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Newsletter No. 13, Oct. 3, 2022

  • Revising Commission appointments in Municipal Code.

  • Hillside appellants to review their plan.

  • Racist group meets at DoubleTree.

Two items drew a crowd to Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and neither was resolved – for good reasons.

The first issue involved updating the Torrance Municipal Code to give Council members a role equal to the Mayor’s in appointing Commission members.

Mike Griffiths pointed out that the TMC could use a little updating: “If we’re going to clean it up, let’s do it right.”

Everyone agreed, and a revised version will appear on the Oct. 25 agenda. Until then, Mayor George Chen repeated his intent to honor past practice.

What are some of the potential revisions? Eliminate defunct commissions, such as one for Parking. Establish an order for making appointments, starting with the quasi-judicial commissions, such as Planning and Civil Service. Add information on convictions. Remove commissioners who have not fulfilled state-mandated training. And perhaps get approval for background checks.

Griffiths asked his fellow council members for their input. They all shared in a wonderful give-and-take . . . offering hope that we were seeing a spirit of co-operation.

But that hope didn’t last long.

Next came an appeal of a Planning Commission decision, and the players resumed their past positions.

The issue: A couple bought a teardown in the Hillside Overlay Zone. They proposed a two-story house that the Planning Department approved and that the Planning Commission unanimously turned down because it violated the Hillside Overlay’s requirements on height and privacy.

In appealing, the couple doubled down. Their attorney called the Commission ruling a mistake. He introduced Esther Kim, as an architect, who made a point of saying she was not related to an owner, also named Kim. But she failed to say that she is not a licensed architect. Checking with the California Architects Board, I learned she isn’t licensed; her expertise is in interior design.

Here is the crux of the issue: The Hollywood Riviera’s beach proximity has always made it desirable. A few homes are nearly 100 years old and in magnificent condition. Most, however, were built after World War II, and many of them have been remodeled.

The renovations ramped up in the ‘70s, and by the early ‘80s many homeowners were frustrated because new two-story McMansions were blocking their views and impacting their light, air flow and privacy.

The City Council in 1984-85 came up with the Hillside Overlay Ordinance. Ever since, repeated attempts have been made to weaken it. The current case is the latest.

One problem: The Hillside Overlay Zone does not include the entire Riviera. People see two-story non-HOZ homes in one block and don’t understand the problem with a proposed plan in the next block. The presentation to the Council showed several examples of two-story homes that are NOT in the Overlay.

Another issue: People see a two-story in the HOZ and don’t realize that it was built before the Ordinance passed.

Jon Kaji clearly ignored that fact and kept talking about how he walked his dog past these two-story homes and wondered why the neighbors were complaining. (Kaji now rents in District 1, but he rented a home for three years before that in the Riviera, which is in District 5. He owns a home on the Peninsula, but his various addresses are perhaps a story for another newsletter.)

Joe Buck, a project opponent, said everyone agrees the home is dilapidated, but the solution should not violate the HOO.

The remaining speakers spoke against the project. One suggested that owners dig down, which reflects a solution taken by many. Others asked: If the owners wanted to have a two-story home, why didn’t they buy a one-story out of the HOZ and remodel it?

Once everyone had their say, the Council discussion began, and recent alignments returned.

Aurelio Mattucci represents the Riviera but has rarely shown an interest in saving the Overlay. He and Kaji said they were fine with allowing the two-story. Chen didn’t voice an opinion, but his questions indicated he was in sync with them.

Griffiths’ questions reflected his experience on the Planning Commission. He was concerned with height and privacy.

Sharon Kalani said she didn’t favor the plan as it stood. When Mattucci said he liked the idea of an 8-foot-high wall to resolve the privacy concern, Kalani questioned how the neighbors would feel about that.

Once again Bridgett Lewis showed that she is looking for ways to bring people together. She suggested that the architect revise the current plan and bring it back to the Council. The six of them agreed.

Where was Asam Sheikh? He needed to recuse himself because he chaired the Planning Commission at the meeting when the proposal was denied.

He has suggested returning the proposal to the Planning Commission, meaning the owner would have to work with the Planning Commission but wouldn’t have to pay additional fees.

If the revisions are minimal and don’t satisfactorily resolve the height and privacy issues that could still be a path for the Council. Before I go:

You may never have heard of the Globalist Puppetmasters conference, which came to Torrance Saturday and Sunday. I was bombarded by a flurry of outraged emails from people furious with the DoubleTree for booking a hate group.

Despite fears, potential violence between attendees and protesters fortunately never materialized.

Saturday morning a reader sent me a photo of three DoubleTree security guards in front of a roped-off lobby. She said they were allowing in only guests on a list.

Torrance Police, alerted to the potential of protests that could turn violent, sent out notices saying they were on top of it. (In what might have been collateral damage Chief Jay Hart canceled his speaking engagement with the Riviera Homeowners Assn. It had been on his schedule for three months, but he said he had a conflict.)

Many of you were not happy with the DoubleTree for booking the group. Answering a number of calls, a besieged staffer said they had been unaware of the group’s history and had a contract they couldn’t cancel.

Of all the emails, I got, this one – to Hilton’s CEO – is worth sharing because I rate it among the best complaint letters ever:

Dear Mr. Nassetta,

I just learned that this weekend (October 1-2, 2022), the Torrance, California Doubletree Hotel is hosting American Freedom Alliance’s antisemitic, racist, hate-filled conference titled "The Globalist Puppetmasters" featuring Steve Bannon.

To think that one of your properties that is supposed to abide by the Hilton Code of Conduct is more motivated by money than by your stated value ensuring each team member act with Integrity ("We do the right thing, all the time") is confounding to me. Hosting this conference is clearly the WRONG thing to do at ANY time.

Booking this conference clearly collides with Hilton's expectation of ethical conduct. The American Freedom Alliance (and Bannon) have been categorized as a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is not about Republicans and Democrats; this is about hatred and violence. And, while free speech is an American right, it is not absolute, especially when it incites hatred and violence. I believe this group should not be allowed a platform anywhere, let alone at your hotel.

Surely, the manager who approved this event did not ask themselves your “decision-making dilemma” questions. Your website clearly states: “If you cannot answer “yes” to each and every one of them, seek advice before taking the action.”

· Is the action legal?

· Is it ethical?

· Is it socially responsible?

· Does it comply with the Hilton Code, Policies, and Values? Does it appear to others to be appropriate? (Would it look good in the newspaper?)

· Does it promote Hilton’s reputation as an ethical company?

While the answer to Question #1 may be YES, the answers to Questions #2-5 are a resounding NO.

I am sure this is not representative of what Hilton stands for. And now, I implore you to stand up, make a public statement, counsel or terminate the employees who allowed this to happen, and prevent this conference from occurring.


Alissa Materman

Torrance, California Resident and Hiltons Honors Member

Jean Adelsman

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