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  • jeanadelsman4

Newsletter No. 12, Sept. 23, 2022

  • More fallout from Civil Service appointment.

  • Planning Commission rejects proposed Old Torrance gun store.

  • Hillside Overlay owner appeals rejected design.

This newsletter was going to focus on the Planning Commission and its decision to deny the gun shop a permit to open in Downtown Torrance, but many followers of this newsletter are still eager to discuss what’s happening with the City Council.


So, that what’s we will do.


In emails, texts, and phone calls, you are avidly rehashing the ill-advised ways in which Mayor George Chen, Aurelio Mattucci and Jon Kaji tried to save Shamindra Manbahal’s Civil Service commission appointment.


Within 24 hours or so after Monday’s meeting, there was a new wrinkle. Kaji emailed residents who had complained about the appointment, asking how they had learned about the special meeting and about Manbahal’s background. If they were outraged to begin with, his email infuriated them more. I’ll share one of the exchanges later – and I’ll explain why Kaji may have done something illegal in the way he reached out.


I’m still mulling what to make of this whole affair. Are the three of them simply bullies or are they the incompetent gang that can’t shoot straight? Or both?


From your responses, it’s clear you see Chen as incompetent or worse, especially criticizing his order to City Clerk Rebecca Poirier to take the candidates-information binders back from council members.


“He was hiding the ball,” Marty Gallagher said. Gallagher, a District 2 resident and former FBI agent, explained that this is what people do when they have ill intent.


Rowan FoxWood wrote me, “Who knew knee-capping democracy was now called ‘streamlining’” – referring to the excuse Chen gave for taking the selection process away from the full Council.


Ritas Smith echoed many of you when she wrote, “Curious that the mayor couldn’t find the time to read the budget but had time to read an unused municipal ruling.”


Mattucci was tagged in the responses for doing what he accused others of doing: tarnishing Manbahal’s name. The four who were seeking to rescind the appointment consistently said it was about the process, but Mattucci’s rant made it about the person.


In your criticisms, Kaji was a close second to Chen. When I wrote about Kaji’s prosecutorial approach, many of you responded with dismay about his treatment of Poirier and City Attorney Patrick Sullivan. You saw him as a bully. I agree. Kaji demonstrated, as he has previously, that he believes he knows more than anyone else. Unfortunately, he repeatedly shows his lack of comprehension of some basic information.


For example: Kaji was clearly confusing the Torrance Charter with the Torrance Municipal Code. Poirier had to correct him. And he didn’t understand that due process – the central point of one of his arguments – was not involved in commission appointments. Sullivan had to correct him.


There’s more, but bottom line is you were unhappy with his boorish behavior. It may come with the job for public officials, but private citizens take umbrage.


When writing the Council to criticize the change in the appointment process, FoxWood didn’t expect Kaji’s questions.


However, FoxWood made it clear he had taken on the wrong person, citing the possibility that his actions could be considered a Brown Act violation.


Normally, I would share a link. This time I’m sharing an email exchange, starting with the comment that FoxWood sent to the City Council:


From: [Redacted] Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2022 10:02 PM To: CityCouncil <CityCouncil@torranceca.gov>; City Clerk <CityClerk@TorranceCA.gov> Subject: Item 5A - Civil Service Commission

Greetings.

I have been following the sad situation with our Civil Service Commission. As someone who spent all of my thirties and the first half of my forties serving on the commission (13+ years, in fact), I recall the primary responsibility of a member of the CSC is INTEGRITY.

Someone who has repeatedly puffed up their qualifications and work history is not representative of the kind of person the council should seat on the commission.

Given the commission is a quasi-judicial body entrusted with the task of being an objective arbiter betwixt the city and our employees, doing the job your honorable body has requested, it flies in the face of the city's values and standards as submitted by the Blue Ribbon Committee on Ethics and Integrity, specifically the Integrity Statement all appointed and elected officials are expected to honor.


Someone who has been bounced from agency after agency and chose not to disclose that information cannot possibly be an adequate member of the Civil Service Commission - if for no other reason than the potential liability that creates for the city.

This appointment seems to illustrate a mistaken belief by several of our elected leaders that qualifications, experience, and character are irrelevant to service. That could not be further from the truth. All appointed and elected officials must strive to represent the best impulses of our community in their efforts to effectively manage the concerns of the city. Mr. Manbahal has illustrated he does not. He should be removed immediately.

Please take this moment to return to the long-held precedent of the democratic process of appointing commissioners - especially for this most critical commission - allow input and decision-making by the full city council, and appoint qualified, ethical persons of the utmost integrity to participate in the important work of the Civil Service Commission.

