night, and caps a weekend of parties with a family barbecue, following morning services today.
Jennifer Brownlie hopes her wedding, just two weeks away, will honor her family's connection to St. Cross and maybe inspire future generations.
"I have a picture of my mom and dad up the stairway in the back of the church in front of the stained glass in the window on their wedding," she said. "We want to re-create that picture. I want to show my grandchildren one day."
The Daily Breeze September 14, 2006
Edgerton begins 4th term as Hermosa Beach mayor
Keegan is appointed mayor pro tempore.
The Hermosa Beach City Council installed a new mayor Tuesday. Sam Edgerton took the helm of body for the fourth time in his near 15-year stint as a councilman.
He replaces Councilman Peter Tucker, who held the ceremonial, rotating position for the past 9½ months. Councilman Michael Keegan was appointed mayor pro tempore.
The Daily Breeze September 14, 2006
Councilman fostered HB sister-city program
Jack Belasco, an educator and former Hermosa Beach city councilman who established the city's long relationship with its sister city, Loreto, Mexico, has died.
Jack Belasco, an educator and former Hermosa Beach city councilman who established the city's long relationship with its sister city, Loreto, Mexico, has died. He was 88.
The longtime South Bay resident had suffered a series of strokes in recent years and died at his Manhattan Beach home Monday said his son, Steven Belasco.
A civics teacher at Morningside High School in Inglewood, Belasco got involved in local politics in 1959 after teaching students that they had a responsibility to participate in government, his son said.
Belasco was one of three candidates elected to the City Council after a recall effort, and served several terms, including two stints as mayor, until 1967.
During his council tenure, Belasco oversaw the replacement of the city's aging pier and was instrumental in creating Hermosa Beach's sister city program.
Until his death, Belasco and his wife sponsored paramedic training in that town, his son said.
Belasco, who was born Nov. 17, 1917, in San Francisco, taught education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and received two national teaching awards during his career.
Belasco lived in Hermosa Beach for nearly 30 years, until his first wife died in 1980. After remarrying, he and his second wife moved to nearby Manhattan Beach.
Belasco -- described as easy-going with a wry sense of humor -- enjoyed camping and athletics, particularly football and beach volleyball, Steven Belasco said.
About four years ago, Belasco suffered his first stroke, soon followed by several smaller episodes. Slowly, he lost his ability to speak, which bothered him greatly, his son said.
"When he lost that, he became very depressed," Steven Belasco said. "Only his sense of humor got him through it."
In addition to his son, Belasco is survived by his second wife, Pat Woolley, three stepchildren and two grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Sept. 30 at St. Cross Episcopal Church, 1818 Monterey Blvd., Hermosa Beach.
The family asks that any donations in Belasco's memory be made to Save the Redwoods League, P.O. Box 44614, San Francisco, CA 94144.
The Daily Breeze September 12, 2006
South Bay briefs
Parents sue over son's death
The parents of a 15-year-old boy killed when he was struck by a car as he crossed a busy Hermosa Beach street has filed a damage claim against the city and Caltrans.
William and Ellen Wright charged that the city and Caltrans, which has jurisdiction on Pacific Coast Highway, "failed to timely install traffic and pedestrian controls, including traffic lights, pedestrian signal devices, pedestrian walkways, or utilized other recognized methods and procedures to safely protect pedestrians utilizing this heavily congested intersection."
Their son, Ian, was killed March 16 as he rode his scooter in a crosswalk across Pacific Coast Highway at 16th Street, police said.
The Daily Breeze August 25, 2006
The HB Historical Society wants to be set at its new site before the city turns 100.
"We'll finish it," said Koenig, president of the society. "If we don't, I'm taking off for Fiji for a month. It's doable and it's going to happen."
The historical society has been working on plans to expand the museum for several years, he said. But Saturday marks the beginning of crunch time, as volunteers begin packing up everything in the museum to make room for construction.
Artifacts, trinkets and baubles fill the museum to the brim, cluttering the tiny space that once served as a former middle school's girls locker and shower room -- the pink tiles running halfway up the wall and sloped floors are the only clues to its past.
The museum will expand into the room next door, a former wood shop at the school, Koenig said. Volunteers have until noon Jan. 14, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony will kick off the city's centennial celebration.
