The Rodgers Park Victory: A Portrait of Huntington Beach in early 2016.


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INJURY.

New Senior Center in the Central Park, under construction.

New Senior Center in the Central Park, under construction.

Huntington Beach voters whose memories go back a decade mutter and curse under their breath as they drive past the new Senior Center under construction in our Central Park.  I’m talking about the ones who voted against it back in 2006, and many of the ones who voted for it as well.  It was a bitterly divisive, and VERY close vote – less than 1% – and pitted open space advocates and environmentalists against seniors and building nuts.  And one thing is for sure – if voters had been told the truth about how much the new location would cost – over $20 million as opposed to “free, paid for by fees on developers” – Measure T would not have passed.  But that’s not today’s story…

sullivan dave hbMayor Pro Tem Dave Sullivan, a (usually) fiscally conservative maverick Republican, has done a lot of good things in the decades off-and-on he’s been on the Huntington Beach council, and I may very well vote for him again if he runs for re-election this year.  From co-authoring 1990’s Measure C which protects our coastline from out-of-control development, to his current staunch opposition to boondoggles like Poseidon, he has generally stood with the people, the environment, and fiscal sanity against voracious developers and Chamber of Commerce interests.  And yet, his single-minded advocacy for the new Senior Center, to the point of covering up how much it would cost us, remains a blight on his career, like the Vietnam War on LBJ’s otherwise Great Society.  You might say it Sullies Sullivan.  Still, that’s not today’s story either.

INSULT TO INJURY.

The old, "Rodgers" location.

The old, “Rodgers” location.  The people have had to fight to keep it a park.

One 2006 promise that nearly everyone had forgotten – and which the City Council itself either forgot or pretended to – was that the old location, the two acres a few blocks from PCH that the “Rodgers Senior Center” sits on, would be converted into a park, “Rodgers Park.”  And so a couple months ago, the Council – as in most years a Developers’ Handmaiden though less so now – voted 5-2 to sell the two acres to developer Christopher Homes (contingent on a vote of the people this November) to build 22 to 27 homes on.  Big mistake.

peterson-hardyFirst let us praise the two councilmembers who voted no without being pushed by the public – Erik Peterson and Jill Hardy.  I enjoy that the two members who are most responsive to the public, stand up strongest to the big moneyed interests, and also happen to be the youngest, are ostensibly on opposite ends of the political spectrum – the liberal environmentalist schoolteacher Jill and the tea-partying conservative Marine Erik.  (And they are also the two who come most often to my concerts – an excellent place to keep in touch with a vast spectrum of HB voters!)

Sullivan certainly should have known better, as his signature was on the 2006 ballot argument here, re-assuring voters that the Rodgers property would be returned to “all downtown resident’s use” :

senior center promise measure t

And if you want to get REALLY historic, this was part of the 1917 deed of sale, when the city originally acquired the property from Chevron  (We all thank activist Bruce Wareh and Janice Unger-Ugland for unearthing these documents…)

senior center chevron grant

The Bare-Knuckles Fora Kick Into Gear!

The Weekly recently referred to this town’s “legendarily bare-knuckles Facebook forums” and sure enough those’ve been my home away from this blog for the past year and a half.  The mighty HB Community Forum and the only slightly smaller and less rambunctious HB CommUNITY Voice may have started as a populist reaction to the town’s status quo in 2014, which was a rare year when environmentalists (whom many considered heavy-handed and over-reaching) barely dominated the council, and those fora did help bring down liberal enviros Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman that November. 

scamBut since then, under the current, resulting, precariously-balanced council, hundreds of forum users have not only found a voice but also found a more nuanced view of what’s really going on here, and realized that environmentalists are not the real, all-powerful enemy ruining Surf City – that would instead be the big-moneyed, insatiable development interests, always aligned with the HB Chamber of Commerce.  And now former foes are allied against the common threat.