Rowan FoxWood

36 year Torrance Resident

Former Chair of the Civil Service Commission

Former Civil Service Commission Member, 2007-2012 / 2013-2021

Southwood, Torrance


Kaji responded with this email:

From: Kaji, Jon <JKaji@TorranceCA.gov> Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2022 10:55 AM To: [Redacted] CityCouncil <CityCouncil@torranceca.gov> Cc: Sullivan, Patrick <PSULLIVAN@TorranceCA.gov> Subject: RE: Item 5A - Civil Service Commission

Dear Mr. FoxWood:

Thank you for your email regarding the Special Meeting held yesterday, September 19, 2022.

Would you be so kind as to disclose how you were informed about the Special Meeting along with information regarding the Commissioner?

Thank you very much for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

JON KAJI Councilmember – Office of the City Council

City of Torrance | 3031 Torrance Boulevard | Torrance CA 90503 | 310.618.2801 voice | 310.618.5841 fax |JKaji@TorranceCA.gov | www.TorranceCA.gov |www.TorranceCA.gov/SocialMedia | www.TorranceCA.gov/COVID19


FoxWood answered him with this:

Greetings, Councilmember Kaji -


I am not a Mr... when in doubt, M. is the preferred salutation.


I receive notifications from the city for every City Council meeting, special event, and accident / traffic updates.


As a councilmember, I would anticipate you would be aware of the myriad ways in which the public is able to be notified about official city business. The City Clerk does an exemplary job of keeping the community informed. I am immensely appreciative of the ability to set my preferences for notification. If that is a system of which you are not availing yourself, I definitely recommend it... I ensure all of my city neighbors and friends are kept abreast of city happenings via the TorranceAlerts program. And, I check the city's website regularly for critical updates and events. And as a matter of course, I have an email rule set up which copies the City Clerk automatically on any email correspondence in which I engage with elected officials.


Why is that relevant? Would you be so kind as to illuminate me on why you are asking?


Do you mean to imply there was some nefarious means or motive by which numerous concerned citizens reached out to the City Council?


With regard to the applicant, I used to work for the cities of Redondo Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes. And I read the Daily Breeze daily... and I have an impeccably accurate memory. As you no doubt know, municipal employees in the South Bay maintain close working relationships with employees in neighboring cities in order to better serve the communities in and around our work agencies. Given that, I have personal insight into the occurences in Hawthorne and beyond regarding this particular applicant.


None of that is important, because, as I stated in my email, this particular applicant lacks the basic integrity to ever represent the City of Torrance in any official capacity given the inaccuracies in his application. That this was even a question is beyond the pale. Further, implications that this is a staff issue rather than an applicant issue and process issue seemed disingenuous and rather obviously an unnecessary distraction.


As several of your colleagues eloquently noted, the issue at hand during yesterday's meeting was not a focus on a single applicant, rather an unprecendented and ill-advised departure from the long-standing city practice of engaging every elected councilmember in the discussion, nomination, and selection of city commissioners - a best practice which was never once questioned or altered in the memory of any current staff member or the public.


What the mayor mentioned as purported "streamlining" away from the accepted precedent of engaging the full elected council in appointing commissioners appears from the community's standpoint (as evidenced in the supplemental letters received and the public comments taken during the meeting) as a power grab at best, and the knee-capping of our best democractic principles of participatory democracy at worst.


Regardless of the intent, the situation has been remedied and I am pleased there will be a codification of prior standards. As we have seen recently, the ignoring and destruction of norms in our society has bred untold devastation to the fabric of our country. This has necessitated enhanced codification of rules which should be on their face obvious at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels - but if that is what it takes to return us to a civilization of precendent, the rule of law, and a bolstered democracy, better to codify past best practices now whilst we are aware of the apparent inadequacies in our Municipal Code. I greatly appreciate City Attorney Sullivan's comments and perspective from the meeting, and am confident he will capably remedy these apparent deficiencies in our code.


Woe betide us if can no longer work together for the betterment of all interested parties here in the City of Torrance, our South Bay, and beyond. That means each and every elected and appointed official in the city must have the best interests of ALL citizens top of mind, regardless of district representation. The only way for that to be accomplished is for every elected and appointed official to maintain the highest levels of integrity and to allow them to do the job for which they were elected or appointed.


It was an interesting meeting to watch, given how far afield from the matter at hand some of the elected comments went. That being said, a majority of the council ended up doing what was right - what the community expected, and what democractic precedent demanded.


