The Soul of Hermosa

No matter what side you took, the recent “to drill or not to drill” oil debate in Hermosa Beach created more community dialogue and civic interest than the city has seen in years.

  • Category
    People
  • Edited by
    Michele Garber

As we struggle with how to keep Hermosa’s 1.4 square miles Hermosa, progress also compels us to be safer, more competitive and more accessible to the next wave of residents … and, of course, to find a viable way to pay for it all. Is Hermosa Beach really undergoing an identity crisis, or is it just growing pains? 

To suss out the issues, we gathered seven prominent locals for a spirited discussion about the city they love and call home. The conversation will surprise many, frustrate others and, hopefully, inspire some positive change.

 

Our Participants:

Michael DiVirgilio

Chris Keene

George Schmeltzer

Jon Starr

mayor pro tempore

attorney

off-and-on city council member and
longtime resident

home designer/developer and founder of Starr Design Group

Lori Ford

Margaret Keene

Kevin Sousa

Moderator: Todd Klawin

retail owner, Gum Tree

executive creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi

artist, psychologist and founder of Keep Hermosa Hermosa

founder and managing partner of Southbay magazine

 

Thank you all for joining us for this roundtable discussion. You can live anywhere in the world that you choose to live. Why do you choose to live in Hermosa Beach?

 

Jon: Partially it’s what I know. I grew up in Laguna Beach. I know beach towns. I know what kind of person lives in a beach town. You wear flip-flops. There is not a lot of pretense, and there is a sense of community because it’s small and a little bit isolated and insular. Everyone knows each other. There is a certain amount of accountability and inspiration that you get from everybody else. Lori (Ford) started her own business, building this thing from nothing. I think that’s really cool and really important, and it all stays here in town. We’re building something kind of unique, and it’s our own little mini-brand or micro-brand. 

 

What is the brand? There is something unique and special that’s going on in Hermosa, and everybody here has an interest in wanting to preserve that “thing.” So what is that thing, in a word?

 

Lori: “Funky” continues to come up over and over. Also mellow, funky, small … not so polished. The Gum Tree building is 103 years old—85-year-old ladies would come in and tell me where a window seat used to be, so we put the window seat back in. I’m told it was also a Hells Angels hangout. The guys come in and say, “Whoa, man, these floors still slope because we used to party here in ‘64.” It’s that part of the history … and what brought me back to Hermosa. I grew up in Manhattan Beach, and then I left at 18 and only came back six years ago when I had my kids. I wanted to come back and raise them in the beach cities. Hermosa still feels like how Manhattan felt like when I was a kid. It feels like 35 years ago in some ways.

 

George, you were here 35 years ago; do you agree with Lori?

 

George: I think the city has some venues that have attracted some interesting people. It was diverse in thought. It’s a highly-educated community. The Lighthouse was very attractive to a certain offbeat kind of people back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Insomniac across the street became a venue for the beatnik culture in terms of plays and poetry and the people it attracted here. There was an artistic community that developed around some of those things. There is another community here too that doesn’t plug into that at all … that has kids in school and goes off to professional jobs and comes back and is not really quite aware of it. But they (communities) seem to coexist quite well and have come together to face certain challenges, at least over the 40 or 50 years I’ve been here. That hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t happened by accident.

 

Margaret: The longer you live here, the more the town reveals itself to you. It’s that complexity and magic that makes it so unique.

 

Margie and Chris, you are professionals with a family—two kids. What do you plug into here?

 

Margaret: It’s a small town, on the beach, in the middle of Los Angeles. Everybody knows each other. All of the kids in Hermosa go to school with every other kid their age, from kindergarten through graduation from high school. Almost every kid plays Hermosa Little League baseball. Parents and neighbors get to know each other and become fast friends. Most people who choose to live here do so for the same reasons—beach life, freedom to be who you are—so we tend to celebrate and bring that out in one another. Young and old, married, divorced and single, wealthy and not. No one cares. That doesn’t matter. Everyone is up for a good time.

