Hermosa Beach crossing guard Janice Henderson received a call out of the blue from her former employer All City Management Services that they would no longer be needing her services. The city had not renewed the company’s contract.
Henderson had been a crossing guard for four years and was hoping for at least one more year when the children return to school Sept. 6.
“These kids meant so much to all of us because … they were little toddlers when we started on our corners,” Henderson said this week. “We’ve been watching them go to kindergarten and we got really attached to them and the parents. The corner I worked at was like the most dangerous one in Hermosa Beach (Aviation and Prospect).”
Henderson and fellow crossing guard Barbara Sinner expressed their surprise at the Aug. 22 Hermosa Beach City Council meeting about losing their jobs. Sinner had been a crossing guard for five years at the corner of Pier Avenue and Ardmore Street. She was “worried about my kids.”
“They trust me when they see me,” Sinner said at the meeting. “In the morning with my yellow hat and vest, everything. Some of the children say she looks like Big Bird.”
But some of the Hermosa Beach crossing guards received a reprieve, getting jobs with the new company, American Guard Services. Sinner, who went through a six-hour orientation with the new company, said Wednesday she is still waiting to hear about her status.
After learning she lost her corner, Henderson, who had been contemplating moving to Arizona, traveled to Scottsdale and may have found a new home.
“I haven’t gone down and signed up with the new company yet because if I get this place that I looked at, I’ll probably just move,” Henderson said.
Longtime crossing guard Joe Cipolla, known also for singing around town at local clubs, said he did some detective work before last week’s City Council meeting to find out who had received the contract. Cipolla, who also is the noon aid at Hermosa View, drove to their office on Central Avenue, applied and was hired.
“Being of Italian (Sicilian) decent, I told them if they didn’t hire me my Uncle Quido may pay them a visit,” joked Cipolla.
He added, “Giving back to my community is very important to me.”
Hermosa Beach City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said it was a financial decision and other considerations to switch to American Guard Services.
“When we decided to go with the new company, we expressed to them that it’s their decision that they keep or maintain or rehire some of the existing ones, that’s really up to them,” Gonzalez said. “But we obviously wanted to keep the continuity of the crossing guard service.”
Georgia Moe, community services division manager with the Hermosa Beach Police Department, said there are 11 crossing guard locations in the city. She said they provided the company with the information of the crossing guards who desired to return.
“Our message has been to this new company that we want the best quality crossing guards,” Moe said. “We left it to them to whether or not that includes any or all of the current crossing guards or none of them.”
AGS Account Manager Joe Rodriguez said they’ve hired five incumbent crossing guards so far and are in the process of contacting every person who has worked in Hermosa Beach. They have have hired new crossing guards, but are “standing by” to speak to the incumbents. He’s letting the new guards know it might be a temporary job.
“We have a full staff that’s hired, but we’re still waiting for the last guards that worked there,” Rodriguez said.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez said he met with one crossing guard to make sure they were trained properly.
“If they have any concerns, I’ll go back and retrain them … if there are any complaints from parents, the client, the city or school, the guard has to work for them,” he said.
Henderson, who has lived in the South Bay nearly all her life, said the main concern she had with switching to a new company was safety. She had been hit twice at her intersection, but she said the children have always been kept safe.
“The first three years I was there I had an officer sat at the corner next to me in the mornings and just wrote tickets like crazy,” Henderson said. “He got people under control. But then they moved him to a squad car. Last year was real hard. It went back to the old way it had been. People don’t want to wait for kids to get across the street. I don’t know whatever happened to the pedestrian-has-the-right-of-way thing, but these people down here don’t believe in it, that’s for sure.”
Councilmember Stacey Armato expressed her concern about safety at last week’s City Council meeting, saying bluntly, “No one stops in this city.”