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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS | HERMOSA BEACH

Measure to Limit Beachfront Construction Is Defeated

Backers and opponents disagreed on meaning of 'improvements' in initiative. Three councilmen are elected.

November 10, 2005|Sam Quinones | Times Staff Writer

In a rare move for a coastal city, voters in Hermosa Beach soundly defeated a ballot initiative that would have restricted new construction along the town's beachfront.

Measure E, opposed by 56% of voters in Tuesday's election, would have required voter approval for any new "improvements" on the beach.

"It failed because it was poorly written and too all-encompassing," said City Councilman Michael Keegan, who opposed the initiative.

Keegan said Measure E would have forced the council to go to voters for permission even for relatively minor projects, such as remodeling beach bathrooms for handicapped access.

Others argued that the word "improvements" was not defined and therefore the initiative might prevent construction or placement of temporary structures, such as bleachers for volleyball tournaments and other civic activities.

Supporters said that such arguments were misleading and that the measure underscored the concern of many that Hermosa Beach is overbuilt and its open space in jeopardy.

Rosamond Fogg, a proponent, said Measure E was necessary because, as a crowded coastal city, Hermosa Beach is under constant pressure from development interests.

"It's like pulling weeds; you have to be watching all the time," she said. "The City Council over the years has spent a lot of money paving the way" for development.

Measure E supporters said city officials worked to defeat their proposal.

City Atty. Michael Jenkins wrote an impartial analysis that said the measure might prohibit temporary as well as permanent improvements at the beach.

That was the initiative's death knell, said Gary Brutsch, a Measure E sponsor.

Brutsch, a former mayor, said the initiative was clearly written to prohibit permanent improvements -- not bleachers for volleyball tournaments or soccer games.

But "there are no rules of evidence in elections," he said. "So doubt can be cast in many ways."

A key reason for the initiative, Brutsch said, is a second bike path that some people want to build along the beachfront.

In 2003, Hermosa Beach voters approved an advisory measure against the path, but it did not have the effect of law.

Brutsch said he wanted voters to be able to decide the future of the last pieces of open space in the city.

Now, he said, "you have a council majority who want to put a second bike path on the beach.... The citizens have said they trust local government to make that decision."

Keegan said that the council has done nothing to push forward the bike-path project, and that bringing it to fruition would take years.

Moreover, Keegan said, if the initiative had been written specifically to prohibit the bike path and parking along the beach, "it would have won easily."

"Feel-good beach initiatives are popular," he said. But if such an initiative is not written properly, he said, it stands to lose.

"The good news," Keegan said of Tuesday's election results, "is people got educated and they voted the right way."

In other Hermosa Beach contests, Mayor J.R. Reviczky and Keegan were reelected, and newcomer Howard L. Fishman won a seat on the council.

The three were the top vote-getters in a crowded field of candidates competing for three council seats.

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