For now, just exposed beams, pipes and electrical conduit decorate the cavernous room, but the society has big plans.
Koenig's blue eyes light up as he maps out the floor plan with his hands, explaining exactly where the exhibits will sit in 142 days.
"Like any good story," Koenig said, "you need to have a past, present and future."
The past will start at the very beginning, with the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe of American Indians that experts believe first inhabited Hermosa Beach. A garden full of native plants will honor the tribe from outside the new entrance, now facing the tennis courts lining Ardmore Avenue.
Inside, museum exhibits will march through time, stopping at significant portions of the city's history -- including its roots in banking, commerce and jazz music.
An ancient aqua blue lifeguard tower, plucked about five years ago from the beach at 16th Street, serves as the door between the old and new museums, a sort of wardrobe to Narnia.
Visitors will step onto the shack's platform and cross into what will fittingly become the museum's beach culture portion, covering everything from surf, skateboards, volleyball and lifeguards, Koenig said.
Rotating collections, a temperature controlled vault, presentation center and gift shop should round out the museum's offerings.
For years, Koenig has been salvaging windows and doors from old houses torn down around town.
He hopes one day to put them to good use at the museum as a mock-up of an original Hermosa Craftsman's living room.
"You can see the house, but you can also sit in Granny's rocker," Koenig said.
As Hermosa Beach's housing stock goes more the way of the big box than bungalow, a replica could be the closest future generations will come to seeing how Hermosa's first homes looked.
And that's the crux of this museum's purpose -- preserving Hermosa Beach's history as newer residents flock into town completely unaware that the city once printed its own money or how significant a role it played in the West Coast jazz scene, officials said.
"I think (the historical society) has always been lacking on community awareness," said Councilman J.R. Reviczky, who's doing the museum's electrical work in his spare time.
"A lot of people don't even know they're there, but once they've been there, they go back again. It's really a wonderful organization that's tried to preserve the history of Hermosa Beach."
The entire overhaul has a $180,000 price tag, Koenig estimated.
Aside from $20,000 in city funds, the society is scraping the money together itself through fundraisers and private donations.
Barbara Robinson, a four-year resident and local business owner, just handed over a check for $50,000.
"Once history is lost, it's hard to put it back together," she said. "It's a worthwhile investment -- I'm investing in the museum and in the future."
The Daily Breeze August 19, 2006
Former Hermosa Beach councilman dies at 68
Roger Creighton had a reputation among friends and political foes alike as a gruff but passionate watchdog.
Roger Creighton, a former Hermosa Beach city councilman known for a forceful but insightful approach to city politics, has died. He was 68.
The lifelong Hermosa Beach resident committed suicide in his home Thursday night after a short battle with prostate cancer, said son Dane Creighton.
Doctors recently diagnosed the elder Creighton with the disease and gave him a 50 percent chance of survival, his son said.
A civic activist elected to the City Council in 1987, Creighton was notorious for being fiscally conservative. He was often called a tightwad by critics. Creighton did not run for re-election when his term was up in 1991 but did seek another term in 1995 as a write-in candidate.
Creighton enjoyed weight lifting and had an imposing physical stature. He wore a suit and tie to every council meeting but often traipsed around town shoeless and driving old cars with bullet holes in the side.
In his nearly lifelong role as a Hermosa Beach watchdog, Creighton was steadfast, persistent and known for hauling opponents into court when he suspected wrongdoing.
In 1982, he famously filed a lawsuit against several council members for giving gifts -- including expensive gold jewelry -- to departing politicians and department heads. The judge favored Creighton, and a city policy limiting gift-giving was soon established.
Tenacious and relentless, Creighton pummeled away at his pet issues, often standing for hours outside the post office to gather signatures for a petition, said Gary Brutsch, a former councilman who also served as city treasurer when Creighton was in office.
"Roger Creighton didn't sit on the sidelines," he said. "Very seldom were Roger and I on the same side of the issue, but he always brought a sound argument. The city is probably better because he was around."
Born in 1938, Creighton attended Redondo Union High School and later worked in construction, often billing himself as a "dumb bulldozer operator."
But Creighton was no dummy, friends said.
