Norma Gibbs' soft laughter blends peacefully with the wind chimes outside her airy and cozy Huntington Harbour home, which is all decorated for Christmas, complete with fresh-baked cookies and tea on the table.
She is recounting a moment from 1970, just before she became the first city councilwoman in Huntington Beach history. She and then-Mayor Don Shipley were in the process of battling developers that wanted to build high-rise buildings stretching for miles along our beachfront.
"When I explained to our head of the Chamber of Commerce why I was so against the idea, he said, 'Don't worry, Norma. There will be six feet of space between the buildings so that people will still be able to see the ocean when they drive by.'"
He also boasted of wanting to turn Huntington Beach into "the Miami Beach of the West."
"I'd been to Miami," said Gibbs, 88. "And I was not going to let that happen."
It was 50 years ago this month that the Cal State Long Beach professor moved to Huntington Beach from nearby Seal Beach, where she was mayor.
And how lucky we are that she did.
It almost didn't happen. When she first saw Huntington Beach, she noticed all the tin cans and tents on Bolsa Chica State Beach. She needed some convincing, which she received from her husband, who was working with the company that was developing Huntington Harbour.
Theirs soon became the first house on the block, and it's the same one was she lives in today. Recuperating from tuberculosis at the time, Gibbs recovered in an upstairs bedroom that overlooks the ocean. The day she saw whales out her window was the day she was convinced they'd made the right decision.
Impressed by her smarts and passion, then-Mayor Don Shipley convinced Gibbs to become part of the Recreation and Parks Commission. She was the first woman there too. That's where she got to know then-Parks and Recreation Director Norm Worthy. He helped Huntington Beach win hosting duties for the U.S. surfing championships in 1959.
Worthy was also on a mission to develop Central Park, which he did by painstakingly tracking down owners of the old "encyclopedia lots" — so dubbed because they were part of a marketing gimmick to promote the sale of encyclopedias — and buying the lots back. In 1968, in large part because of these efforts, Central Park opened.
In 1970, Shipley and Worthy convinced Gibbs to run for City Council so that there would always be a voice for things like Central Park and especially a new library in the park. Gibbs worked and fought tirelessly on behalf of that new library. She told me that her only dream back then was to live long enough to see it open.
But it was not easy.
"The mayor back then, George McCracken, said to me, 'Why do we need a big library? Who reads anymore? We have TV,'" Gibbs recalled.
Undaunted, Gibbs and others donated their own personal libraries to help Central Library become a reality.
Famed Austrian American architect Richard Neutra died during the building of the library, and so his son Dion took the project to completion.
In discussing the city today, Gibbs told me how proud she is that the fight for open space was as successful as it was.
"We received an award for having the best park system in the country and I'm still proud of that," she said. "We still have a wonderful system. Parks are scattered all around the city for everybody to enjoy.
"When I learned that the city had a goal to reach 200,000 in population, all of a sudden it became extra important to protect and preserve open space. People can't act like they live in mazes. People need open space to thrive."
While she is proud of all the parks, Gibbs just might have a particular fondness for Gibbs Butterfly Park, named for her in 1995.