IN MY ORBIT: The 'Trifecta' Is Already Shaking up Manhattan Beach and the MB Unified School District Races

The Trifecta-Mike Welsh, Christy Barnes, and Johnny U (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O'Connell)

This is the fourth article in the series, “All Politics is Local.”

This “All Politics is Local” series would not be complete without returning to the City of Manhattan Beach and seeing how the infiltration of WOKE foisted upon the residents and the school district, and the pushback by a courageous few of those residents is playing out.


When we last left Manhattan Beach, the Unified School District’s (MBUSD) Board President, Jen Fenton, was having a meltdown over WeTheParents, the group which worked to expose some of the radical, anti-parent, and anti-student agenda the MBUSD board had chosen to pursue, including Equity, Diversity, Social Justice and Inclusion (EDSJI) education, and giving CLEAR (Center for Leadership, Equity, and Research) $25,000 for an audit of the district in order to uncover racism.

According to 2020 census data, MBUSD is a district that is a little over 60 percent white, one percent Black, and 39 percent a hodge-podge of Asian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, and mixed races. Compared to many beach cities, this is a veritable melting pot. But as we know from other school boards covered by RedState, the agenda of EDSJI is not to identify and solve racism, but to embed and foment it.

As RedState also reported, in November of 2021 Jen Fenton used her position on the board to commission the law firm of Fagan Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, the general counsel for MBUSD, to send cease and desist letters to the point people in WeTheParents: Lauren Harger, Fred Taylor, and Pamela Davidson.

At the November 30, 2021 board meeting, Fenton was confronted during public comment about why taxpayer dollars were being used to contract the school district’s law firm in what was essentially a personal attack on free speech, and pointing out the accusatory statements Fenton made against Harger, Taylor, and Davidson had opened up the door for harassment against them and potential harm. Thirteen disgruntled parents made their points not only about the cease and desist letters, but the lack of transparency shown by the board in their dealings with parents and the community.

One commenter made this powerful point:

“The president of any organization is the leader. Ms. Fenton, please lead. Correct the record and address the facts you say are lies and falsehoods supposedly sent through these emails.”


Other commenters confronted the diminished student enrollment numbers and the board’s failure to support the community and the city, instead, following the diktats of the teachers union, especially surrounding school reopening.

Fenton did not even bother to advocate for schools to reopen. Fenton took cues from the county and state dictators: Governor Gavin Newsom, and Barbara “Not That Kind of Doctor” Ferrer. Fenton called a December 31, 2020 emergency board meeting for the sole purpose of keeping the schools closed once the winter break was complete. According to reports, the board created a fake website that falsely said that Beach Cities Health District recommended that MBUSD stay closed after the winter break. Beach Cities Health District made no such recommendation.

The board voted unanimously to postpone students’ return from January 5, 2021, to January 13.

Fenton allowed one last person to make a final comment: a Laura Kiely, who, from other records from public meetings, seemed to enjoy playing the other side of the argument. Kiely excoriated the other parents for their hostility toward the board. This caused the room to erupt, with parents verbally challenging Kiely. It was then that Fenton called a 10-minute recess. But once that recess was done, Fenton had not returned to her seat. The meeting was resumed by board member Sally Peel. According to Fred Taylor, who was at the meeting, Fenton did not return for one hour and 10 minutes.

Here is the video of that board meeting. The public comment that sets things off starts at around 43 minutes.

An attendee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Fenton was having yet another meltdown, and needed that time to compose herself before returning.

Now that Fenton is running for re-election to the school board, she has locked down or scrubbed her personal social media, and only has her campaign website, campaign Facebook, and campaign Instagram open to the public. Perhaps Fenton understands that this video record belies the glowing bio blurbs being posted on NextDoor, Manhattan Beach’s Facebook pages, and other social media that present a veteran board member who exhibits experience, leadership, and fiscal responsibility.


From RedState’s prior reporting and additional information on the fiscal mismanagement of the board, these realities paint a far different picture.

The debacle of the funds allocation for Measure EE is but one example. Almost six years ago, Manhattan Beach voters approved Measure EE to authorize the issuance of $39,000,000 of the district’s general obligation bonds to fund the Mira Costa High School Athletic Complex. This new facility was set to replace the existing gymnasium, an expensive and long-term project which reached completion in late 2020.

In the board’s agenda for June 17, 2020, part of the minutes required a vote on approving the cost of a sewer line overrun. Imagine your construction is close to completion, and a discovery is made (no specification as to how) that the new building’s sewer line connection to the existing sewer lines was misaligned by several feet. A huge and costly mistake that required a re-design of the connection to the tune of $400,000-$500,000. The minutes discussed the vote that was needed, and also specified that essentially, the project would be completed within budget.

Manhattan Beach resident and financial advisor Tiffany Wright had this to say about the poor handling of taxpayer funds:

The initial construction schedule clearly states, “Completion/Grand Opening for July 2020.” Bond Measure EE was for $39,000,000. The Board kept adjusting the construction schedule and the budget for a variety of reasons, including that sewer line screw up.

August 30 2022-BOC Report Measure EE Amended Completion Dates. Credit: Tiffany Wright


06-17-2020 Letter from MBUSD Board Approving Cost for Sewer Line Overrun (Credit: Tiffany Wright)

As a resident who has closely watched the Board and its activities, President of the Manhattan Beach Teachers’ Union (MBUTA) Shawn Chen was not hopeful concerning this meeting’s focus:


This Wednesday, a COMPLETELY avoidable $400,000-$500,000 will be approved as a change order to the construction.