"People dramatically underestimated his intelligence and abilities," said longtime Hermosa Beach resident Fred Huebscher. "He knew a lot more than he let on. He played the role of being a curmudgeon."
Dane Creighton said his father was gruff inside and out, but Huebscher thought otherwise.
"People never gave him credit for being kind," he said. "Once I was at his house and his kid called, and Roger is such a tough cookie, but he was so nice to his kid on the phone."
Creighton's lifelong fascinations included rare stamps, coins and postcards. Recently he was interested in mining and had traveled to the Gold Country, said friend Carol Prenter.
He was also an avid gardener, covering much of his large property with greenery and blooms. His favorite flower was the tiger lily, which grew all over his Third Street property, said his son.
His interest in horticulture led to several anonymous donations for city trees, Councilman J.R. Reviczky said.
By all accounts, though, Creighton was a complex character known for passionate highs and lows.
"One had to put up with a lot from him," Huebscher said. "He'd go off the deep end and then call you the next day like nothing had happened."
Creighton's sudden death Thursday came as a shock to loved ones.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer just months ago, Creighton was scheduled for surgery today.
Late Thursday night, Dane Creighton went to check on his father and found he had hanged himself in his garage. He left no note, police said.
Dane Creighton believed the elder Creighton was despondent over his condition, especially after his own father died of the same disease in the 1960s.
"He could have recovered from it," Dane Creighton said. "But his dad died a miserable, ugly death of it. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, he decided it wasn't going to happen to him. Instead of dying a painful death, he just decided to end it."
Brutsch said he spoke last week to Creighton, who sounded troubled.
"He sounded really weak," he said. "I asked what I could do to help. He said, 'Just think of me in your prayers.' Roger Creighton just didn't talk like that. I knew it was worse than he was letting on."
Memorial services for Creighton are not yet planned.
The Daily Breeze August 17, 2006
Tattoo artist sues to leave mark on Hermosa Beach
Johnny Anderson claims the city's unwillingness to allow a parlor violates his First Amendment rights.
Johnny Anderson wants to leave his mark on Hermosa Beach.
But because tattoo parlors aren't allowed in town, the Harbor Gateway tattoo artist this week filed a federal lawsuit against Hermosa Beach, alleging the city is violating his right to free expression.
"I'm not talking about damages," said Anderson, who has been tattooing for 10 years and charges $150 an hour. "I just want the shop. I just want the right to practice in Hermosa Beach."
The practice isn't outlawed in town, but the city's zoning code makes no mention of tattoo parlors, leaving proprietors no place to ink legally, said Robert Moest, an attorney for Anderson.
In the mid-1990s, the City Council twice denied tattoo artists permission to open parlors in town. With that track record, Anderson decided to skip the traditional civic avenues of petitions and public hearings and head straight to U.S. District Court, where Moest filed papers Monday.
In them, the Santa Monica-based attorney argues tattoos are a form of expression protected under the First Amendment -- no different than a painting, sculpture or film. Because the city's zoning code keeps tattoo parlors out of town, Anderson is deprived of the right to express himself, the suit claims.
This isn't the first time the 30-year-old Anderson has tried to legally needle his way into a South Bay city. About two years ago, he and Moest filed suit against Torrance, alleging its all-out ban on tattooing in town violated Anderson's rights.
The case settled shortly after Anderson opened his Harbor Gateway shop, Yer Cheatin' Heart, two years ago. But the focus was always on Hermosa Beach, he said.
"We began the Torrance lawsuit but, essentially, we decided we'd rather have a shop in Hermosa Beach," said Anderson, whose colorful and plentiful tattoos belie an articulate and formal manner. "The goal was always to get Hermosa Beach."
A soft-spoken Republican father of two, Anderson got his first tattoo in a Hermosa Beach house when he was 15. Anderson would prefer to provide nervous first-timers with a more upscale and refined setup, though.
"We'd like something that kind of reflects the beach area," he said, while tattooing a frequent customer Tuesday. "Maybe we'd hang some black-and-white photos of old Hermosa Beach. It has a rich history. ... I see something more high-end, more like a hair salon and less like a parlor."
Licensed to teach tattooing, Anderson has a plan for Hermosa Beach that includes an educational component, which he hoped the city could incorporate into new zoning language.
