Meet the new council. Same as the old council?
That's the question on many people's minds as the last votes continue to trickle in for Huntington Beach's three open seats.
More than a week after the Nov. 6 election, Surf City is still braced for the final results. Former Mayor Dave Sullivan leads fourth-place Barbara Delgleize by less than 300 votes. Former Mayor Jill Hardy, in first, and Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jim Katapodis, in second, appear to have more comfortable cushions.
The front-runners are a mixed bag, to be sure.
Sullivan, who served on the dais from 1992 to 2000 and 2002 to 2006, is a conservative who won backing this year from the county GOP. Hardy, who served from 2002 to 2010, is an outspoken environmentalist endorsed by liberal council members Connie Boardman and Joe Shaw. Katapodis has called himself a Republican who doesn't always adhere to the party line.
To Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby, that still adds up to a vastly different council than the one that includes Mayor Don Hansen, Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer and Keith Bohr. Hansen and Bohr will be termed out this year, while Dwyer appears to have lost his reelection bid.
"It's going to be huge," Bixby said. "This election was the equivalent of a political 8.0 earthquake for Huntington Beach. It went way beyond what I expected. I thought maybe the forces of good would pick up a seat at most, and I was ready for Measure Z to narrowly pass.
"So I was pretty amazed at the results. The long years of despair and frustration have ended, and it really is the dawn of a new era in Huntington Beach."
In recent years, Bixby felt, the council majority catered largely to special-interest groups and sometimes treated residents with disdain if they voiced opposing views. Likewise, Kim Kramer, leader of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn., said he expected a new council that was tougher on developers and large political donors.
Over the last two years, Boardman and Shaw have sometimes been on the losing end of 5-2 votes regarding development — most recently, with the expansion of Pierside Pavilion, which some neighbors said would block their view of the coastline. The two also voiced the lone opposition to the environmental impact reports for the new senior center and Beach and the Ellis Mixed Use Project.
Still, those 5-2 votes were far from the rule the last two years. Boardman and Shaw even joined the majority on some close votes, including a ban on selling dogs obtained from puppy mills and a requested ordinance proposing a partial ban on plastic bags. When the council voted in August 2011 to extend the police union's contract, the conservative Hansen, Dwyer and Matthew Harper wound up on the losing end.
For those reasons, Harper doesn't predict a massive shift in the new council's approach.
"The more important issue is how the city spends, how much fiscal discipline," he said. "I've been in the minority on those votes."
Harper declined comment on whether he thought the new council would handle development issues differently, but said many such matters came down to questions of private property rights. Boardman and Shaw, though, both said they expected the new council majority to give more weight to residents' concerns.
As an example, Boardman cited the Ridge project, a housing development near the wetlands that the council passed in 2010 despite heavy opposition from the community.
"I don't think this council is going to be stopping all development, but I think this new council will take a more critical eye and look for developments that are greener, that look to the future a little bit more with conservation of resources and such," she said.
Boardman is slated to become Huntington's next mayor later this year, with Harper as mayor pro tem.
In addition to the council race, Measure Z, which seeks to eliminate a property tax that helps to fund public safety employees' pensions, remained tight Wednesday, with the "no" side leading by 50.3%. Proponents of the measure, including Hansen, call it a way of making employees pay their fair share instead of billing taxpayers; opponents say cutting the property tax will leave the city with a budget hole.
City Manager Fred Wilson said most of the union contracts are set to expire in September, and the city plans to begin negotiating over the summer. The city and employee groups have already worked to gradually increase employees' contributions.
Although Measure Z's status has not changed since the initial results Hansen said last week that he expected a close finish.
"Either way, the question is going to be tight," he said. "Whoever wins or loses, it's going to be a handful of votes."