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by Ryan McDonald
A walk through Trent Larson’s east Hermosa Beach home is a journey through the history of Fiesta Hermosa. Larson, one of three candidates seeking two seats on Hermosa’s City Council in the upcoming November election, has diligently collected art from Fiestas past over three decades.
One wall has a Josh Serafin “reverse painting” of a surfer, done on tempered glass. Another has a John Post photo of Pier Plaza, empty and still after a rainstorm. And on a low shelf in the back lies the real prize: a large red rock crab, some 18 inches across and sculpted from wood.
Larson bought the crab at a Fiesta in 1992, and says that guests to his home still marvel at it. That reaction has been on his mind during his campaign. One of the issues he says he is concerned about is threats to the twice-a-year Fiesta, including previous proposals to move them from either Labor Day or Memorial Day weekends, or to eliminate one altogether. Although the city council has moved away from these ideas, Larson worries that Hermosa’s Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, which puts on the Fiesta, will continue to face pressure that threatens the events’ continuing viability.
“When we pressure the Chamber up until the last minute, that doesn’t do them any favors,” Larson said.
His concerns about the Fiesta are emblematic of Larson’s desire to bring what he views as a missing voice on the council, one that is more concerned with the fate of the city’s businesses. Larson, a longtime market manager for the Office Depot corporation, said that the council as currently constituted is divorced from profit-turning pressure faced by local businesses.
“There’s not diversity of experience on the council. There’s people on the council that are not under the daily pressures that many people in town are,” Larson said.
It’s a theme developed over Larson’s previous, unsuccessful runs for a seat on the council. Larson first ran in 2015, then again in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Nanette Barragán, and again in 2017. Over that time period, Larson said that not only has “diversity of experience” been lost on the council, diversity of opinion has too, with the five elected members sometimes sounding like an “echo chamber.”
Hermosa resident Joe Verbrugge is Larson’s neighbor, and began paying closer attention to Hermosa politics when Larson began running. Particularly with the 2017 departure of Carolyn Petty, a fiscal conservative who found herself more frequently in a dissenting position as her term wound down, he thinks votes have become more one-sided and predictable.
“When Carolyn Petty was on, there were discussion points that were brought up. We’ve kind of lost that as a city,” Verbrugge said.
Of course, it could also be that the composition of the council is a reflection of how Hermosa residents feel about the issues. Online and in person, Larson does not hide his conservatism, including his support for President Donald Trump, whom Hermosans rejected by a margin of more than two-to-one in the 2016 election. At a time when fascination with what’s happening in the White House feels like the only bipartisan impulse around, Larson would seem to have another uphill battle.
But despite what political scientists have identified the country’s increasing bundling of local and national issues, the past three years have also revealed reactionary cracks in Hermosa’s liberal consensus. Homelessness showed its power to bring out the town’s law-and-order side after a series of incidents late last year. At initial hearings on PLAN Hermosa in 2017, climate change denial mixed easily with property rights absolutism, leading to significantly scaled back environmental and historic preservation goals for the city’s General Plan. And continuing pressure from left-leaning leaders in Sacramento on housing issues has produced almost unanimous pushback from Hermosa’s residents, commissioners, and city council members.
It is no coincidence that these issues or their analogues are among Larson’s top priorities. He has repeated, endlessly, his commitment to the “visible” and the “usable,” by which he means physical improvements to streets, sidewalks, and parks. Not only do these ideas have widespread appeal, Larson said, but their limited scope overlaps with what he views as the appropriate focus of local government.
“I want the council to focus on things that they can deliver on,” Larson said.
Larson allows that the current council has assembled an ambitious public works plan to do some of these things. But he remains concerned that the body’s ponderous style will leave needed projects mired in administrative muck.
For Verbrugge, Larson’s appeal rests in his devotion to cutting through these challenges.
“I work for the state, and I understand the challenging logistics around executing projects. Trent truly believes in and is impassioned about spending our money on things that we all know we need,” he said.