A half million dollar error was made and the “Oh well, too bad, so sad” discussion will end with a unanimous vote to approve.

It’s not the first time this has happened. As a careful, long-time board watcher, I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars frittered away needlessly and often without public comment by the board. I know that bond money is directed solely to construction costs, but this $400,000-$500,000 was “discretionary” and could have been directed at the conclusion of the project to efforts such as mold remediation and badly needed maintenance. Ongoing maintenance costs for the massive new construction over the past five years were not properly planned. We now have visible mold covering the exterior of the science building at Costa, the mold problem and leaky buildings at the middle school are still a hazard to teachers and students; we have ongoing needs with HVAC maintenance as well as expensive (and often neglected) repairs needed to plumbing and other nuts and bolts (pun intended) facilities issues.

This $400,000-$500,000 error will be discussed, sad faces will be made, but no one will be held actually accountable.

An August 30, 2022 report on the Measure EE funds allocated for the athletic complex building painted in clinical terms that the project would be completed on schedule, and under budget. No mention of the additional allocations for the sewer line correction. There were also some glaring discrepancies with the numbers.

August 30 2022-BOC Report Measure EE-thru June 2022 Pg. 4 (Credit: Tiffany Wright)

The Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) proclaimed it to be “under budget” just because there’s money left in the bag at the end after additional money parachuted in. But that is irrelevant. The original budget is what stands. The project came in $2.2 Million more than the original budget.

In addition to the costs shown above, MBX Foundation had to come out of pocket with an additional $269,009 in order to get the project done. There was a storage building that was allotted with the original cost. This had to be moved outside the scope of the BOC for that to happen because the BOC ran out of money for it.


As Wright predicted, the board unanimously approved the funds allocation to correct the design failure.

Fenton’s unprofessional behavior, along with these budgetary overruns do not reflect a person who has served the Manhattan Beach Unified School District parents and students. Because of this and other malfeasance by Fenton and the board, Fenton and the two other candidates running for school board (Kristen “Wysh” Weinstein and Tina Shivpuri) now face credible, grassroots challengers in Mike Welsh, Christy Barnes, and Johnny Uriostegui, the “Trifecta.”

Just as Capistrano USD School Board candidate Kira Davis‘ opponent has heavy financial and foot soldier backing from the Capistrano teachers union (CEUA), Fenton and her squad have powerful backing in the form of Karen Komatinsky, a former MBUSD board trustee.

Komatinsky had a 10-year long run on the board and wields her considerable political heft through a group called MB United. Along with Manhattan Beach City Council candidate Amy Howorth, they position candidates of their choosing to be ready to run whenever district and city posts need to be filled. So, if you wonder why you keep seeing the same old faces in city, state, and even national governance, know that this strategy starts at the local level. It’s a playbook that has been used for decades with the sole purpose of keeping outsiders OUT and consolidating power among the like-minded.

So when this crowd touts the “experience” of Jen Fenton and their other chosen candidates, it simply means she, and her counterparts, are members of an exclusive club and have aligned themselves with the people who can guarantee they will take their requisite place in city leadership.

Local power brokers like Komatinsky and Howorth, who have gone for decades without being challenged, do not like this one bit. In fact, they are biting back in the same backhanded and deceptive manner as Fenton.


In an email from Komatinsky to a dedicated list of followers, she promotes the three MBUSD board candidates, and without mentioning the grassroots challengers by name, maligns them, accusing them of politicizing what is meant to be a non-partisan role, and asserting that they do not feel they have a responsibility to follow governing laws and policies, including The Brown Act.

Komatinsky issues this misinformation knowing full well that the current school district board and city council barred parental and community presence from public meetings and restricted them to Zoom for over a year. That is a clear violation of The Brown Act.

Karen Komatinsky Email Maligning the Trifecta Candidates (Former MBUSD Trustee 2010-2020) (Credit: Tiffany Wright)


There is also a concerted effort to target these grassroots candidates on social media. An astroturf Instagram account called Mira Costa Alumni for Our Schools started posting on October 25, 2022. According to Johnny Uriostegui’s campaign manager, this account is connected to Komatinsky and Howorth’s MB United. Many of the posts seen on the Instagram account are cross-posted on the MB United Facebook page.

Screenshot from Instagram-Mira Costa Alumni for our schools! (@costaalum_forourschools)

The attacks lodged against the Trifecta have little to do with policy points or board issues, and are focused on the personal, often unfounded viewpoints of the candidates. One post even made a veiled reference against candidate Johnny Uriostegui’s children.

Screenshot from Instagram-Mira Costa Alumni for our schools maligning Johnny U


Screenshot from Instagram-Mira Costa Alumni for our schools maligning Christy Barnes


Screenshot from Instagram-Mira Costa Alumni for our schools maligning Mike Welsh

As a completion to this series, I sat down with the Trifecta to hear straight from the horse’s mouth why they are challenging the status quo in the MBUSD school board. They go on the record, and explain exactly what they stand for, and what they stand against.


Here are their opening statements, with more to come.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote/post from Shawn Chen to Tiffany Wright. The article has been updated to reflect that correction. 


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