He thought that was a reasonable compromise that would keep the city from becoming a magnet for tattoo parlors, like Councilman J.R. Revickzy worried would happen in 1996 when the City Council last addressed tattoo parlors.
Revickzy on Wednesday hadn't yet heard about Anderson's suit: "I guess we'll see how it plays out in court," he said.
City Attorney Mike Jenkins hadn't reviewed the papers Wednesday.
One expert believes Hermosa Beach cannot legally keep Anderson from tattooing, but it can tell him where he can set up shop.
"They can limit where he (practices tattooing), but they can't keep him from doing it completely," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and former USC professor now at Duke University.
Few legal cases address whether tattooing is considered protected speech, said Moest, who has litigated several First Amendment cases, including one over fortune telling.
"This is going to affect tattooing, if we win, in a major way," Anderson said. "Tattooing has been so wonderful for me. This would be one way of giving back to the tattooing community."
The Daily Breeze August 8, 2006
Hermosa voters reject higher fees
City officials will have to find another way to balance their budget after their proposal fails.
A pitch asking Hermosa Beach landowners to pay higher fees for street lighting and landscaping has fallen short, forcing city officials to find another way to bridge a $170,000 budget shortfall.
About 52 percent of 2,867 mailed-in ballots turned down the formation of a supplemental assessment district. The votes were weighted based on type and size of property, as well as the proximity of street trees and lights.
City staffers must now crunch numbers to find another way to pay for lighting and landscaping for the rest of the year, said City Manager Steve Burrell.
He expected a funding source would be pinpointed by September, nearly three months after the City Council approved the 2006-07 budget -- which was balanced, as long as residents agreed to ante up for lights and trees.
"We've been taking (the funds) out of another account anyway," Mayor Peter Tucker said. "We're just going to have to rob one account, instead of paying another."
If approved, the supplemental assessment district would have added $14.30 to homeowners' existing $41.45 annual costs, and nonresidential properties would have been assessed an extra $42.90.
Commercial properties in the city's tree section would have paid $166.11 extra, and those in parts of town needing additional lighting and tree maintenance would have expected $210.81 more on their property tax bills.
It's all moot now, though, as the 41 percent of landowners who returned votes by the July 25 deadline told city officials to find the cash elsewhere.
"I was pleased that the voters are finally wise to this stuff. ... Why do we need to pay more tax?" said Jim Lissner, a local activist opposed to the assessment district.
The voters' decision could have come down to poor timing on the city's part, Tucker said.
Hermosa Beach voters in June turned down Measure A, a $13.1 million school bond that would have extended the length of a previously passed bond by four years.
"I'm a little disappointed, but based on maybe the election we had in June, maybe the timing was bad," Tucker said. "People looked at it like, 'Oh, they wanted too much money.' "
About 7,000 ballots were mailed to landowners in June asking for landowners' take on special lighting and landscaping districts.
Voters had until the end of a July 25 public hearing to return ballots.
Creating assessment districts was one of a couple of recent ideas from the city to make up the shortfall.
The city turned off a quarter of streetlights around town in October 2004 as part of a three-month experiment.
The move angered residents, who said the decreased lighting compromised safety and security.
The Daily Breeze August 6, 2006
Man revived after collapsing in Hermosa Beach surf
Incident delayed start of International Surf Festival competition.
He was in the wrong place at the right time.
Minutes before the annual International Surf Festival was about to begin near the Hermosa Beach Pier early Saturday, some spectators saw a man walking along the surf, knee-deep in the water.
When he fell face down into the water, they thought it was some kind of a prank.
"At first they thought this guy was joking," said Terry Yamamoto, a captain with the Los Angeles County lifeguards. "Everyone thought, 'Oh, this clown.' All of a sudden, he wasn't moving."
Stunned beachgoers watched as rescuers pulled the man out of the water. He quickly revived after lifeguards put an oxygen mask to his mouth.
"He came to," Yamamoto said. "He admitted he was drunk."
The man was taken to a nearby hospital.
His name was not released.
The incident forced organizers to postpone the 7 a.m. start of the surfing championships.
"It was just before the start of the contest," Yamamoto said. "They had to wait 10 to 15 minutes, maybe longer, because the rescue trucks were there."
It was beginning of a busy day for lifeguards. With large south swells and riptides, they conducted more rescues than they could count.
