MBCG President: "We've Been Sabotaged!" (Video)

In an unusually frank 45-minute speech in front of neighbors, Manhattan Beach Community Group President Ira Zalcman dished on the group’s three-year feud with the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association, including a “sabotaged” attempt to reunite the two civics.

The speech came during the group’s February 9 meeting and two days after the MBNA revealed details of their January 28 get-together with the Department of Transportation – an event Zalcman said he was not invited to, despite claims by the other group. The accomplishments of the meeting are better described as setbacks for the community, according to Zalcman. And it’s another in a growing line of failed attempts to implement their traffic safety proposals.

“We have been sabotaged in almost all of our efforts by one elected person in particular, and some other people,” Zalcman said. The politician went unnamed. On the city and state level, Manhattan Beach is represented by City Councilman Michael Nelson and State Senator Carl Kruger.

According to the MBNA, DOT’s Brooklyn Commissioner Joseph Palmieri agreed to visit the community, do another traffic study and issue proposals based off both groups’ suggestions. There is no timeline for action, however.

“We’re not fighting for one stop sign. We’re not fighting for another traffic study. We’re fighting for the things we feel are worth fighting for. And we’re going to fight until we have to fight, as long as we have to fight,” Zalcman said. Among other things, the MBCG is demanding the removal of the “zebra” stripes that they say drivers ignore and race down, causing more accidents.

More broadly, though, Zalcman gave a fresh recap of his side of the story in the community’s division, beginning with his election and a lawsuit in which he claims perjury by MBNA leaders was involved. He said the groups have quarreled to the community’s detriment, and following the traffic-related death of 4-year-old Evan Svirsky in October 2010, and a lack of cooperation from the DOT, he began secretly reaching out to the MBNA for unity.

At first, talks seemed promising. Zalcman said he and MBNA Chairperson of Public Relations Edmond Dweck had a private meeting in which he quoted Dweck as saying, “You know, the other group (MBNA) isn’t working out. We’re going nowhere.” According to Zalcman, Dweck told him that he and MBNA Traffic Chair Ron Biondo would like to “come back and make peace.”

Zalcman had more good-faith meetings with Dweck and Biondo, sharing a 4-page traffic safety proposal with them, to which they both agreed to. Dweck and Biondo, Zalcman said, made signs to him that they and other members would like to return to the group.

But Zalcman had only one demand: the MBNA must disband, in writing, and all members would be welcome back. When they told him that the only stumbling block was MBNA President Alan Ditchek, who had a personal grievance with Zalcman for firing him from the MBCG’s Education Committee, Zalcman said he’d apologize and offer to reappoint him.

“I’m willing to give up everything that they want” if they will fold their group and rejoin, Zalcman said. (He added that the MBCG board would have to vote on any agreement, but he would be willing to stand behind a deal.)

That doesn’t appear to be in the cards just yet. Shortly after their meetings “things changed.” The two groups squabbled over letterhead issues to the DOT, and Zalcman was having trouble getting them to agree to the MBCG’s strategy.

“We were prepared and trying to get Edmond to agree with us, that if Palmieri didn’t give us the things we wanted we were going to walk out and try to get to the mayor with our petitions,” Zalcman said. “We didn’t want another traffic study. Have you had enough traffic studies?”

Zalcman never got what he hoped for, and he was surprised to find out that the MBNA had set up the January 28 meeting with DOT. In describing the meeting, the MBNA said the MBCG didn’t attend because of a “scheduling conflict.”

“Well, there wasn’t. I was in town, I was here. I had no idea the meeting took place. What they achieved for that meeting sets us all back,” Zalcman told the group.

(In a later account, Dweck said that by this point, talks with the MBCG had fallen through and they submitted plans separately, and would be called separately by the DOT. MBNA simply received their call first, he said.)

For most in attendance at the MBCG meeting, it was the first time hearing details of the secret attempts to reunite with the other groups. The MBCG’s executive board appeared supportive of Zalcman, but others questioned the strategy and the group’s demands.

Ted Kleynerman, a member of both groups and director of Beachside Patrol, said the fighting needs to end, and suggested they get an arbitrator – a suggestion seconded by others in the audience.

Zalcman said the idea wouldn’t go anywhere, since the MBCG has but one demand: fold the MBNA and rejoin.

“I went the extra mile and spoke to Ron Biondo personally, to Edmond Dweck personally,” he said. “We can have a middle man, but I’ll tell you what my position is: it doesn’t work. We’re not going to join them, obviously. And we’re not going to form something new. So that’s it … that’s the stated position of the MBCG. They have to fold.”

That may be a possibility one day, according to Dweck. In an interview with Sheepshead Bites, Dweck’s account of events is remarkably similar to Zalcman’s. He admits Zalcman initiated talks, and that they met privately several times, with the goal of  folding the group back into the MBCG, keeping the group with the history and the name. Discussions went on through December, as each went back to their respective executive boards to negotiate terms.

“We just couldn’t agree on terms,” Dweck said. He did not elaborate on what either group wanted. “Ira and I were pretty much on the same page … We went through a lot of crap, we reminisced about our friendship and the history of the group, and we had a handshake. Verbally, we pretty much knew what we wanted of each other.”

According to Dweck, he had sold Ditchek, Biondo and other executive members of the MBNA on the idea. But at some point in December, Dweck said, something happened on Zalcman’s end.

“Unfortunately, conversations came out that diverted what we agreed to, and it changed the conditions of what we agreed to, and we decided to just let it lay there,” he said.

Dweck couldn’t say exactly what happened, but suspects that the MBCG was upset the MBNA announced during their December meeting that they were taking membership dues for 2011, interpreting it as a signal that they would not close. He said he also heard murmurs among MBCG members that Ditchek would never agree to fold and rejoin – which he said was absolutely false.

Regardless of the cause, Dweck said Zalcman called him and put an end to any deal.

But hope is not dead; members of the MBNA are open to discussing the issue again and hope to pick up talks.

“I have no reservations … If Ira were to say lets sit down again, let’s work this out again, I’d have no problem with that,” he said. “I respect Ira, he works hard and gives 150 percent. My door is open.”