The center of Hermosa Beach has become the focal point of the coming City Council election and although the Santa Fe Railway right of way physically divides the city it has united--on one issue at least--even political opponents.
All four candidates say they will work to buy the property for preservation as open space.
Two candidates will be elected at large Nov. 3 to the four-year, part-time positions that pay $300 a month. Incumbent Tony DeBellis, 40, is seeking a second term. Mayor John Cioffi, whose term will also expire next month, is not seeking reelection.
Civic activist Roger Creighton, 49, marketing manager Michael Neiman, 28, and Planning Commission Chairman Chuck Sheldon, 44, are the other candidates.
No Voting Blocs
There are no consistent voting blocs on the City Council and alliances are expected to vary with each issue no matter who is elected.
One of the most important decisions the next council will make is hiring a new city manager, who will carry out council policies and directions and oversee day-to-day operations.
But to Sheldon, obtaining the railroad right of way is the only major issue in the city. He said voters should elect the candidates who can best "present themselves in a way that would enhance negotiations."
Three of the candidates, DeBellis, Neiman and Sheldon, emphasize that compromise will be necessary in dealing with these problems no matter who is elected to the City Council.
That's not Creighton's view, however.
"I have the strength of my convictions. I pursue them," he said, adding that if he felt strongly about an issue and could not get the other council members to agree with him, he would circulate a petition and put that issue before the voters.
Filed Several Suits
Creighton has sued the city several times in recent years to gain access to city records that he felt should be public or to stop the council from spending money in ways he felt were improper. Although he has not always won the suits, city practices often changed because of them.
DeBellis described Creighton and Sheldon as confrontational, saying either might strain council relations if elected.
The most important qualification for a City Council member is interpersonal communications, he said.
"You can have the greatest ideas in the world, but you have to convince--not the public--but two other people," he said. "Nobody changes things by themselves."
When DeBellis was elected in 1984, he joined a council known for its rudeness, which sometimes included public criticism of residents. By 1986, the atmosphere had changed; three new members were on the council and DeBellis was mayor. Debellis takes credit for setting a tone of "positive cooperation" and creating the noticeable improvement in decorum at meetings.
Age an Issue
Nevertheless, Neiman said it is time to make the City Council more like the community it governs. Neiman, 28, said that because he is young--the average age in the city is under 30--he would be more representative than current council members. At age 40, DeBellis is the youngest on the current council.
About 65% "of the people in this town are people like myself, they're renters . . . they've been here for a short time," he said.
City financial accountability has become an issue and, as always in Hermosa Beach--with about 21,000 people in 1.3 square miles--the voters are talking about open space, density, development, parking and parking enforcement.
One issue is the council's discovery earlier this year that top city officials had failed to inform council members that the city had an $818,000 surplus.
Believing that there was a surplus of only $11,000, council members asked voters in a November, 1986, initiative to increase property taxes by $52 a year for four years to fund police and fire services. They warned that the city was facing financial difficulties.
The initiative was defeated and council members learned in January that the surplus was $818,000 and not $11,000 as they had been told by then-City Manager Gregory T. Meyer.
Creighton, who has been a council watchdog for years but previously vowed never to seek public office, said he decided to run because of those events and to fight what he sees as an increase in density.
"This is the first time I've ever seen this kind of . . . misrepresentation of public funds," he said. "That sequence of events cannot continue if Hermosa Beach is going to be a clean, green, safe place to live."
Creighton was especially critical of the council, including DeBellis, for not calculating the surplus on its own or holding the city staff responsible for providing accurate information.
"A disregard for keeping track of what's going on is inexcusable," he said. "If they have a finance director or a city manager who is not getting the information in an appropriate manner, they have an obligation to the taxpayers of this city to dismiss him from his job."
Meyer resigned the following September.