HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta will not be running for reelection in November, and will be stepping out of the political arena altogether.
“I wanted to make a difference, and … I felt that I could, but it wasn’t a goal for me to be in politics for a long time,” Semeta told The Epoch Times. “I wasn’t looking to go to higher office. I really just was interested in serving my own city.”
She’s a Huntington Beach High School alumna (class of 1978), a mother of two (including a child with special needs), an artist with a love of watercolor, a history aficionado (she was president of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation when she lived in San Diego), and a lawyer.
As she looks forward to getting more involved with nonprofit organizations, spending time with family, and focusing on her art again, she looks back on her journey as Surf City’s mayor. Leading a city amid a pandemic was the last, and greatest, challenge.
How It Started
In college, Semeta studied communications and took a lot of creative writing classes. She travelled and pursued her art.
“I had my first [art] show here at our library and sold some pieces,” she said. “When I was in college I went over to Europe and saw all the wonderful museums.” She loves historical nonfiction and reads all about the history of a place before she visits it.
She didn’t envision a life in public office. Or even in law, which is where life took her first.
A few of her friends took the Law School Admission Test; she became intrigued and decided to take it, too. She went on to obtain her juris doctorate from the University of San Diego, and successfully built a law practice.
A young lawyer by the name of Richard Semeta won her heart; they have now been married for 32 years.
Their first child was born at 28 weeks (a normal pregnancy is between 37 and 42 weeks) and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. Their second was born with special needs, which required Semeta to go through an in-home behavioral skills program for a few years.
“So I’ve just had these … things that I’ve had to get through, but I always approach life with positivity and hope,” she said. “I’m always going to approach it from a place of positivity and I hope that I can share that to the others as well.”
It was 2016 when she first became an elected official. She was a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, under then-Mayor Matthew Harper.
“I wanted to be involved to make a difference in particular areas, and I saw issues in my city that I wasn’t happy with,” she said. “With my background, I felt that I could [make a difference].”
Making a Difference
She recently helped get a new homeless shelter built. On Nov. 2, the 174-bed navigation center will open between Cameron Lane and Beach Boulevard.
“The whole country is dealing with the rising number of people that don’t have housing and are sleeping on the streets at times or in parks and so forth and that’s just been a real challenge,” she said.
She created the Making a Difference in HB award, which recognizes selflessness, volunteerism, and exceptional community service. She hopes it will encourage people to make a difference in their community.
As an artist, she has also enjoyed promoting public art during her time as mayor.
“Sticking to my principles, you know, I ran as a grassroots candidate, [and] didn’t take … special interest endorsements or money, so that I could always really represent the taxpayer people, the small businesses. And I felt like all of my decisions on council, my votes, have reflected that. I’ve stuck to that,” Semeta said.
She has been an advocate for local control while in office. She said a challenge has been having to push back against the state when it comes to housing. She said the state has tried to make Huntington Beach build more housing.
“I think it’s critical for city councils to be able to help plan our own communities,” she said. “We know our constituents better than someone up in Sacramento, and so local control and being able to have authority over land-use decisions that we have to plan in our community, I think all those things are really important.”
Leading Amid COVID-19
One challenge she never could have imagined was that of being mayor when COVID-19 hit.
“Our business community and our people at work, just kept me up at night worrying about them and how we were going to be able to help them survive through this,” she said.
In response, she launched the city’s Economic Task Force with city council’s support. It included stakeholders from key economic sectors of the city, and it developed plans to help the local economy cope with the impacts.
“We just did everything we could creatively,” she said. In June, the city closed part of Main Street and set up European-style parklets so people could dine outside. The city gave hotels a tax break.
Semeta helped secure $5 million in funds from the state to help local businesses and also created a micro-grant program to raise funds for small businesses.
“That makes me proud,” she said. “Leading that effort was really rewarding.”
“Those challenges came [with] the rewards of being that person to give that sense of calm to the community.”