I trust this answers your questions adequately.


Cordially,

Rowan FoxWood


As of the time I posted this, FoxWood had not heard back from Kaji.


But Sullivan received this email:

From: [Redacted] Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2022 4:50 PM To: PSULLIVAN@TorranceCA.gov<PSULLIVAN@TorranceCA.gov> Cc: City Clerk <CityClerk@TorranceCA.gov> Subject: Questions in re. 2022.09.19 Special City Council Meeting

Hello Counselor -


I have several questions about recent city discourse and events in regard to the Civil Service Commission appointment, yesterday's meeting, and procedure.


Firstly, I believe I heard Councilmember Mattucci state that Mr. Manbahal had only followed the direction of the City of Hawthorne City Manager in his fiscal malfeasance. That is demonstrably false based upon city records and the news reporting of the time.


What is the procedure to have the record corrected? If a citizen must make that request, please consider this email my request to do so. If it must be done in person, at a City Council meeting, please advise as to when that is best accomplished and I will be present.


Secondly, it troubles me greatly that Councilmember Kaji would be so terribly misinformed as to believe there were due process rights to a volunteer position. Perhaps the next iteration of City Council training should include a section on precisely where and when civil service rights do and do not accrue. As a long-term former member of the Civil Service Commission, I have a passion for accuracy in terms of what does and does not constitute protected civil service.


Thirdly, I have no objection to any councilmember reaching out to me for clarification on any correspondence or comments I choose to submit for the public record. In fact, I welcome it!

However, as I recollect from the innumerable ethics and appointed officials trainings I have received from, and on behalf of, the City of Torrance, I suspect that his copying of the entire City Council and your office treads perilously close to running afoul of the Brown Act when the communications venture into back and forth territory... please do correct me if I am mistaken!


I hope you are well and I am eagerly awaiting the agenda item bringing about the codification of the norms upon which our fair city has relied for so many years. I certainly understand the effort it takes to add this task your already full plate, especially given your staffing concerns. Writing new code is a thankless job for which I do not envy you! So, if no one has yet thanked you for your efforts, I THANK YOU.

Appreciatively,

Rowan FoxWood


I am thankful to have received all of your exchanges. As good as they all were, I shared FoxWood’s because of the Brown Act implication.


I agree with the observation that Susan Niemeyer made: “Kaji’s emails were inappropriate.” And they may have been illegal.


The agenda for this Tuesday’s Council meeting includes a proposal to make the mayor and council members equally responsible for naming members to commissions and committees. That may be the end of this story . . . or maybe not.


Before I go:


  • My apologies for misspelling Shamindra Manbahal’s last name in Newsletter No. 11.

  • The Planning Commission voted 5 to 2 to deny a permit for a gun store in Downtown Torrance. Jack Brandhorst, Red Rifle’s owner, told a broadcast reporter that he would appeal to the City Council. When we know the date, we will share it, along with a full report about the issues as they were discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.

But we want to give shoutouts to:


o The four appellants – Ellyn Kielb Park, Maureen O’Donnell, Mona Buyyala and Katherine Kaopua – for stepping up.


o Jennifer Gjerde for organizing a petition and the more than 900 people who signed it.


o The hundreds who wrote the Commission and/or attended the meeting to speak or show their support for the appeal.


o All the teens who came and explained the incompatibility of a gun store so close to schools. And special thanks to Zoe, who quoted from a study that documented the increase in gun deaths when gun stores opened in the shops’ area. These teens are our future, and it is wonderful that they are already civic-minded.


  • Defenders of the Hillside Overlay will want to weigh in on an appeal that will be heard Tuesday by the City Council. It is a slippery-slope situation. The home in question abuts non-Overlay areas. The latter has many two-story homes, which is not the case in the nearby Overlay.


This would be a terrible precedent. It is a case where the Planning Department approved the two-story design, but the Planning Commission recognized that would be a mistake and denied it. To see the agenda item, click

  • Want to tell the City Council your opinion on that appeal or any issue that they will vote on?

You don’t have to email them individually. Send it to

CouncilMeetingPublicComment@TorranceCA.gov before 2 p.m. on the day of the meeting and it will be included in the supplemental material. If you just want to express an opinion on something, email CityCouncil@TorranceCA.gov. If you are discussing an agenda item, however, put Public Comment in the subject line.


My thanks to Joan Hardy and Amy Josefek who both suggested alerting readers to this shortcut when contacting Electeds.

Jean Adelsman

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