"There were a couple of spinal-mobilization injuries, a couple of sporting injuries, bike path injuries, boat distresses," Yamamoto said. "The weather's been so great. This is the last blast of summer."
The Daily Breeze August 4, 2006
Hermosa Beach measure would fix North School for kindergartners
A draft of the proposed bond resolution will be considered by trustees Tuesday.
Under the district's plan for North School, which is currently rented out, buildings would be replaced, eight classrooms would be constructed, parking areas repaved and a grassy area installed.
Renovating the North School site was among the priorities for a possible November bond measure unveiled Wednesday by the Hermosa Beach school board.
Trustees have directed staff members to draft a bond resolution to be considered at the board's next meeting Tuesday. The proposed bond amount has not been determined, board President Greg Breen said.
Many residents told trustees at the Hermosa Beach City Hall meeting they would not support a new bond measure and voiced concerns about the district's gym project, funded under the $13.6 million Measure J approved four years ago. Voters rejected a proposed $13.1 million bond on the June ballot.
"I'm reluctant to vote for another bond," said Jim Lissner, who questioned why the Hermosa Beach City School District would want to pay to operate a third campus, closed in 1985.
Though some residents of the North School neighborhood expressed support for the proposed campus improvements, others were still troubled by the gym project, which cost more than was originally expected because of delays incurred by a lawsuit, and offered emotional opposition to a bond.
As tensions increased during the meeting, Hermosa resident George Schmeltzer stepped up.
"I came down to listen to people talk about something other than the gymnasium," Schmeltzer said. "You can't continue to revisit that. You have to move on."
Trustee Lance Widman also urged the community to focus on future improvements.
"It's a done deal," Widman said.
Under the district's plan for North School, which is currently rented by the Seasprites Preschool and South Bay Adult School, buildings would be replaced, eight classrooms would be constructed, parking areas repaved and a grassy area installed. The site, at 417 25th St. in Hermosa Beach, could be used for the district's kindergarten.
The change would allow the district to move its third-graders, who now attend the district's third through eighth-grade Hermosa Valley School, back to Hermosa View School, which presently houses kindergarten through second-graders.
"These improvements will give the district the ability to move students within three campuses," said Hermosa Valley School Principal Sylvia Gluck.
The other priorities outlined in a document distributed during the meeting included constructing three new classrooms at Hermosa Valley School and reconfiguring the school's parking lot to increase off-street parking.
Hermosa View School enhancements were also on the district's wish list, which included asbestos abatement, technology improvements and classroom rehabilitation.
Jeff Bronchick, a Hermosa resident, liked the proposed changes at Valley and View schools, but wanted to hold off on the North School plan.
"I think this is a sellable, doable package," Bronchick said.
The Daily Breeze June 8, 2006
142 votes win Bobko a spot on HB City Council
"I thought it was gonna be close," said the victor, who will take over the vacant seat in July.
Patrick "Kit" Bobko emerged with a narrow victory to capture the vacant seat on the Hermosa Beach City Council, beating his closest competitor by 142 votes.
Bobko, who finished behind Jeff Duclos in November, won 40.7 percent of the vote Tuesday to runner-up Duclos' 36.2 percent. He is expected to take office in mid-July.
"I thought it was gonna be close," Bobko said. "I can't say I was expecting to win."
For Duclos, it was "always the bridesmaid, never the bride." Duclos finished fourth in the race for three council seats in November. When the second-place finisher, Howard Fishman, stepped aside to care for his ailing wife, two council members wanted to appoint Duclos to fill the vacant seat.
The other two objected, prompting Tuesday's special election.
"When we were forced into this special election, I had $187 left in my campaign funds," Duclos said. "I knew I was never going to be able to spend what my fellow candidates did. I'm really proud of the campaign we ran. It was an old-fashioned grass-roots effort."
Bobko, 36, is a municipal attorney and former Air Force captain. Duclos, 61, is a home-based communications consultant. Bobko said he hopes to work on improving infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and public safety during his term on the council.
"The council makes decisions too much based on personality," he said. "The first thing I want to do is bring a sense of optimism and enthusiasm back to the council."
Duclos, a longtime Hermosa Beach resident, said he was disappointed by Bobko's campaign.
