A couple of issues floated to the surface in a two-hour forum for Huntington Beach City Council candidates on Sept. 24.
One was how to reopen the city safely. The other was whether the city should permit short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, which are currently prohibited.
Three seats are open, with Lyn Semeta and Patrick Brenden choosing not to seek reelection and Jill Hardy terming out. Fifteen candidates are vying to fill those seats.
Only two of the 15 candidates, Matthew Harper and Billy O’Connell, have served on the council before.
The other candidates include famed mixed martial artist Tito Ortiz; entrepreneur and photographer Natalie Moser; city finance commissioner Gracey Van Der Mark; city planning commissioner Dan Kalmick; teacher and local surfer Eric Silkenson; small business owner Thomas LaParne; finance commissioner Casey McKeon; and small business owner Jeff Morin.
Follow the State’s COVID Guidelines?Dianne Thompson, board chair for the city’s Chamber of Commerce, moderated the forum. She asked candidates if they think Huntington Beach should follow the state’s health and safety guidelines to reopen businesses.
Two candidates—Morin and O’Connell—opposed the state guidelines, saying the city is ready to open more quickly than allowed under the tier system.
“We don't know the rules that the governor is writing,” said Morin, whose business specializes in emergency planning and disaster management.
“There is a percentage increase or a factor that's added to our numbers because we didn't test enough in Orange County. So we should actually be at a lower level already," he said.
Under the tier system rolled out late August, state health officials adjust case rates in counties depending on how much testing is done. So if a county has had more tests than the state average, officials adjust the case rate downward. If a county has had fewer tests than the state average, they adjust the rate upward.
Morin said, “The vast majority of the counties were ready to fully open throughout the state, and then the governor rewrote the plan.”
O'Connell said, “I think we need to get our businesses open because there's too many businesses, people struggling. Some of them may not even open, and that's horrible. I would be reaching out to our Orange County Public Health office and getting direction.”
He is the executive director and founder of Colette’s Children’s Home, and he said the organization has fed over 25,000 people in response to the pandemic. It’s members have handed out masks and helped seniors. But he said he has some reservations about state and federal policies in response to the virus.
Moser, a chairperson for the city’s Human Relations Task Force, said if the city doesn’t enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing, it will shut down again.
“I don't think that our city can handle that, to be honest with you. I know my kids can't. They want to be in school,” she said. “So if we can all follow the guidelines—follow the science, which does change from time to time as more things are learned—then we will be better off.”
Rodriguez said, “As someone who went to Cal State–Long Beach and majored in healthcare administration, I support the efforts of public health, scientists, and those that are creating these policies so that we can open up quicker.”
Silkenson, who spent most of his life working in the restaurant industry, said there needs to be more enforcement in establishments before they can reopen safely.
"The problem is we don't have an enforcement arm," he said. Better enforcement would ensure people are not getting too close to each other in bars, but rather acting safely, he said.
The youngest candidate, 23-year-old Hanson, said he supports following the state guidelines until a vaccine is ready. Harper, who was the mayor in 2013–14, said he would work with state and local agencies to promote health education and best practices to get Huntington Beach fully reopened.
Short-Term RentalsNext, Thompson asked their stance on permitting short-term rentals in the city.
Any residence rented for less than 30 consecutive days is considered a short-term rental, which includes rentals through Airbnb, Vrbo, and other such services. Irvine, Newport Beach, and Buena Park also restrict these rentals.
“I do not believe it should become legal in Huntington Beach,” said Van Der Mark. “I'm saying this because of conversations I've had with residents, where they've had drunk people come to their doors because they can't remember which Airbnb they rented.”
Rodriguez noted that Airbnb rentals already happen in the city even though they’re not permitted. “The reality is, they're already here. Can we generate some revenue for the city in terms of the general fund? Absolutely. I would support that, especially now because we need all the revenue that we can get. But we need to be responsible.”
He would support the rentals along the coast, but not inland.
LaParne said he’s heard complaints “about fights, drinking, abuse, breaking and damaging the properties, ending up in neighbors’ yards. There's a lot of aspects to this that are very problematic.”
“And that risk outweighs any possible outcome that I can see could be beneficial to the city, because it's straining our homeowners, it's straining the neighbors, and it's straining our first-response services,” he said.
Morin said he doesn’t think the short-term rentals should be allowed to operate in residential neighborhoods, but they may be acceptable in other parts of the city.
Harper said he wants to hear more from residents on the matter, but, philosophically, he leans toward allowing people to have freedom in how they govern their properties.
Moser, Briscoe, and McKeon do not support short term rentals.
“I don't think they're reflective of our suburban beach community,” McKeon said. “There was actually an analysis done at this week's city council meeting, and the limited tax revenue that we receive or would receive does not outweigh the nuisance, and cost to the city, or citizens.”
On Sept. 21, Huntington Beach City Council directed city staff to prepare an ordinance to be reviewed by the city attorney, which would allow for short-term rentals—albeit with a list of regulations.
Those regulations include having the owner onsite during the stay, except at Sunset Beach, and limits on the number of people per bedroom.
Later in the night, Thompson asked candidates if they support Proposition 15, which will be on the ballot statewide in November.
Prop. 15 would increase property taxes on most commercial and industrial properties; they would be taxed on their market value instead of the purchase price (plus inflation), as they currently are. The funds from the increase would be allocated to public schools.
Rodriguez and Moser were the only ones to support it, while Silkenson remained undecided.
Ortiz, Green, and Burley were not present for the forum.
Voters will decide who gets to fill the open city council seats as part of the Nov. 3 general election.