All information will be given on a need-to-know basis.
- Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman”
Confusion reigned at the last City Council meeting as our five sitting solons attempted to get on the same page in terms of where things stood on the issue of whether and how to proceed with the feasibility study regarding consolidation of the Manhattan Beach Fire Department with the Los Angeles County Fire District.
But Council’s confusion pales in comparison to that of our local residents, some of whom feel they’ve been intentionally kept out of the loop on this whole matter. It doesn't help that there is nothing on the City’s website about this subject (unless you dig through the Council agendas).
Here’s a sample comment from Next Door –
“Does someone have something to be gained by going County? Do our 'elected' officials really have 37,000+ residents at heart? Why is so much being hidden from the residents? I'm feeling left in the dark and wondering why. When is the next election?”
Let’s back up a bit.
Last year, Hermosa Beach consolidated their fire services with County and Redondo Beach was looking to do the same. Under these circumstances, it made sense for Manhattan Beach to request a feasibility study from County as well and our city manager, with authorization from Council, made such a request on September 24, 2018.
The initial Phase I feasibility study’s 10-year forecast seemed to show that, after an initial expense in the first year of around $1.3 million, the cost savings to Manhattan Beach in the subsequent 9 years would produce an overall savings of close to $10 million if our Fire Department was consolidated with LA County's department.
However, in the meantime, Redondo opted to not move forward with the annexation of their fire department by County while here in Manhattan Beach there’s been a groundswell of opposition to this as well, mainly on social media.
So Council placed the initial Phase I study on their September 17 meeting but that agenda item was pulled at the last minute.
At that time, Mayor Hersman said more information was needed and she also proposed a town hall meeting to get community input before deciding whether to proceed to ‘Phase II’, a more detailed feasibility study.
Still, you had several residents use their 3-minute speaking time to argue against proceeding to Phase II on the basis that services would be diminished and response times could increase if consolidation was approved.Fast forward to the most recent (October 15) City Council meeting, seen above, where the issue of placing the completed Phase I Feasibility Study on a future agenda was once again up for consideration.
But what happened to the promised town hall meeting? And where on the City website is there any discussion of the details of that Phase I proposal? (It’s there, buried in the Agenda notes for the September 17 Council meeting)
As one local resident asked,
How has the City Council been actively keeping the Manhattan Beach community informed about the potential takeover of the Fire Department? (Answer: It hasn't). Why has there been next to no publicity on this important issue? (Answer: See the Pacino quote above).
At which point, Mayor Hersman said, “That will all become clearer as we get to that item on the agenda.”
However, the eventual discussion was anything but clear.
Finally, Councilmember Napolitano, pictured here, jumped in to provide clarification of the path forward, namely, if the members agree to agendize the Phase I Feasibility Study for the next (Nov 5) Council meeting (which they did), then, at that meeting, all options will be on the table, namely,
- Agree not to go forward with the town hall meeting because there is no desire to go to Phase II (in which case, County consolidation would be dead) or
- Agree to proceed with a town hall meeting, get a full presentation from staff about Phase I at that meeting and then decide at the town hall whether to proceed to Phase II. If the decision is to move to Phase II, County consolidation would seem to be likely although it's possible it could still be killed at a later date.
Most on Council already seem to be leaning toward the 2nd option with the first option favored by just one Councilmember, Suzanne Hadley.
At the end of the day, it appears there are a lot of cross currents here, with many vocal residents arguing against consolidation, including even our resident Manhattan Beach historian, Jan Dennis, who just wrote the definitive history of the Manhattan Beach Fire Department.
On the other side, the MB Fire Association has submitted a letter to Council indicating they are, in fact, interested in exploring Phase II. And let's not forget those projected cost savings from the Phase I study which seems to show a $10 million total savings over the first 10 years after consolidation, which ain't chicken feed.
However, while we see a serious lack of information coupled with a certain amount of confusion emanating from Council, we don’t think Council has been intentionally misleading, contrary to what some have alleged on social media.
Were the reality otherwise, MBFD might have a ‘liar, liar, pants on fire’ emergency to deal with in Council chambers, in which case one wonders what their response time would be and whether it would be diminished under County.
UPDATE: At the November 5 City Council meeting, Council voted 5-0 to NOT proceed to Phase II of the County consolidation study. This effectively kills the consolidation issue for now and Manhattan Beach's Fire Department will retain its independent status. As a result, there's no longer a need for a town hall meeting.