Chris: I moved down here because of stuff like Dewey Weber, Dale Velzy, the surf culture, Greg Noll, Hap Jacobs, Bing Copeland and that whole scene. It’s a culture that everybody around the world hopes to buy a piece of, like buying a Hollister T-shirt or a pair of flip-flops. It’s just great to live in a place that has that kind of a deep-loved culture.

 

Margaret: We were in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago and were walking down the street in a trendy neighborhood called Palermo Hollywood. A kid skates by on a street board with a Volcom T-shirt, checkered Vans and black socks pulled up. None of this would exist without the people from our town who invented this culture. It’s now the most celebrated culture in the world.

 

Kevin: The surf culture is a huge part of it, the arts, the music, the jazz—that’s huge too. There is a wonderful music thing going on with Saint Rocke right now, and lots of original artists are starting to come out of here that I’m proud to be part of. It’s just a really wonderful time to be a musician in this city. I’d love to see the Cypress area turned into some type of arts district … changing that light-industrial area back there toward more of an artist colony could be really beneficial to this city. 

 

Michael, we know Kevin was a strong force behind the Keep Hermosa Hermosa campaign. As acting mayor, what do you think makes Hermosa Hermosa?

 

Michael: At the Surfer’s Walk of Fame a couple weeks ago, one of the guys said he resisted getting the award for years because he never surfed to be acknowledged. He surfed because he loves living here, and that was the way he celebrated living here … that was the way he got to be a part of the beach. So it seemed contradictory to him to get an award. A couple words that I got from him that day, that I don’t hear people say to describe Hermosa, are “humble confidence.” You’re at the bar or in a restaurant with somebody who is in board shorts and a T-shirt and flip-flops, and he’s the CEO of some extraordinary organization that is making a difference around the world. This atmosphere, these words—“I get to be myself here”—allow world champions to feel comfortable being here on their own.

 

So is authenticity what Keeps Hermosa Hermosa?

 

George: I used to say, though it may not be true as much now as 20 years ago, that everyone who lived in Manhattan Beach wanted to live in Palos Verdes and that everyone who lived in Hermosa Beach wanted to live in Hermosa Beach. To me that kind of sums it up. That may be changing, but that was the sense I had back in the day. Maybe “authenticity” is it, but people who find themselves here want to be here. That’s different than looking to go somewhere else.

 

Lori: And it is inclusive. That may be a good word. All of us can live here. During our community dialogue processes, if I hear “innovator” or “iconoclast” one more time … (Everyone laughs.) But it is a town of interesting innovators and iconoclasts, and they all coexist.

 

George: I once heard it described as a bit “shabby,” and the person was a little sensitive about it. But I actually felt comfortable with it. It meant people weren’t going overboard in sprucing it up, and accepting the community for what it is. And we’ve changed it with zoning and building codes so much over the years, and changing it is what keeps it a little shabby.

 

Let’s talk about that. I think we can all agree that there’s no stopping development. It’s coming. You can’t stop people from selling their homes to those who want to buy them, or stop people from building new homes with people like Jon. How do we reconcile what’s happening on the development side, commercially and residentially, with all the other stuff we just talked about?

 

George: Once the city fought the battle of bringing zoning more or less into conforming with the general plan, a lid was put on the population. We could have built out about 30,000 people here in the ‘70s into the ‘80s, but right now it’s about 19,000 to 20,000. You can’t put too many more in. The planning commissioner made it clear: We add a few units each year; we take a few units off. 

 

Lori: I work with Michael on development, and I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people. My fear for the future with the development, and the money, is that if somebody buys a parking lot and develops it, they’re not going to be renting to anybody at $350 a square foot. So if we want to stay funky, small-business and eclectic with great little restaurants and community-owned places … how? Small retailers can’t pay that much more for that space. That’s why you’re seeing Manhattan Beach with Splendid, Michael Stars and Trina Turk, because they’re wholesalers and they have the markup to support that business. When you’re buying wholesale as a retailer, you just don’t have enough markup to make that kind of a rent work. Then there’s Amazon. People come in my store and take a picture of a cookbook they’re looking at and say, “I’m going to put that on my Amazon list and buy that tomorrow.” And I think, “Wait a minute, you’re touching it … buy it here.” But that’s the way the world is going. 

