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Manhattan Beach To Investigate Its Own Means of Pursuing Misdemeanors

Jun 25, 2023 11:00AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Continually frustrated by L.A. District Attorney George Gascon's unwillingness to prosecute most state misdemeanor cases, the Manhattan Beach City Council has agreed to look into other ways to pursue those crimes.

The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night, by a 5-0 vote, to pursue a two-track approach: One, the city will continue to work with Gascon's office to explore other options; and two, the city will investigate new avenues for what it can do on its own to hold offenders accountable.

"It can't be any worse than what we have today," noted Mayor Richard Montgomery, reflecting the frustration of residents and police who say they are weary of seeing lower-level thefts and other crimes going unpunished - and offenders coming back to repeat those crimes. 

The L.A. County District Attorney currently provides prosecutorial services for the city of Manhattan Beach. However, in the time since Gascon's office issued multiple directives that limit prosecution of nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, Manhattan Beach and other cities have sought other means to punish criminals - especially those who come back as repeat offenders. City officials and business owners have said that lack of punishment has taken away deterrents and even encouraged some criminal activity.

In 2022, Manhattan Beach developed a proposed $300,000 contract to have the city of Redondo Beach prosecute its state misdemeanors (and offer a homeless court diversion program). Redondo Beach already provides that service for Hermosa Beach. But since Gascon's office has not consented to the transfer - despite multiple appeals by city officials - the city of Manhattan Beach has not been able to execute that agreement.

On Tuesday night, City Council members agreed to continue pursuing other avenues with Gascon's office, where there have been some discussions recently, although members remained skeptical that the situation would change for Manhattan Beach (and other cities that are in the same position).

At the same time, Councilmember Steve Napolitano proposed that the city look into a different strategy: adopting local duplicates of those state misdemeanors. That would potentially allow the city to issue local misdemeanor charges under catch-all misdemeanors like "public nuisance" so that the city would not need the D.A.'s permission to prosecute. Manhattan Beach could then direct its own city prosecutor to pursue those crimes under the city's own ordinances - rather than waiting and relying on the D.A. to do so.

Councilmembers agreed to pursue both options - continuing discussions with Gascon, and pursuing Napolitano's suggestion - on a "parallel track."

Napolitano also told MB News that he is floating the idea to get a state legislator to sponsor a change in the law that now requires the city to get permission from the D.A. to prosecute state misdemeanors.

Residents Urged to Report Crimes

In the meantime, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franklin urged residents to continue to report misdemeanor crimes in the hopes that Manhattan Beach Police could attempt to pursue chronic offenders with multiple complaints against them.

"Report those crimes, even if you don’t think it’s going to lead to anything," said Franklin. "Report it anyway, because who knows if they’re going to do it to your neighbors too? Our police will take those reports - and let’s let them connect the dots, let’s let them bundle up a package of misdemeanor charges against individuals. Is it the ideal solution? Far from it. But it’s the only vehicle we have right now."

Two Gascon Recall Efforts Have Failed

Los Angeles County voters elect a non-partisan district attorney for the county every four years. 

Gascón was elected in November 2020 with 53.7% of the vote in L.A. County. Two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey won 46.3% of the vote.

Notably, in Manhattan Beach, Lacey earned 54.5% of the vote, compared to Gascon's 45.5% of the vote.

While Gascon has endured vocal protests against his policies, his opponents have not been successful in their efforts to remove him from office.

In April 2022, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted 3-2 to endorse a county-wide effort to recall Gascon.

That effort, as well as an earlier effort, failed to secure enough signatures to get the question on the ballot.

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