Chip Hanlon’s Surf City Lies

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Lies? No, you just have to parse every word I write very carefully and cynically!

I defy anyone to read this Redfaced County post on Huntington Beach’s budget & charter problems, and not come away with the impression that $55 million out of the 15% of the budget HB voters mandated in 2002 to be dedicated to “infrastructure” has instead been diverted to “Unions.” Hell, you don’t even have to read the story; the very TITLE is “Surf City Swindle: Unions are Why They Ignore Your Mandate.”

You have to read very carefully to learn that the controversial 3% diverted from infrastructure went to DEBT SERVICE ON PREVIOUS INFRASTRUCTURE EXPENSES. (A situation which is in the process of being changed anyway.) It has NOTHING to do with unions. Chip’s screed is just another devious assault on the OC GOP’s favorite whipping boy: What they call “public employee unions” and I call, from now on, “police, firefighters and teachers.”

Yes, Scott Baugh declared, and Chip Hanlon enlisted in, a great Jihad against Police, Firefighters and Teachers, in a desperate bid to bring a little credibility and meaning to a corrupt county party, and try to acquire some of that good Tea Party fervor. But despite the fact that five-and-a-half of HB’s seven councilmembers are Republicans, Chip and Scott feel they only have TWO dependable allies there: anti-government extremists Don Hansen and Devin Dwyer. The rest, to varying degrees, actually care about making the city work.

The facts, which Chip provides only when convenient:

  • In 2002 HB voters passed a charter amendment mandating that 15% of the city’s general fund had to be spent on infrastructure assets. At the same time they rejected another ballot measure (GG) which would have created a separate infrastructure fund paid for with a tax levied specifically on the utility, AES. This obviously created a shortfall.
  • Huntington Beach, like all local cities, is fighting desperately to maintain public services in light of a huge downturn in every source of revenue from the Bush recession. Sales tax down over 20%. Franchise fees down. Utility tax revenues down. Property tax down and no new construction. Motor Vehicle in lieu revenues down. Down, down, down. Cut, dip into reserves, cut again.
  • The City Council chose to allocate that “15% for infrastructure” in a fashion where 1/5 of it (3% of the budget) went to repay previous debt for infrastructure and 4/5 of it (12%) went to new infrastructure spending. This was fundamentally a fiscally responsible decision, even if justified by a loophole discovered by the city attorney.
  • My friend Joe Shaw, who served on HB’s planning commission, tells me the commission has now unanimously agreed to place wording in the charter removing that loophole, to conform with the public’s intent.  It’s now up to the council to allow these changes strengthening infrastructure spending to go forward to a vote of the people.
  • As things will probably play out, the entire 15% will go toward current infrastructure – but that will only put off tough decisions. Then, the crippling debt payments will have to come out of somewhere else in the budget, and yes, police, firefighters and teachers are concerned about that. Who wouldn’t be?

So Chip’s title and conclusions are deeply and purposefully misleading.  There is no clear solution in sight for HB’s budget problems.  But the unions – excuse me, Police, Firefighters and Teachers – have not taken a dime out of the dedicated infrastructure funds, as many veils as Chip Hanlon may wave in your face.

Our enemies are not these public servants, who are the very reason we have a nation;  nor are they the Mexicans who come up here to do the work we don’t want to do.  The enemy is the pampered elitists hell-bent on “shrinking government to the size they can drown it in the bathtub;” who strive, in true Shock-Doctrine fashion, to quickly take advantage of our current, temporary financial woes to strip down the civil society the rest of us have spent so many decades building, like a gang of miscreants stripping down a stranded car.

Tony B without whom I would never have known about Chip’s series;
and Art for the photoshop of Scott Baugh the warrior.)

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.