 

Chris: There nee

ds to be a big, monster solution. The Sea Sprite is charming, definitely funky. Scotty’s has wonderful views … great. But we are not far from Downtown (LA), not far from Beverly Hills. This section of town needs some thought and some development, and it would be great to incorporate all of that funky, original, authentic thinking into a solution that can allow people to visit Los Angeles and include Hermosa as part of that trip … stay in a really nice
hotel room and walk over to a
great restaurant. 

 

Margaret: We need to decide what we want Hermosa to be. We struggle between Ocean Beach and Laguna. We need to commit to that world-class beach community Chris was talking about and cut out the Pier Avenue crap that holds us hostage on the weekends. It’s unconscionable that our friends and families, both resident and not resident, don’t feel comfortable or safe downtown. 

 

 

Chris: And coming into this area, the parking lot is crazy. Jon, you’re the designer, and Michael, you’re the mayor. You are all civically active. What is the solution? I hear parking is the problem here.

 

George: Parking has been a problem here for years.

 

Lori: It actually isn’t a problem during the daytime hours because we don’t have enough daytime traffic. We don’t need to build another parking lot. We need to figure out some kind of solution. 

 

Jon: This whole area is controlled by two families down here, or it has been until just recently, on either side of the pier. One family owns the Mermaid … they control it. And they were motivated to sell it. And Sea Sprite—they might sell, but they don’t really care.

 

Kevin: And there’s the Coastal Commission and what the cost is there too. It doesn’t pencil out for a developer to come and knock it down and build a new building. They can’t do it.

Jon: And here’s the catch-22. It’s justified if you can get the $8 or similar rent. Then it makes sense, and you can offset that by other rent or condo-izing certain parts of it … or who knows how you’ll slice up the pie. But they’ll do the math, and as soon as it makes sense they’ll develop it and pay the money that the Sea Sprite people want but don’t really care if they get or not. It’ll happen. It’s inevitable, and it will change the character of downtown. I don’t bring my kids downtown, especially during a weekend. It’s not cool … they don’t like it.

 

Chris: The people who are down here getting drunk at 2 a.m. on a Saturday … they don’t live in Hermosa Beach.

Kevin: There’s a pub crawl mentality. But aren’t you guys seeing it shift over a little bit, with some of the restaurants coming in down here? There are some good things in Manhattan Beach that are starting to happen down here with higher quality restaurants like Abigaile, Día del Campo, Palmilla coming in. I think that it’s slowly evolving a little bit.

 

Jon: There totally is an evolution. There isn’t a policy to enhance that evolution. The policy now allows commercial; ground floor or second floor, commercial could be office. Office doesn’t drive downtown retail business. I’m not going to shop downtown because one-third of the shops are a lawyer’s office or a money management company—because there is nothing to buy. Rockefeller and the other restaurants aren’t open for lunch , and it’s even more dead because there is nothing happening. How do you change policy and ensure that there is activity because of retail, if you don’t have any sort of policy to drive that?

 

Mr. Mayor? (all laugh)

 

Jon: I get you want it to be a free-market decision, but it kills everything.

 

Kevin: How do you incentivize that?

 

Michael: Policy. When we did upper Pier a couple of years ago, we made the changes that you’re talking about—and one of the things that it does is help consolidate some of the developments. In essence we took away a little bit of the people’s property rights, but we did it in a mild enough way with the promise of upgrading the street, and it didn’t get any complaints. But the 200 Pier property, which is basically just a standard downtown building with no articulation, they could build that because they built it before upper Pier. If somebody was going to build something now, it would have much less density to it and more of a small-town feel. We don’t require it, but in some of the calculations it’s highly encouraged to do retail downstairs, office upstairs.

 

Jon: But there are some incentives built in. You reduce the parking demand, and they could build more square footage. There are things you could do.