"I'd be less than truthful if I didn't express my disappointment in him for his deceptions at the end of the campaign," he said. "It was a little too much old-school Hermosa Beach politics."
The Daily Breeze May 29, 2006
Contract lawsuit at center of council candidates' concerns
All four Hermosa Beach candidates say the action brought by Macpherson Oil Co. must be resolved. They differ on the most effective way to do that.
Just how to handle an oil company's $500 million breach of contract lawsuit against the city of Hermosa Beach has emerged as a central issue in the race for a City Council seat.
All four candidates in the June 6 special election said the suit by Macpherson Oil Co., which could potentially bankrupt the city, is one of their main concerns, and they don't agree on how to best resolve it.
Jeff Maxwell said he would settle, while Janice Brittain would not. Patrick "Kit" Bobko said he wouldn't rush into a settlement; he would wait for now. Jeff Duclos said he would like to see a resolution to the suit, but couldn't say if he would settle now, not without knowing the terms.
Macpherson acquired oil drilling rights in 1992 through lease arrangements with the city. Before any drilling started, voters in 1995 passed Measure E to ban oil drilling in town. The Hermosa Beach City Council voted in 1998 to deny Macpherson drilling permits based on a consultant's opinion that it would be unsafe.
Later that year, Macpherson filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract. In 2002, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge upheld Measure E as an effective and legal end to a slant-drilling lease held by the Santa Monica-based petroleum company. But an appellate court overturned that decision last summer. The city appealed to the state Supreme Court, which denied the appeal in November.
Bobko, a municipal attorney who prosecuted cases for Hermosa Beach from 2000 to 2004, said the city should "watch and wait" on the Macpherson case. "This is like buying a used car," he said. "You can't go in and tell the salesman you're going to buy, no matter what. Settlement is always an option, but it's important to be patient."
Maxwell said he sees the Macpherson issue "as a time bomb waiting to explode." "There's a 50 percent chance here that we'll go bankrupt," he said. "If I were on the City Council, I'd look to settle."
Brittain said she would be reluctant to settle. "I think the city should stick with the process," she said. "I don't think that we should give up and settle for the big amount (Macpherson Oil) seems to be asking for."
Duclos said he, like most others, is looking for a resolution to the conflict that has been raging for the past 15 years or so. "The numbers that have been thrown out make it a significant issue for the city," he said. "But that said, I don't think the numbers are anywhere near realistic."
Duclos said apart from the Macpherson lawsuit, he only sees two major issues in Hermosa Beach. "Public safety and infrastructure," he summarized. "Our quality of life in this town largely depends on those two factors."
The city must find a way to allocate money to keep its streets and key facilities in good shape, Duclos said. "Our fire facility is in a state of disrepair," he said. "Our City Hall seems worse than a World War II bunker. We keep doing patchwork here and there. We fix stuff, but we're not enhancing or building our community in any way."
Maxwell said his primary goal as a councilman is to remain accountable to his constituents. "I don't think there's much accountability right now," he said. "People are not getting answers to their questions. I'd like to change that."
Keeping the beach clean is also high on his priority list, Maxwell said. He said neighboring Manhattan Beach got its wake-up call in January with a massive sewage spill that flooded homes and discharged 2 million gallons of raw sewage onto the sand. "I think we need to be alert and work toward avoiding situations like that," Maxwell said.
Brittain said her main concern is communication. "I don't think city officials are communicating very well with the public," she said. "The city needs to clarify their policies to people."
Brittain gave the example of the issue of lot mergers that came up recently with a property owner on Prospect Avenue. The owner had gone through the planning process with the understanding that he could build two homes on his lots, but was told later that the lots must be merged. "That should've never happened," Brittain said. "City policies and regulations must always be clear and well communicated."
Bobko said his big issues apart from the Macpherson case are public safety, parking, density and "infusing optimistic leadership" into the council. "Our Police Department is going through a crisis," he said. "We need to go through the process of strengthening not only our Police Department, but also our Fire Department and improve our level of disaster-preparedness."
Bobko said he would also be eager to create a "fertile business environment" in the city, which he said is one of the best ways to increase city revenue. "By creating a business corridor in Hermosa Beach, we'll increase our sales tax base," he said.