And SO dozens of citizens, informed and organized by the bare-knuckles fora, showed up to Council Dec 21 to fulminate against the Rodgers betrayal.  Actually Councilman Peterson, cognizant of the uprising, had prepared an item rescinding the Christopher Homes sale, so the people were lined up to speak in favor of THAT item.  But they were in for a pleasant surprise – the first speaker was the developer himself, who seems like a nice enough guy, had seen the writing on the wall, and called the whole thing off himself.  As the Register reported afterwards:

Councilwoman Jill Hardy, who has consistently opposed selling public land to private interests, said she thinks developers now understand that getting voters to support the sale of public open space for residential development is unlikely.

“I think the fact that most of the people chose to speak rather than go home (after the announcement) shows how strongly they feel,” she said.

However, Councilman Michael Posey said he had mixed emotions about the Christopher Homes decision and was not convinced the sale opponents represented the city as a whole…

poseyThis last comment of Posey’s (so reminiscent of Anaheim’s Lucille Kring, who always claims to have gotten innumerable mysterious e-mails saying the opposite of what the dozens of public commenters in front of her just said) really rankled some of the bare-knuckled forumers. 

Posey, along with Councilmembers Barbara Delgleize and Billy O’Connell, are known as the Chamber Three – the top three votegetters in ’14, funded by an unstoppable juggernaut of the HB Chamber of Commerce, developers, Poseidon, mobile home park owners, public employee unions (with the exception of Posey) and, in the case of Posey since he eschewed the unions, the OC GOP. As I tried to tell Forum members celebrating the defeat of Shaw and Boardman last year, “But THESE are not the droids you want!”

Anyway, in response to Posey’s Register comment, HB Community Forum founder Michael Daly discovered and publicized a chart, created by the Chamber itself, detailing how the seven councilmembers had voted on the matters the Chamber cared most about this past year – and the contrast between the two Republicans Posey at 7-0 and Peterson at 0-7 was breathtaking, led to fierce discussion, and put Posey (who to his credit loves to defend himself on Facebook) on the defensive (Click image for larger view.)

HBCC record vs chamber

Not Your Father’s Chamber of Commerce.

There are Chambers of Commerce and there are Chambers of Commerce.

I’ve seen the Chambers in Seal Beach and Westminster fighting hard against the OCTA/CalTrans scheme to foist toll lanes onto our highways, because they knew that would hurt the small businesses they represent.  That is what Chambers of Commerce are supposed to do.

Then there are the corrupt Chambers of two of OC’s bigger cities, Anaheim and Huntington Beach.  Both of them are allied with what we call the county’s “kleptocracy” – along with the twin entities Lucy Dunn’s OC Business Council and Carolyn Cavecche’s OC TAX, not only fighting tirelessly for the profits of only the largest, politically connected businesses, but more than that, ravenously pursuing what they call “public-private partnerships” – any scheme to divert public wealth and resources into private enrichment.

maloni unamusedIn Anaheim, this translates into giving Disneyland, the surrounding resort district, and any clients of uber-lobbyist Curt Pringle, any subsidies and considerations their insatiable hearts desire.  In Huntington Beach, it translates into nonstop high-density development, as well as that wet, wet dream of south county developers – the proposed Poseidon desalination plant. 

In fact, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni (right) who neither lives in Huntington Beach nor has any business here, enjoys a seat on the HB Chamber’s Board of Directors, in anticipation of the time when his hoped-for plant will be soiling our coast, jacking up our water rates, and enabling further south-County development, while profiting Surf City not one iota.

hb chamber logo

Perils Ahead.

I said something earlier about our current council being “precariously balanced.”  A lot of us left and right are considering playing it safe this November and sticking with the three incumbents (assuming they all run for re-election) – Hardy, Katapodis and Sullivan.  Because the biggest risk is that Chamber-developer juggernaut managing to get a FOURTH vote on council.  If that happens, we are screwed.  If blunt tool and Garofalo disciple Joe Carchio gets back on Council we are screwed.  If reportedly nice guy but actual recent Chamber Board of Directors member Pat Brenden gets on we are screwed. 

Enough of this story for now, let’s wrap it up with 5-year-old Bree singing her “Save Rodgers Park” Christmas Carol (followed by a popular vampire love song.)  Yes, politicians, we ARE making a list.  We ARE checking it twice.  And we are gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer 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 vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.