31 Aug MBEF gives $6.5 million to MBUSD
by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach Education Foundation has donated $6.5 million to Manhattan Beach Unified School District schools for this school year.
The bulk of the funding will be dispersed in grants targeting class size reduction, counseling, and student support, music and the arts, physical education, STEM, and reading, writing and libraries, and will continue to impact students districtwide.
The MBEF Board of Directors voted to approve the funding for a vast array of programs that enrich the educational experience of Manhattan Beach students from kindergarten through graduation at their board meeting last May. MBEF’s annual contribution represents 8 percent of the MBUSD’s total budget and a $300,000 increase from last year.
“We are thrilled that MBEF is able to increase the grants from $6.2 million to $6.5 million this year thanks to the generosity of the Manhattan Beach community,” said MBEF president Dan Rogoff. “Support of the Annual Appeal, thriving partnerships with local businesses, and a significant disbursement from the MBEF Endowment all contributed to the growth. The importance of a great education clearly resonates with our community.”
Since 1983, MBEF has been instrumental in supporting academic and enrichment programs for Manhattan Beach public schools. The effort, initiated by a small group of dedicated parents, has resulted in over $75 million in directed funding over the past three decades.
“Our community values high-quality education – and we have come to expect it because of MBEF’s continued impact over the years,” said Hilary Mahan, MBEF executive director. “The challenge we have is ensuring our community understands just how significant MBEF’s grants are to MBUSD every year. Without donations to MBEF, our students simply wouldn’t have access to the enriched educational opportunities that MBEF supported programs provide. MBEF is the key difference.” ER
El Porto undergrounding vote underway
by Mark McDermott
El Porto, North Manhattan Beach’s northernmost neighborhood, has been known for many things over the years: its unruly and not-so-distant history as an unincorporated area (documented by Hollywood in the movie “Blow”), its locally-famed surf break, and, of late, its world-famous Emoji House. But if you are local and you close your eyes and summon visions of El Porto, one image likely to arise is of narrow alleys sloping downwards towards the ocean, crisscrossed by wires. Lots and lots of wires.
“I hate those wires,” said Bob Sievers, a local resident who has called El Porto home for 15 years and Manhattan Beach for 30. “I am so tired of looking at those wires.”
“I don’t mind those wires at all,” said Corky Lowry, who has lived all of his 69 years in El Porto. “I kind of like watching birds landing on the wires. I really do. It’s about the only place they can land around here. I have one of the only trees in El Porto.”
Sievers has been waging a campaign against those wires. Over the last five years, he almost single-handled revived the process of utility undergrounding that had begun in El Porto in 2005 — when residents submitted signed petitions showing over 60 percent support among neighborhood property owners — but stopped in 2010 when the Great Recession hit and the City Council at the time passed a moratorium. Still, the districts formed in El Porto and part of that initial work, called Utility Undergrounding Assessment Districts 12 and 14, remained legally valid. When Sievers began looking into the issue, he realized that the groundwork had already been laid for undergrounding in El Porto.
“It was in suspended animation,” said Sievers, considered the unofficial “mayor of El Porto” by some locals, partly due to his work on this issue and in the fight against desalination.
Sievers is a former Wall Street hedge fund manager who is now a Realtor with a particular focus on North Manhattan Beach. He began lobbying the council to lift the moratorium, which they did in June 2017. The three utility companies with wires in the area — Southern California Edison, Spectrum, and Frontier — were directed to proceed with design plans. In June 2018, the city put out a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the development of assessments — a consultant who, in other words, would devise a methodology and arrive at what undergrounding would cost each property owner. That consultant, Jeffrey Cooper of NV5, came back to the Council on Aug. 6 with his results.
The cost of undergrounding in the two neighborhoods would range between $19,754 and $56,185 per parcel, with an average of $29,540 in District 12 and $27,910 in District 14. Cooper’s methodology allocated a third of the cost on aesthetics, a third on safety, and a third on reliability. Safety and reliability are assumed to benefit all parcels equally, according to a city staff report. “The remaining one-third, the aesthetic benefit, is based on the unique area of each parcel and not on the size or value of the parcel dwelling itself,” the report said. “Larger parcels receive a higher neighborhood benefit and thus a larger portion of the project costs.”
The council approved the report and thus set in motion the final phase needed to approve undergrounding, a Prop. 218-governed vote among registered property owners in the two districts. More than 50 percent of property owners must approve, as well as more than 50 percent of the “weighted returns” — an overall vote that weighs each property’s assessment cost, meaning that those parcels with a higher proposed underground assessment have a stronger vote.
Ballots were sent out to each property owner. Voting will be open until Oct. 1, after which the council will consider the results and vote upon whether to proceed.
Sievers told the council that by his estimation, the average increase in property value for each property in El Porto after undergrounding would be 10 percent, conservatively. He said the average property value on one of the so-called alley streets — the non-numbered streets, such as Shell, Kelp and El Porto Street — is $1.8 million. By Sievers’ math, this means that by the second year of undergrounding, after paying the estimated $3,000 to $6,000 in per household connection fees and beginning to pay the rest of the assessment over a 20 year finance plan, residents would already have realized an average of a $180,000 return on investment.
“So I want to say to you, thank you for this gift, because I think it is a gift,” Sievers said. “I know some people say, ‘I don’t want somebody forcing me to have to pay it.’ Well, I’ve been forced to pay taxes every time they raise the tax rate in California or the federal tax rate. I have no say — well, I have one say, my vote, like all of us have our vote. I wish somebody forced me to make an investment like this. It’s like having someone force you to buy Apple Computers in 2005, and see what happened.”
Sievers also calculated that the overall cost, given a $30,000 assessment financed over 20 years, would come out to about $1,950 a year, which for many property owners would also be tax-deductible.
“That comes out to roughly, for the non-tax-deductible, $4.80, or less than a Starbucks cup of coffee a day,” Sievers said.
Lowry, who wasn’t present at the council meeting, wasn’t impressed by the math.
“That’s only valid if you want to sell your property, which I don’t,” he said. “That’s the truth. It’s okay with me if they devalue the property.”
Lowry’s family has been in El Porto since 1926. He and his two brothers inherited three properties in the neighborhood from their parents, and the assessments on the three homes ranged from $32,000 to $37,000. Lowry is a revered guitarist, repairer of guitars, and luthier, but his…