Manhattan Beach To Prosecute Its Own Misdemeanors, InfractionsNov 10, 2023 06:33PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The Manhattan Beach City Council has agreed to add prosecutorial services to its tool kit to combat "quality of life" misdemeanors and infractions in the city.
On Tuesday night, the council voted 4-0 (Mayor Montgomery was absent) to add prosecutorial services to its contract with its current law firm of Richards, Watson & Gershon, at an as-needed fee of $234 per hour.
Under the new agreement, trespassing, graffiti, illegal shopping carts, public urination, public nuisances and smoking in public can be prosecuted as misdemeanors. Drinking in public, unlicensed dogs, unvaccinated dogs, unleashed dogs, and dogs on the beach can be prosecuted as infractions.
However, the city will not have the authority to prosecute state misdemeanors such as public intoxication, disturbing the peace, and drug and paraphernalia possession.
The move comes in the wake of the city's frustration with L.A. District Attorney George Gascon's unwillingness to prosecute most state misdemeanor cases.
Gascon's office currently provides prosecutorial services for the city of Manhattan Beach. However, in the time since his office issued multiple directives that limit prosecution of nonviolent misdemeanor crimes, Manhattan Beach and other cities have sought other means to punish offenders - especially those who come back to repeat those offenses. City officials and business owners have said that lack of punishment has taken away deterrents and even encouraged some criminal activity, and the city has vowed to investigate new avenues for what it can do on its own to hold offenders accountable.
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.
"This has been a long road for our community," said Councilmember David Lesser on Tuesday night. "But this is the best workaround that I think we can come up with. Moreover, it restores our capacity to prosecute crimes beyond just pursuing the administrative citation process."
"I see it also as being an effective tool to cut down on nuisance crimes," added Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franklin. "But really it’s more than a nuisance. I was just looking through the list and thinking, well, trespassing; that sounds a little benign - but you'd be upset if someone came into your yard or home or on your property. And you’re able now to call the police and have that person processed. It's the same with graffiti; that’s a crime against all of us. To be able to prosecute the person who’s doing that with more than just a slap on the wrist or chasing them away, we can actually have an effective tool. [These crimes] are more than a nuisance, and I think it can help give a feeling of safety and comfort to residents and visitors."
Councilmember Amy Howorth said that the city should look into a fine structure, where, for example, a first-time offense of a dog found off-leash would be fined a certain amount, and that amount would increase for further infractions.
"I'm a little worried about the dog crimes, and I'm going to have to remind my husband, because I don't want him to be prosecuted," quipped Howorth.
Notably, since Tuesday - in a city where many people consider dogs to be family members - there has been some grumbling on local social media channels about using police time to pursue people walking dogs on the beach.