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Identity Crisis : Hermosa Wants to Shed Image as No-Holds-Barred Community

September 06, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

Hermosa Beach.

A rowdy, Bohemian community.

A quiet place to raise a family.

A good place to get a parking ticket.

The beckoning sun, sand and sea.

A happening town of young singles.

A town of many, sometimes paradoxical images, Hermosa Beach is struggling with an identity crisis--trying to squash its rowdy, anything-goes, we-haven't-left-the-'60s reputation and striving to promote a quaint, "happening," affluent-but-we-don't-brag image.

"We tend to suffer from this image of a left-over hippie community that's non-family oriented, a lot of drugs and all those kinds of things," said Councilman Tony DeBellis. "The community has changed dramatically in 10 years--there's no doubt about it--yet the perceptions haven't."

Many city officials blame the media for the negative images, while other community leaders and some residents say it's the questionable activities at City Hall that have been dragging Hermosa Beach down.

Whatever the reasons, the City Council wants to improve the image of Hermosa Beach, and as a start it has decided to have 10,000 promotional bumper stickers made up. What they'll say hasn't been decided. But suggestions include: "I Got Mine in Hermosa Beach," "Only in Hermosa Beach" and the old standby, "I Hermosa Beach."

Perhaps the city's parking officers can put them on the cars they ticket, because parking enforcement--which accounts for the city's third-largest source of revenue--does more than anything to give the city a bad name, many say.

"Parking-ticket capital of the world" is the label many in the South Bay attach to Hermosa Beach--a big claim for a city that's only 1.3 square miles.

But while many residents and business leaders agree that lack of parking and the strict parking enforcement are Hermosa Beach's major faults, they seem to agree on little else.

Of course, that is nothing new in a town where the issue of cityhood itself was decided by one vote in 1906, when residents voted 24-23 to incorporate. More recently, they split 2,400 to 2,399 in favor of a proposed beachfront hotel--an outcome still being challenged in court.

And the frequent lack of consensus adds to the image problem, officials say.

"Everything in our community is a controversy," DeBellis said. "I think that perpetuates that we're a very confused community and we don't know what we want as a collective whole."

But, he and others say, the close votes also are an indication of the town's diversity. As Mayor Pro Tem Etta Simpson said: "If you would describe the community in one word, it would probably be 'diversified,' which is good."

And it's that diversity that creates the multitude of images.

"It's not the small-town community it once was," said David Collis, who grew up in Hermosa but moved to Claremont last year. He said Hermosa Beach has more "Mediterranean" qualities now, such as quaint cafes and boutiques. He added that he prefers Hermosa Beach the way it used to be.

Bob Kennedy, a Palos Verdes Estates resident, enjoys Hermosa Beach as it looks today, although his image of the town is a bit different. "I like it because anything can happen here," he said, while having a drink at the Lighthouse Cafe on Pier Avenue.

"You get wharf rats and derelicts down here," he said. "A lot of people don't like to be exposed to it, but I think it adds character to the place."

The pier area has a reputation as a hangout for drug dealers, runaways and transients. Public Safety Director Steve Wisniewski said that area is somewhat troublesome but not a major problem. The Police Department, however, has recently increased foot patrols in the area.

Few Violent Crimes

Hermosa Beach has a problem with property crimes and robberies, he said, but a relatively low rate of more violent crimes like murder, rape and assault.

For a variety of reasons, Hermosa Beach has an ambiance that attracts lots of visitors, many of whom are drawn to the city's expansive beach.

"Hermosa Beach is one of the most popular beaches," said Howard Lee, an assistant chief of the lifeguard operations of the county Department of Beaches and Harbors, which maintains the city-owned beach. He confirmed a city report that said although the city has only about 5% of the county's beach, it attracts about 12% of the beachgoers.

Yet the beach is not Hermosa's only attraction. The 89 restaurants are usually full, the bars are crowded and landlords can pick and choose eager tenants for their high-priced apartments, which are never vacant for long.

Well-Known Businesses

Many businesses are regionally and even nationally known: the Lighthouse Cafe--a bar popularized by jazz music performed there from the 1940s through the late '70s; Either/Or Bookstore, which has a wide assortment of books and magazines; the Comedy and Magic Club, and C. J. Brett's bar and restaurant, owned by baseball's Brett brothers.

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