What are the main ways we distinguish one City Council from another, one City Council majority from another, particularly in this county, particularly in this decade?
Two stand out: To what degree does a Council majority dependably bend over and grab its ankles for ANY developer’s or corporation’s demands, regardless of the cost to the city’s treasury, people and environment; and to what degree do they treat their own city employees as a hostile force to be confronted, marginalized, and if possible disbanded? (There are other, related criteria such as handiness with balancing a budget, openness and responsiveness to the public, etc., but those first two criteria really stand out, in early 21st-century Orange County.)
And by any of these criteria, the council of Huntington Beach, the OC’s 4th largest city, underwent a seismic shift this month. Replacing Don Hansen, Devin Dwyer and Keith Bohr, who had given the council a dependable 5-2 majority of Developers’ Handmaids, with cautious “responsible development” advocates Jill Hardy, Jim Katapodis and (half the time) Dave Sullivan, we now have a solid majority (4.5 to 2.5) that will look at all new development plans critically and with an eye to the public and environmental good.
And a city that HAD, under Mayor Don Hansen’s leadership, made lurching attempts to follow in the footsteps of Riggy’s Costa Mesa and carry out the OC GOP’s jihad against public employees, will now be run by a solid majority that will treat their workers with respect while still negotiating what’s best for the city’s budget. This dramatic council shift comes at the same time as HB’s rejection of the lamely self-destructive anti-worker Measure Z.
In short, although half the council is Republican, there’s only one member left now who could be called an OC GOP insider – Matt Harper. And HE’S not even so bad – in fact we just named him our rep to the OCTA Board because he’s solidly against the 405 Toll Lanes.
So, the day after the election, I was chatting with a couple of activist friends who had a LOT to do with this victory (and with many others in the OC), and one was saying, “Wow, there’s so much we could accomplish now, with this new council,” and the other one said, “Yeah, we can really start taking the plastic off the furniture now.”
I thought that was a nice metaphor for getting comfortable with a new situation that will be staying the same for at LEAST two years, but probably six years or more. So I asked some of the members of the new HB majority, what can we be looking forward to now, and how can we help make it happen?
Campaign Finance Reform
Campaign finance reform – something most cities, counties, states and the nation need – would have definitely been on the table in any case. But especially after this last bitter election, near the end of which citizens’ mailboxes were flooded with vicious attacks accusing frontrunner Jill Hardy of being something akin to a child molester – mailers whose funding and creation were kept mysterious but seem to have been paid for by developers and Poseidon, laundering their money through the OC Business Council, created by the slimy Bieber Associates, and signed off on by the unscrupulous AtlasPAC.
Well, the new majority is going to work to make such scurrilous last-minute anonymous attacks impossible in the future – with electronic filing, mandatory 24-hour hour reporting for any large and/or last-minute expenditures, and the re-instatement of an old rule (discontinued by Don Hansen) that a copy of every mailer has to be walked into the city clerk’s office and put on file before being sent out.
Funny scene at the LAST council meeting, last Monday, the last one with the old majority: TriPointe Homes came asking for permission for a couple more projects in the Bolsa Chica area, one of which – a modest responsible one – was approved unanimously, the other of which was approved over the objections of Shaw and Boardman. But during the presentation the TriPointe spokesman, completely oblivious to the irony, bitched about how SOMEBODY had distributed an anonymous flyer containing falsehoods and exaggerations about their project, which they then had to spend money refuting. Joe Shaw shot back, How can you people dare to complain with a straight face about anonymous attacks when you helped fund the poisonous Jill Hardy mailers just last month? Sputtering ensued; it was funny.
And Joe will be the point man this year for Campaign Finance Reform in Huntington Beach. (And will no doubt be developers’ biggest target in the 2014 election.)
Much Much More…
What will the future hold for Poseidon‘s long-dreamed-of, taxpayer-subsidized, environmentally hazardous, desalination plant? What will it hold for the developers who regularly come back to Council for YET ANOTHER BITE of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and other sensitive habitats? What about other developers and businesses who have been endlessly, greedily, adding establishment after loud garish alcohol-spewing establishment to the downtown area?
Here I hit a brick wall. These are things that will be discussed at length at the next, Dec. 3 meeting, when earthy biologist Connie Boardman resumes the Mayorship she held a decade ago, and the new Planning Commissioners are announced. Connie and company – friends of mine for years – don’t want to “tip their hand” before then. Oooh, how suspenseful! This article will obviously have to be a two-parter.
But we can get a hint from articles back in the summer, when our friends attempted to increase developers’ fees to get them up to where they really need to be in order to to “offset additional public service costs stemming from new developments… such as water and sewer systems, roads, libraries, and parks and recreation facilities needed due to the increase of residents in the area.” Unfortunately the then-majority of Developers’ Handmaids stymied that move, cut the fees in half, but I have a strong suspicion those fees will be back now, despite all the billionaires’ strident warnings that they make Surf City “less developer-friendly.”
Looking back at a certain very dramatic Council meeting back in July of 2010, we wonder if this is the culmination of a revolution that began that night, with the 5-1 giveaway of yet more Bolsa Chica Mesa to Hearthside Homes – with only the bold Jill Hardy opposing and asking countless critical questions many of which were never answered.
Cognitive dissonance and an angry restiveness sprung that night from the fact that, even though the room was literally overflowing with citizens signalling “Save It, Don’t Pave It,” and even though every single one of the 60+ public speakers spoke against the development with the SINGLE exception of the developer himself, Ed Mountford, the overwhelming sentiment of the public was obviously turned upside-down on the dais.
And no wonder the development community and Republican insiders focused so much poison on Ms Hardy this election season – poison which backfired as she sailed into position as top vote-getter!
Finally we have to note the invaluable new alliance between environmentalists and public safety unions, an alliance made inevitable by the OC GOP’s extremism in all things, which made the Hardy-Katapodis-Sullivan victory possible.
And no, this doesn’t mean this is a council majority that will give away the store to cops and firefighters as previous Republican and Democrat councils did in the past throughout the county and state. New hires will continue to be hired on a second tier, paying for their own pensions. And tough but respectful negotiations will continue with the older employees – this new majority consists of fiscal conservatives.
To be continued after the big Dec. 3 meeting…