 

Michael: And we’re starting to do that. Just a month ago we finished a plan basically for the downtown core centered around the three primary properties that Jon referenced. But where the fight will be is over parking. I’ll give you two examples. First, if somebody wanted to buy this property and put up what we see on Hermosa Avenue—a one- or two-story retail—they have to park it on-site. So that, in essence, is a total impediment. Forever. It will never be developed. Second, The Mermaid. They are basically saying we would like to build a hotel on the Mermaid property, but we would like you to let us put our parking someplace else in town. Maybe a new lot behind Palmilla, where it’s a flat ground floor. Maybe we build a lot right here, because the city owns this parking lot right here (gesturing to the lot at 11th Street). But we’ll be making allowances to parking to build here, which means they don’t have to park on-site. But that ends up becoming the rub for folks in the community who are worried about what you’re saying. If we have more parking, we have more nightlife.

 

 

 

Jon: If there is less parking, then it might be a different user. So it might be less apt to be the person from out-of-town. It’s more apt to be me, (Chris) Keene and the kids going downtown, because we can walk or ride our bikes, and parking is not really important. So it incentivizes us because parking is at a premium, and it’s more locally-driven people spending money. 

 

Lori: There is a whole movement to more walkability and bikeability. You’ve also got Uber; you’ve got taxis. In all our conversations about the future general plan, we’re all talking about living streets. How do you reconcile all of that talk, and us wanting to be forefront green, and them build it for the car … build it for the people in the car to come down.

 

There’s the reality that you, as a retail owner, may or may not be sustainable as a business if you build a fully sustainable community where people can’t park and drive their cars. Hermosa Beach needs to be a destination for retail, I’d imagine, for you to be successful in the way you want to be?

 

Lori: I agree, but I would like to see the parking lot somewhere up on the top of Pier so people have to walk down toward the beach. People are going to come to the beach.

 

Kevin: We need an entry point … a huge parking garage up underneath those tennis courts up there. Get them out of their cars, have bike stations up there, pedicabs.

 

George: To me, that’s the way the city can influence development, and it’s much better at doing that where the city owns property and subterranean parking is definitely a possibility—where traffic comes off the highway and back onto the highway—not through the residential area to get here. 

 

Michael: I tend to be, from a preference standpoint, more workable about finding a way to make the parking work for the Mermaid or whomever. Frankly I love the concept of a parking lot like you’ve described, at the top of the hill. Just to argue the other side, if we’re making allowances for parking—meaning you’re going to have a retail shop here or a doctor’s office here, and we let you get out of having parking—then there’s a fear that we have less parking for ourselves. So now all of a sudden there’s no more parking, and we keep filling with businesses. I think that works itself out, but I think that’s the other argument to a more flexible parking approach. And parking is really the connector between a lot of the development issues that go on, particularly commercial-wise.

 

George: We’ve seen quite a number of people with a full-size car and a smaller electric car. They can fit four of those in the garage. Some of these things change, and we don’t even notice them coming. There’s a little movement there, where that second car may be a smaller car.

 

Margaret: The community will ride bikes, and our LA neighbors and visitors can take a shuttle in and out. It’s a safer, greener solve.

 

Kevin: What you’re talking about is a culture change. Hermosa is small enough that we could start affecting the culture change with parking like that and setting up different things like having the zip cars in town, getting people out of the cars … you walk, and just changing it so you bike down. I became a reluctant environmentalist. I ride my bike everywhere in town now. It’s so nice not to have to worry about the car thing. It’s a win-win.

 

Jon: I’m the opposite. I drive everywhere. I get in my car and drive like in L.A. Story. I’ll drive two blocks, and I do it because there’s so much parking available. I can really park anywhere. If there wasn’t parking I would definitely ride my bike, because the idea is that if there’s not enough parking, you’ll find other ways to get there.

 

Kevin: That’s what the culture change is about. Put policy in place where it’s a very subtle change. And is it going to be difficult? Heck, yeah! Growth and change are uncomfortable processes, and people are not going to like it. What I was astounded at is, before city council meetings—in the old tapes I’ve looked at—you had people on the left and the right just screaming at the city council. Now what’s been created is this centrist movement in the city where more people are coming to talk about these issues.

 

Speaking of important issues, let’s talk about our kids. Let’s discuss this notion of not feeling safe bringing our kids down to the pier area. That strikes us as a fundamental problem. Why is it happening, and what’s the solution?

