By Huw Pickering/Orange County Tribune
The winds of political change that swept over Huntington Beach on Nov. 8, have placed four new conservative members onto the city council. They are Pat Burns, Casey McKeon, Tony Strickland, and Gracey Van Der Mark.
These four candidates campaigned together, and the linchpin of their campaign was
Huntington Beach’s contentious relationship with the California state government. The quartet worked with incumbent city attorney Michael Gates, who won re-election to his position over challenger Scott Field.
However, each new electee hopes to also tackle other, related issues when they enter office.
Pat Burns, now retired, took on a variety of roles in Huntington Beach over the course of his career: he served as a law enforcement officer for 30 years, followed by positions on the boards of a credit union in Long Beach as well as the St. Bonaventure Catholic School, where his children attended.
Having spent eight years on the Citizens’ Advisory Board, where he helped to administer block grants for developments in Surf City, he considers the city’s coffers to be the issue most in need of redress.
“Our financial stability has been threatened,” says Burns. “In the last four years, the city budget has gone from 44% in the green to 44% in the red. That’s $70 million in the red, and I want to know why that’s happened.”
A major issue in discovering why this budget has declined is transparency, he says, insisting that the city council’s procedures must be more visible to the public, and Casey McKeon aims to do just that.
McKeon, a third-generation Huntington Beach resident, has spent his career in
commercial real estate, and was appointed to the city’s Investment Advisory Board in 2019 and to the Finance Commission a year ago.
When he made the decision to run for the council, he learned how little engagement local government – as he has concluded – had with the voters when it came to policy.
“During the campaign, people were shocked that I would reach out to them,” McKeon remarked. “I don’t believe we can achieve a real consensus without the community, and if that takes five or six town hall meetings on an issue, that’s what we’re going to do to get it right.”
The issue of consensus-building between the elected and the electorate came to the fore in November, when the council voted on a proposal to rezone a number of plots of land for high-density housing. Despite fierce disapproval from many Huntington Beach residents, council members approved the rezoning, obligated as they were by a statewide policy handed down from Sacramento.
Tony Strickland says he will seek to push back against the state government’s policies through the courts.
“The state wants to urbanize Huntington Beach,” says Strickland, who became familiar with the politics of Sacramento during his time as a state senator. “We can empower the city attorney, who has a lawsuit ready to go against this housing. We don’t want a San Francisco or a Los Angeles in Huntington Beach.”
With high-density housing and a population increase, Gracey Van Der Mark fears that the epidemic of homelessness in Surf City will be exacerbated.
“Homelessness affects every aspect of our city,” says Van Der Mark, a small business owner and member of the Huntington Beach Finance Commission. “The current council has already spent millions of tax dollars on this issue with almost no results.”
Along with her campaign colleagues, she is proposing a partnership with churches and private businesses, whereby those without housing will not simply be ushered into temporary shelters, but will receive help geared towards the cause of their homelessness.
Burns, McKeon, Strickland, and Van Der Mark took oaths of office during the Dec. 6 council meeting, and Strickland was elected the city’s new mayor, and Van Der Mark the mayor pro tem. The change has already begun.
Categories: Huntington Beach