Three out of the four candidates -- Bobko, Duclos and Maxwell -- ran, and lost, in the November council election. Howard Fishman, who was elected to the council in November, declined to take his seat after his wife was diagnosed with a serious illness. It is this seat that the candidates are vying for in the June election.
The Daily Breeze May 26, 2006
3 Hermosa Beach city council candidates boycott a forum
One says the Q & A format "didn't feel right." Janice Brittain was the sole contender to attend the session.
Three of the four Hermosa Beach City Council candidates vying for the vacant seat in the June 6 election said they would not attend a candidates forum held by a community group Thursday night because they were not comfortable with the format.
The Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Association, a community watchdog group founded by resident Al Benson, announced its first candidates forum this year.
But as it turned out, it ended up as a question-and-answer session between one candidate, Janice Brittain, and the audience.
Candidates Jeff Duclos, Patrick "Kit" Bobko and Jeff Maxwell took a pass on the event.
Brittain is the only candidate in this election who did not run in November. In the fall contest, Duclos finished fourth behind incumbent J.R. Reviczky, Bobko finished fifth and Maxwell was seventh among 10 candidates vying for three seats.
Howard Fishman, who collected the most votes in November, declined to take office after his wife was diagnosed with a serious illness. It is this seat that will be filled in the June 6 election.
Maxwell said he was overwhelmed with the amount of information Benson sent him to prepare for Thursday's debate.
"The questions were leading," he said.
It was after another local debate held by the League of Women Voters that the candidates met briefly and discussed Thursday night's forum, Maxwell said.
"I think we felt that it wasn't a debate forum, but a personal forum for Mr. Benson," he said. "It just didn't feel right."
Brittain said she had made a commitment to Benson that she would attend.
But Brittain said she shares the other candidates' feelings.
"In most debates, questions are open-ended," she said. "Here, it feels like we're writing a research paper."
Benson, himself a City Council candidate in November, said his intention was not to overwhelm candidates.
"The council packets are usually the size of two phone books," he said. "So you'd think they'd get used to seeing a lot of information."
The questions were meant to be "direct and pointed," Benson said.
"I'm worried about public safety issues," he said. "I'm worried about our Police Department, the bars, the alcohol and our quality of life."
Duclos said the candidates' decision not to attend was nothing personal against Benson.
"There were some issues in relation to the tone and direction of this debate, which was enough to influence our decision on whether to participate," he said.
Benson said all he wanted was to give candidates time to prepare their answers and asked for their responses so he could ask follow-up questions.
"I'm not disappointed they're not coming," he said. "I'm disappointed that they had this little powwow on this issue and made a collective decision behind my back."
The Daily Breeze May 19, 2006
Border Patrol agents are upset by releases
Only 6 percent of smugglers they arrested were prosecuted for the crime, according to report. Some claim overcrowded courts are the problem.
SAN DIEGO -- The vast majority of people caught smuggling immigrants across the border near San Diego are never prosecuted for the offense, demoralizing the Border Patrol agents making the arrests, according to an internal document obtained by The Associated Press.
"It is very difficult to keep agents' morale up when the laws they were told to uphold are being watered-down or not prosecuted," the report says.
The report offers a stark assessment of the situation at a Border Patrol station responsible for guarding 13 miles of mountainous border east of the city. Federal officials say it reflects a reality along the entire 2,000-mile border: Judges and federal attorneys are so swamped that only the most egregious smuggling cases are prosecuted.
Only 6 percent of 289 suspected immigrant smugglers were prosecuted by the federal government for that offense in the year ending in September 2004, according to the report. Some were instead prosecuted for another crime. Other cases were declined by federal prosecutors, or the suspect was released by the Border Patrol.
The report raises doubts about the value of tightening security along the Mexican border. President Bush wants to hire 6,000 more Border Patrol agents and dispatch up to 6,000 National Guardsmen. He did not mention overburdened courts in his Oval Office address Monday on immigration.
The report was provided to the AP by the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has accused the chief federal prosecutor in San Diego of being lax on smuggling cases. Issa's office said it was an internal Border Patrol report written last August. It was unclear who wrote it.
The lack of prosecutions is "demoralizing the agents and making a joke out of our system of justice," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents agents. "It is certainly a weak link in our immigration-enforcement chain."