 

Kevin: We have to work with the bar owners and the club owners, enforcing existing laws that are on the books. We have a smoking ban, but people are smoking on the pier. There is drunk and disorderly conduct, public drunkenness. These are all zoned laws, and they should be enforced. If we start arresting a bunch of drunks and we get a reputation as a city that doesn’t tolerate knuckleheads, then they’ll stop coming.

 

Lori: The Fourth of July really worked, and it was the promotion around it that made it work.

 

What was promoted?

 

Michael: Two years ago there was a massive issue with underage drinking, and seeing that really helped us to draw a line in the sand. We realized that Fourth of July had really gotten out of control and we needed to be better prepared to handle it. And so last year, about eight or nine months in advance, we began promoting Hermosa as a great place to come for July 4th, but that we were going to be enforcing the rules. So respect our rules, or there would be consequences. We hired more police than we normally do, and we spent months visiting high schools, engaging the media and every avenue we could get in front of to discourage people from coming if they were just going to show up with a keg on the beach.

 

And did it work?

 

Michael: The lifeguards estimated that we were about 75,000 people less in 2013. So instead of 150,000 or 175,000 people,there were 100,000. And that alone just set a different tone because people came generally prepared for a different response from police. We were empowering the officers that day to enforce things.

 

So it was enforcement or the threat of enforcement?

 

Michael: I think the threat of enforcement was the big change.

 

CHRIS: Since I was at UCLA, “Let’s go to Hermosa and go to the bars” has been a thing … forever. Now Hermosa Beach is becoming a much more residential community, with people that came down here in part because of that original scene and then stayed and had babies, now have kids and golf carts and the rest of it. So the question is, now that our real estate values are at the $1.5 million level, are we still so Vegas that we must have casinos, or can we now become tech-oriented or whatever? Our orientation can change from being economically driven by this to driven by something else.

 

Jon: I’ve seen the transformation happen in Manhattan Beach.

 

Is Manhattan Beach a model to emulate? 

 

Lori: A lot of people in Hermosa live here because they want to be in Hermosa and not Manhattan. We don’t want to be Manhattan Beach today, but maybe 25 years ago. The Starbucks was m

y friend’s dad’s T-shirt shop. And when we came off the beach, we’d have a slice of pizza, and then we loitered in the back of the store for a couple hours, then walked back to the beach. And nobody picked us up or dropped us off. We just walked there, and we stayed there until it was dark, and we walked home. And that was
the life. 

 

How old were you when you did that?

 

Lori: 9.

 

Would you let your 9-year-old do that now? 

 

Lori: No!

 

You said there was the danger of becoming Manhattan Beach. What’s the “boogie man?”

 

Kevin: I think that it’s important that we don’t just become a throughway between Redondo and Manhattan. If we start to become too much like Manhattan Beach, that’s what’s going to happen.  We’re going to get absorbed into it. So how do we change and evolve with keeping an eye toward our past, looking at the future?

 

Lori: To be fair, that’s where I do all my shopping, in Manhattan Beach, if I don’t already own it in my store. That’s where I’m going to buy all my clothing, that’s where I’m going to dinner, where I’m going to take my kids to Metlox to play in the fountain.

 

 

 

Chris: If we drop a world-class hotel into Hermosa Beach, the parking problem will seem minor in comparison. And a lot of these other problems that we’ve been talking about, downtown lower Pier being Vegas, it can change to be South of France if we put the right property here. I think. Maybe I’m overly optimistic.

 

Margaret: There’s a balance that lots of beach towns work hard to create and enforce. Hermosa Beach can truly evolve with new places like Abigaile, but our community has to support their vision and really dedicate ourselves to sustaining their business.

 

George: Well I didn’t support the Beach House at first because I didn’t think the numbers added up, but it turned out to be quite a good development for the community. A lot of people know about the Beach House, and it’s expensive and it’s good and many local people own units there. It was a quirky, relatively new mechanism, which I had my doubts about. But it turns out that property values of the individual units are actually increasing.

 

Kevin: There is something that’s got to evolve. Bring anchors to this city. We need to have one at the beach and one at the top, so we have a showcase structure. How do we design it so we funnel people to come down to the beach and then funnel them back home at the end of the day or night? And an anchor down here would be a gorgeous property. We’ve been unable to move forward in this city because of outside forces. And doing that would all change that.

