Manhattan Beach native Steve Napolitano wants to bring his passion for public service to the 2.2 million people of LA County’s 4th District.
- Written byRich Thomas
Steve Napolitano has been in the South Bay long enough to remember when a taco and chips at El Tarasco cost $.55 and when the area surrounding the intersection of El Segundo and Sepulveda was berry and corn fields. At age 26 he was elected to the Manhattan Beach City Council and became the city’s youngest mayor the following year.
For the last decade he’s held the role of senior deputy to 4th District Supervisor Don Knabe, whose term ends in 2016. This November, with Knabe’s endorsement, Napolitano is looking to take over the role of supervisor, making him largely responsible for 458 square miles of communities from Catalina Island to Diamond Bar. We caught up with Napolitano for coffee at Shade Hotel to learn more about him.
Not only is the 4th District geographically extensive, it’s also incredibly diverse. The needs of your constituents in Rancho Palos Verdes—I’m sure—are much different from those in Downey. How do you spread the love around?
The beauty of the 4th District is its diversity. It’s diverse geographically, it’s diverse economically, it’s diverse ethnically. We’re the most diverse district in LA County and probably the most diverse in the nation. It’s just an understanding of what the issues and needs are. We’ve got a great system—field offices with field deputies who oversee their areas and interact with the communities, city government and constituents to provide services that make sure the county is up-to-date.
On a federal level, partisanship and obstructionist politics are a bigger problem than they’ve ever been before. What about at your level?
Thankfully local government is nonpartisan. There’s not a Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole—people just want it fixed. When you get to the state and the federal level, though, you’ll get the D or the R next to the name. I am a moderate. I’m a fiscal conservative social progressive. I think people don’t want their money wasted, but they don’t want to be told how to live either. I’m not here to tell people how to live; I’m here to fix their problems.
You have a BA in fine arts as well as a law degree. How do you use both of those to your advantage?
The arts improve lives. I had my own business freelance graphic design for several years after school, but chasing down people who wanted to pay 90 days out lost its appeal after a while. (Laughs) I had many interests so I decided to go to law school, but art is something I think about every day. It’s something I do when I can, but it’s not just paint on a canvas or a performance; it’s thinking creatively. My approach to the law was, “I need to create an argument for my client to win this case or to make a point to someone in a discussion.” It’s the same thing in government. My approach is being creative—finding those areas of consensus and working things through. It’s not art in the pure sense, but to me I’m being artistic in what I do every day.
What are the biggest issues facing the South Bay right now?
There’s a certain consistency to the major issues in the South Bay, and that’s always going to be the tension between development and the people who feel threatened by that development and the traffic that comes along with it. Change is not an easy thing for most folks around here. Manhattan Beach used to be very lower middle class when I was growing up, but my understanding is that 60% of the population here in Manhattan Beach moved in after the year 2000. A lot of the people that I grew up with can’t afford to live here anymore and have moved away—or moved by choice because they felt it was overcrowded. It has changed—it will continue to change—but I think what folks want to hold onto is that small-town atmosphere and low-profile development … the idea that this place is something special, and what makes it so special is the people.
So … El Porto or North Manhattan?
El Porto. Come on (laughs)! I don’t even know what North Manhattan is except for there’s a sign out there that says North Manhattan. It will always be El Porto to me.