The 41-page report says federal prosecutors in San Diego typically prosecute smugglers who commit "dangerous/violent activity" or guide at least 12 illegal immigrants across the border. But other smugglers know they are only going to get "slapped on the wrist," according to the report.
'Knows the system'
The report cites a 19-year-old U.S. citizen caught three times in a two-week period in 2004 trying to sneak people from Tijuana, Mexico, to San Diego in his car trunk, two at a time. "This is an example of a kid who knows the system," the report says. "What is true is that he will probably never be prosecuted if he only smuggles one or two bodies at a time."
The report also cites a Mexican citizen who was caught in Arizona and California driving with illegal immigrants and was released each time to Mexico. He was prosecuted the fourth time and sentenced to five years in prison, after two illegal immigrants in his van died in a crash.
U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego said about half her 110 attorneys work on border cases in an area where the Border Patrol made nearly 140,000 arrests last year. She said she gives highest priority to the most serious cases, including suspects with long histories of violent crime or offenders who endanger others' lives.
"We figure out how many cases our office can handle, start from the worst and work our way down," she said.
Lam said many suspected migrant smugglers are prosecuted instead for re-entering the country after being deported, a crime that can be proved with documents. Smuggling cases are more difficult to prosecute because they require witnesses to testify.
The Border Patrol, which would neither confirm nor deny the document's authenticity, said prosecutors in San Diego recently agreed to prosecute a Top 20 list of smugglers if they are caught.
The Justice Department in Washington declined to comment. However, at a congressional hearing last month, Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla., told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that Lam's record on migrant smuggling was "a pathetic failure." Gonzales replied that he was urging U.S. attorneys to more actively enforce laws but noted that immigration cases were "a tremendous strain and burden" along the border.
Peter Nunez, a former U.S. attorney in San Diego, said prosecutors along the border struggle with limited resources and a huge caseload of immigration cases.
"This is not an indictment of the U.S. Attorney's Office, because you have to deal with the realities of the caseload, but it is an indictment of how badly Congress and presidents have handled the immigration system," he said.
The report says immigrants in the area paid an average of $1,398 to be guided across the border in 2004.
"Smugglers are making lots of money breaking the immigration laws, and there is not much incentive for them to stop these illegal activities," it says.
"The smugglers know that even if they are caught, it will be difficult to punish them."
The Daily Breeze February 9, 2006
3 file suit against HB police over 2004 incident
Complaint alleges that two officers attacked at Pier Plaza, filed false statements and lied under oath.
Three people who were acquitted last year on public intoxication and resisting arrest charges have filed a lawsuit against the Hermosa Beach Police Department, claiming officers roughed up two of them, filed false reports and lied in court about the arrests.
Michelle Myers, Robert Nolan and Joel Silva filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, claiming Hermosa Beach police Sgt. Raul Saldana and officers Michael Frilot and Todd Lewitt violated their civil rights.
The allegations stem from a May 23, 2004, incident at Pier Plaza. The lawsuit contends that Saldana approached Myers, Nolan and Silva from behind in a patrol car "maliciously blasting his air horn to frighten plaintiffs."
The suit said the three jumped away, "condemning Saldana for his juvenile behavior." Saldana then drove past them and directed the other officers to go after Nolan.
The lawsuit contends Nolan was "attacked, choked, knocked down and maliciously struck and injured by Lewitt."
Lewitt later kicked Silva and struck him in the head, according to the complaint by lawyer Thomas Beck, who has filed several lawsuits against the department stemming from incidents at Pier Plaza.
Myers, Nolan and Silva were arrested and charged. They complained about the officers' conduct to department officials, but a sergeant investigating their allegations called them "whiners," the lawsuit states.
Last year, the three were acquitted on the misdemeanor charges after a jury trial. The lawsuit contends Saldana, Frilot, Lewitt and other officers "gave knowingly perjured testimony" during the trial.
The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary damages from the city.
Hermosa Beach City Attorney Michael Jenkins said he has not seen the complaint but was familiar with the case.
"The city is very familiar with the facts and is very familiar with the circumstances," Jenkins said. "The city intends to defend the case vigorously."
The Hermosa Beach Neighborhood Association