Lori: What if there was a restaurant with a beautiful view of the ocean? There are maybe four places in Manhattan and Hermosa where you can go and look at the water while you’re eating. What if there was a restaurant with a beautiful view on the top of the Beach House? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

 

Chris: The Biltmore was here for how long? It’s not unprecedented for Hermosa to have a grand hotel that is a destination. We can certainly improve on the ones that are here now.  

 

What are other communities around us doing that’s worth paying attention to?

 

Michael: El Segundo is remarkable. They win awards for being business-friendly, and I think that they’ve been smart—have big companies but also have a lot of small companies. They’ve created a tech and creative nook in their old industrial zone, lots of start-ups, and they have branding and a process in place to really attract businesses to be in this community. And for me, that’s a long-term goal for our city.

 

Kevin: I think Manhattan Beach also, with their environmentally-friendly policies they’re really spearheading right now.  They’ve passed us on the carbon-neutrality front right now, which we should aspire to.

 

Michael: I actually think Manhattan Beach’s environmental policy has been pretty aggressive, but their big-term stuff is actually smaller than ours. We have a long-term goal with a work plan to it and funding for it. The clearest, most definitive part of our goal is that the municipality, government operation in the near-term as a leader will be carbon-neutral, which is extraordinary.  Carbon-neutral is different than all-solar. It’s different than all-electrical vehicles. It basically means the (entire) operation. When someone buys a pen for the operation, that pen footprint has been neutralized. And that’s extraordinary!

 

Is that a 10-year goal? A 100-year goal?

 

Michael: It’s probably a 10- to 20-year goal, but I don’t think we know for certain. We will probably have an estimate within the year of what that will be.

 

That strikes me as something that—as you achieve that goal or make meaningful strides toward that goal—we will attract business. That makes people want to come shop here.  

 

Michael: Not to diminish the things that Manhattan Beach does, but what they are clearly better at is talking about it. They have a smaller goal that is shorter term, it’s more celebrated, it’s clearer, it sounds like it’s bigger.

 

Lori: Well I think it’s more tangible. I can understand the no-plastic-bag, and I’m bringing a reusable bag now. But it’s harder to understand what carbon-neutral is. We’ve had this conversation over and over. What does that mean? They’re just picking the low-hanging fruit, and it gets you better press.

 

Chris: It’s a good early first step, so that everyone goes, “Oh, I’m doing something every day, so what’s next?” The kids and everyone knows we don’t have plastic bags in the city. We’re starting with something easy.

 

Back to our kids, what is the state of schools in Hermosa?

 

George: We have great schools, and they’re experiencing an overcrowding of probably 400 people. They’re actively trying to find a solution. This whole thing could change quickly if the state requires the district to hold pre-kindergarten classes. It would add 150 kids to the roster just like that. And they’ve got one proposal that has View offering pre-K on that side of the highway.

 

What’s the perspective of those of you in the room who have young kids in the school system?

 

Margaret: The schools are great. We probably need to merchandise our success and publicly celebrate our teachers and principals more so that everyone knows how good they/we are and how well our kids are doing. 

 

Lori: I have a second-grader. The school just won the California Distinguished School award again. The schools are great. The teachers are great. View is like a little oasis up there, but they’re clearly busting at the seams. My kid is in one of the classrooms, and there is no air-conditioning. Now there are three or four trailers, and they don’t have space on the blacktop and the yard because there are trailers there. We walk our kids through Valley School past the three trailers that used to be the yard. There is some kind of a disconnect. It’s not ideal.  

 

Kevin: The new census says 17% of residents have kids … so it went from 9% to 17% in 10 years.

 

Jon: You’re seeing it in the development too. The houses that are being torn down are these non-conforming triplexes where singles live, and they’re being torn down for single-family homes. It’s evolution.

Kevin: So there are solutions. Our schools are a viable option, they just have to be retrofitted?

 

Michael: North School can be retrofitted, but not the other campuses, not Pier Avenue or South. North can, but it takes considerable work. But it’s doable.

