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State of the City is 'Stronger Than Ever' in Manhattan Beach

Mar 18, 2023 09:42AM ● By Jeanne Fratello and Luke Fratello
At a special "State of the City" event on Thursday night, the mayor and others proclaimed Manhattan Beach to be "stronger than ever."

The event, led by the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by a variety of local businesses, featured Manhattan Beach Mayor Steve Napolitano, City Manager Bruce Moe, Police Chief Rachel Johnson, and MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes. 

Speakers addressed such issues as the city budget, tax revenue, building projects, outdoor dining, police hiring, crime, local control of zoning, and the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, Napolitano said - with a sweeping video backdrop of a beach scene - Manhattan Beach is "more than just a bunch of facts and figures – it’s a state of mind...People from all over the world come to share what we have."

Napolitano Cites Progress on City Issues

Among the high points of the past year Napolitano cited were adding three new firefighter paramedics, hiring a new police chief, and adding seven new police officers

Looking at public safety beyond police and fire, said Napolitano, the city has added new housing placement beds for the unhoused, launched an ebike campaign, educated the public about coyotes (and opened the door to trapping), and helped launch the United Against Hate campaign.

In terms of buildings and public works, he cited a list that included the Peck Reservoir Replacement Project, is in the construction phase of Fire Station #2, is redeveloping the Scout House, and has completed the bridge widening at Sepulveda (to be unveiled on Monday.) Other projects include refreshing the Polliwog playground, adding pickleball courts, creating a rainbow crosswalk and rainbow walkway, and redesigning the plaque honoring Bruce's Beach (to be unveiled on Saturday).

Regarding the dismantling of the temporary outdoor dining decks, Napolitano said, "We all know everyone loves it. But the temporary program was just that - temporary." He added that the city intends to go through a comprehensive planning process for a more permanent solution.

And regarding a question about Highrose/Verandas development and other statewide housing mandates, Napolitano said that the state is "serious" about putting in more housing and has "put new teeth" into housing laws to make sure that every city is doing its share.

Nevertheless, he said, "There has not been a year when we have not fought for local control."
He urged residents to contact their state representatives (Rep. Al Muratsuchi, Sen. Ben Allen) to let them know how Manhattan Beach residents feel about state-mandated policies. "They need to hear from you that this is an issue for you."

Napolitano closed on a personal note, saying that even though the pandemic is nearing an end, things are still not "normal" for many people.

"The pandemic has been life altering in more ways than meet the eyes. The trauma has been deep seated," he said. "I’ve lost an extraordinary amount of friends over the past three years due to suicides or overdoses."

Napolitano urged those who are struggling to reach out for help. "There is help out there and no one should go it alone," he said.

Budget, Police, School Items Highlighted

City Manager Bruce Moe said that the city is financially stable and has a AAA credit rating. Property taxes are up, and sales taxes are rebounding from a dip they took during the pandemic, he added. 

Furthermore, he noted that 18 Manhattan Beach businesses generate 50 percent of the local sales tax. That number is up from just 10 Manhattan Beach businesses a few years ago. "The more we can continue to diversify this, the better," he said. 

Moe added that buying a $30,000 car in Manhattan Beach would generate $300 in sales tax for the city; compared to zero dollars for a car bought outside of the city. He concluded his remarks with a reminder to buy local and support the city and its businesses.

Police Chief Rachel Johnson reiterated many items from MBPD's recent policing forum, including the fact that property crimes are up. However, Johnson noted, in fully 50% of the vehicle theft cases, the car had been unlocked or the key was in the car.

Despite challenges to the police department's job due to state and/or local policies, the MBPD remains united in its mission, Johnson said. MBPD made a total of 921 arrests in 2022.

"Your police department is still in the business of fighting crime," she said. "What we will always be here to do is investigate crimes thoroughly and take people to jail. We will always do our part in the justice system, and we will do our part to keep those [crime] numbers down."

Furthermore, she added, residents should consider joining the Neighborhood Watch program, keep an eye out for suspicious activities, and not hesitate to call the police department. 

"Please call us - That's what we're here for," she said.

MBUSD Superintendent John Bowes closed out the event with an update on Manhattan Beach public schools. Having spent decades in education both as an administrator and as a parent, he said, he was consistently impressed with the "high quality teaching and learning that goes on across the board" from preschool all the way through high school in Manhattan Beach.

Bowes highlighted top programs including the GRAMMY-winning music program at Mira Costa High School. Earlier this week, Bowes accompanied the band's Parade Team as it marched in the 27th Annual Honolulu Festival Grand Parade. The band was one of only two invited from California to march in the parade, he said.

MBUSD has an overall Niche rating of A+, he noted, and test score results for 2022 were the highest in the South Bay and among the highest in the region.

Regarding recent security concerns, Bowes reported that there are now 46 new security cameras installed at Manhattan Beach Middle School and 81 new security cameras installed at Mira Costa High School. 

Editor's note: See previous State of the City addresses here:

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