Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.
- Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter
In “The Bizarro Jerry” episode of the television show Seinfeld, there was a hilarious exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) where Jerry, an aficionado of the Superman comic books, tried to explain the concept of Bizarro Superman, a supplemental character in that comic book series:
Jerry: Bizarro Superman. Superman's exact opposite, who lives in the backwards Bizarro world. Up is Down. Down is Up. He says ‘Hello’ when he leaves, ‘Goodbye’ when he arrives.
Elaine: Shouldn’t he say ‘bad bye’? Isn’t that the opposite of goodbye?
Jerry: No, it’s still goodbye.
Elaine: Does he live underwater?
Elaine: Is he black?
Jerry (exasperated): Look, just forget the whole thing, alright?
[Now stay with us – the disparate insights from a former Supreme Court justice and the writers of Seinfeld will eventually meld together in this post.]
When listening to the Manhattan Beach City Council in open session, you almost feel, at times, as if you’ve been transported into the comic book Bizarro world.
How else to explain the following statement from Mayor Nancy Hersman at the November 19 Council meeting when a group raising funds to build a new Scout House to replace the ancient (circa 1952) building adjacent to Live Oak Park (pictured below) requested that the fees normally charged by Parks & Rec for a proposed fundraising event at the Jocelyn Center be waived.
Said the Mayor:
Every time there’s fees, people want us to waive them…..and I just wonder where the waivers are going to stop and how they’ll stop. Because every non-profit asks us to waive, and we’re supposed to be watching our public funds and it just concerns me that when an event asks for a waiver, that just means that the entire community is paying for it, not the group who’s having the event.
Whoa, whoa! Hold the phone! Wait a minute, Mr Postman.
“I wonder where the waivers are going to stop’ and ‘We’re supposed to be watching our public funds”? Did we just hear the Mayor correctly? Or is this Bizarro Mayor Hersman speaking?
Don’t get us wrong, we applaud whenever we hear our City Council espousing fiscal responsibility.
But wasn’t this the same Mayor who, last July, agendized a fee waiver for a purely leftwing political event on the pier organized by a fellow councilmember, an event with which the Mayor clearly had an ideological affinity? (See Nancy’s Apology and Slacker Bros at the Podium).
And before that, she stumped for spending at least $100,000 of city revenues annually to save the planet from climate change, certainly a 'realistic' goal for our little city (if there's an emoji conveying sarcasm, please insert here).
This was to be accomplished by converting all city facilities to 100% green renewable energy through the Clean Power Alliance (CPA). That is, until the utility rates quoted by the CPA soared in June (oops, maybe not so realistic after all), at which point the Mayor immediately pulled the plug (pun provided by a councilmember), returning a number of our city’s power accounts (mainly for streetlights) back to Southern Cal Edison. (See Green Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry).
So Council isn't curing global climate change with city funds after all? Shocking!
All of this fiscal sturm und drang is not exactly occurring in a bubble.
According to the California State Auditor, Manhattan Beach is currently at a moderate risk for fiscal distress, along with virtually all the other cities in the South Bay not on the PV Peninsula. The main culprit? Future pension costs.
"Skyrocketing pension costs are a ticking time bomb," said former MB Mayor Wayne Powell - in 2010!
In a further nod to fiscal sanity, Council is currently taking up the issue of higher user fees for city services as part of the city's quadrennial fee schedule review that shows Manhattan Beach failing to recover over $900,000 of its costs associated with these services every year. Whether the magnitude of all these fee increases, including 55 brand new fees, is justified is another matter but at least Council is tackling the issue of that massive annual fee shortfall.
So, again, we welcome financial wisdom and prudence from our city council - wherever it may come from within our five councilmembers - even if, for certain members, that prudence seems a bit tardy in its arrival.
See, I told you the late Justice Frankfurter's words would eventually have relevance here.