 

George: And View. View has been in continuous use. My guess is that’s where they’ll end up. To me that’s the best solution available. The one I would like to see is the one where they would expand into the lot next to Valley, where Time Warner is. But state law says they have to use existing facilities first.  

 

Michael: They could come up with the money if they needed to, which brings up the other issue they face, which is budgeting.  They’re generally $1 million short a year on their operating budget, which is largely provided by the community. We have mostly active parents who are contributing serious dollars, and part of that comes from the fact that in wealthier communities the calculation on what the state gives the school is different than communities that are struggling. We get roughly $6,500 per student in class over the course of the year, whereas a city five miles east could be getting $10,000 to $12,000.

 

Jon: One of the things in my business, I talk to clients in Hermosa and Manhattan, it drives property value what people are willing to spend based on perception. You talk about test scores; what does that really equate to, and does that relate to perception, and how do you change the perception that Hermosa schools are on par with our friendly neighbors to the north, which are our biggest competition? What are we doing, and how do we try to define ourselves? Why is it that our schools are perceived to be not on par with theirs?

 

George: They are perceived to be on par.

 

Jon: My clients will spend the extra zillion dollars to live in Manhattan because they have this idea that they’re better. There’s a perception that they have to move to Manhattan because the schools are superior. And they’ll spend the extra money to move to Manhattan, and that drives property values—and that’s why Manhattan Beach is more expensive.

 

George: One time the council appointed some people to serve on a board for the school district. And one of the assignments I was given was to talk with the two neighboring districts about the possibility of a merger. We’d done it with the high school district, and it worked very well. I started floating that idea because that’s what I’d been asked to do. You couldn’t imagine the pushback of Hermosa parents. I was just bringing back a report outlining the pluses and minuses. They want local control. They like these schools. They may have their complaints, but it’s like a lot of things: Don’t screw with it.  They like it the way it is.

 

On the topic of where we are and where we want to be … what do you all envision for Hermosa in, say, 10 or 15 years?

 

Margaret: Forget 10 years. Let’s do 90 days. What can we do better now, while keeping our soul intact?

 

Jon: Development is inevitable. We’ll be somewhere different than where we are today … it is where could we be? The money that people are willing to invest, hopefully somewhere great, hopefully somewhere we have anchor tenants, where we can have a parking garage maybe at the top of Pier. And hopefully the perception of schools has changed. But hopefully we’re kind of the same … still have character and still funky and slightly weird in a good way.

 

Is that possible, Michael?

 

Michael: I think so, yeah. I think it’s because of the discussions that are going on. It’s not just me saying, “Here’s exactly how it will be.” It’s because we’re debating the points. And I think while we may lean one way or the other on some of the bigger items, at the end of the day we still are doing a lot of things that are very Hermosa-only, and I think those are going to continue to perpetuate. There’s an appeal to that. No one is trying to change that.

 

Is there a major development of some sort completed successfully down here in 10 years?

 

Michael: I think yes … one, maybe the start of two.

 

George: I don’t agree with that. I don’t think it will be here because of the nature of the ownership of the property next to you. And it took us 20 years just to condemn a home up on Hermosa Avenue that was a total dump.

 

George, where do you think we are in 10 years?

 

George: I wouldn’t have said this some time ago, but I think we’re oil-free. I don’t see that going ahead in the city. Obviously a welcoming city council is better than a city council that says no to everything. But I think it will be more the economics of the world that dictate what actually happens. I think we’re headed for a pretty good place, but I think we’re in a nice place. I love living here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

 

Lori: I hope we keep attracting small businesses. I hope we don’t tear down every single bungalow that still exists. And I hope we keep a bit of the funky. I hope we have a beautiful PCH and Aviation corridor, because that seems to finally be getting going and approved, and now we can seek the funding for that.  And that would be great.

 

Kevin, what do you think?

 

Kevin: If you have to ask what Hermosa is, or becoming, you should come visit. It’s a variation on the Miles Davis, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” But you just have to kind of come here, because you can’t really put your arms around it until you come and put your feet in the sand, walk through downtown, see the eclectic stores, see the really cool vibe that’s in this city. The city is in the process of giving birth to a lot of really cool things right now. This kid is coming, and we’ve got to get ready for it. λ

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