HBnaoma1011 (ran 10-11-01)

Retirement to ‘un-muzzle’ deputy clerk

by Robb Fulcher

Just-retired Deputy City Clerk and longtime Hermosa political figure Naoma Valdes relaxes outside her home. Photo by Robb Fulcher

Naoma Valdes, respected deputy city clerk and a leading municipal webmaster at age 69, said she will not go gently into the good night of retirement.

Valdes, for decades a Hermosa activist and sometimes unwilling political figure, has spent the past 12 years as a deputy city clerk, a fount of information and opinion usually capped in public by a tight-lipped lock. Now, with her tour of service at an end, she said she can go back to the outspoken ways that brought her to City Hall in the first place.

"I’m not retired, I’m un-muzzled," she said on Monday.

Valdes plans to spend time speaking out against the three ballot initiatives facing Hermosa voters Nov. 6. Measure F would place additional restrictions on events held in a wide coastal section of the city, Measure G would set term limits for council members and Measure H would abolish the city’s 6 percent utility users tax.

Valdes needed little encouragement to launch into her pitch about the need for the utility users tax, the only one that goes to the city in its entirety, unlike property taxes, which are "grabbed" away by the state government.

"It’s the only thing we can fall back on and know it’s there. And we’re looking at a recession," she said.

Valdes said the lengthy coastal initiative is confusing and sets too many restrictions.

"Have you read that thing? It’s like trying to get through ‘Ulysses,’" she said with a characteristic gust of laughter. "It’s contradictory, and even if you like some parts, you can’t just take them, you’d have to take the whole thing."

She called the push for term limits "stupid" in a town that, she said, has seen only a trio of three-term council members in the past 45 years.

"Were you around six years ago?" she said. "Everyone was saying ‘Are we ever going to have a two-term council member again?’"

Mayor John Bowler bade a fond farewell to Valdes and expressed admiration for her work at City Hall and her tireless involvement with Hermosa.

"She’s a very special person," Bowler said. "I don’t know how you replace her."

Webmistress, homemaker

At the dawn of her retirement, Valdes has offered to build an internet site for the Hermosa Beach Historical Society, of which she is a member. She had also held hopes of continuing her operation of the city’s official site as well.

"I offered to do that at half pay, if I could do most of it at home, but I never got an answer," she said. "I’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t hack 10-hour days."

Valdes also plans to concentrate more energy upon the normal business of life that gets set side for a full-time job, such as washing windows and vacuuming.

"See? I didn’t dust before you came over, just to show you," she said as she cast a critical eye around her spacious Hermosa house.

Helping shape Hermosa

More than a decade before Valdes took a position in the municipal government, she played a vocal role in a city campaign to buy what is now the Hermosa Playhouse and Community Center at Pier Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway from the city school district, for less than $80,000.

"The entire physical plant is a bit of a drag, but the auditorium is glorious," she said.

"It was a tough battle, we had to hit every city council meeting and every school board meeting. But you have to feel a twinge of pride being part of that."

She also served on the blue-ribbon committee that set up the operating rules for the center, was a founding member of Friends of the Library, attended the first sister city trip to Loreto, Mexico and helped found the Hermosa Beach Coordinating Council.

Unwanted attention

In the 1960s Valdes and her husband Al shared an unwanted spotlight when the Hermosa Beach Police Department allegedly kept written dossiers on local liberal figures.

Valdes participated in an ACLU lawsuit, and then-Police Chief William Berlin counter-sued, then later wrote a letter of apology to Valdes’ husband.

"That was a different era. It was ‘better dead than red,’ and there was a Communist behind everything, even school lunches for children," Valdes said, punctuating her recollection with another hearty laugh.

"It kind of fizzled out, really," she said.

Valdes said she had drawn the attention of critics through her involvement with the local Burbage Theatre group.

"They had a couple of Black actors, and some people thought they might be Black Panthers," she said.

A Dec. 5, 1970 Easy Reader article details a sworn statement by a participant at a meeting of local, state and federal law enforcement officers, who said that Berlin’s administrative aide, Wally Moore, acknowledged the existence of dossiers, and identified a handful of local "left wingers."

Moore, in a sworn statement of his own, denied that he had described the council members or their wives as "left wingers" and denied that police kept dossiers on any council members.

He did say that the police were "investigating militant activities believed to be emanating from the Burbage Theatre, as well as other locations" and "mentioned that [a councilman’s wife] was affiliated with the Burbage Theatre group. This statement was made as a matter of fact and was not made to ridicule, belittle or chastise her in any way."

In a March 2000 interview Moore said, "It didn’t happen. Berlin wouldn’t tolerate that kind of stuff."

I’ll be back

At the front door of the Valdes home, the former deputy clerk volunteered a not-so-final word on her return to a civilian role, speaking her mind at a city council meeting the next day. The subject would be the possibility of a building placed on the end of the city pier, and her viewpoint would be clear.

"I’ll be there to bitch," she said with a smile. "I don’t want anything at the end of the pier." ER