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11 Huntington Beach City Council candidates share ideas on pensions, low-income housing and offshore drilling

Pensions, low-income housing and offshore drilling were hot topics Tuesday at the first City Council candidate forum of the 2018 election season in Huntington Beach.

The Chamber of Commerce forum at the Waterfront Beach Resort on Pacific Coast Highway drew 11 of the 15 candidates in the Nov. 6 election — information technology analyst Brian Burley; council members Barbara Delgleize, Billy O’Connell and Erik Peterson; business owner Darren Ellis; retired history teacher Kevin “KC” Fockler; second-time candidate Amory Hanson; Planning Commissioner Dan Kalmick; longtime resident Don “DK” Kennedy; Huntington Beach Union High School District trustee Michael Simons; and second-time candidate Ronald Sterud.

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Mayor Mike Posey and candidates Kim Carr, Charles Ray and Shayna Lathus were absent.

In one segment, the candidates were given two signs reading “yes” or “no” to use as answers to three questions.

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All but Simons, O’Connell and Hanson said they support allowing a regulated cannabis industry as a way to increase revenue.

The candidates were split when asked whether they favor creating taxes and regulations to allow short-term vacation rentals in the city.

And all but Hanson, Burley and Kennedy said no when asked whether they would support a hypothetical initiative requiring a vote for certain types of development.

Asked for their thoughts on how to address public employee pension liabilities, responses were mixed.

Huntington Beach implemented a plan four years ago that includes paying an extra $1 million a year toward pensions beyond the required minimum. But the city’s employee pension costs continue to strain annual budgets, according to city officials.

O’Connell said the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, should be held accountable when it doesn’t meet its financial goals. The agency manages pension and health benefits for California public employees, retirees and their families. It derives its income from investments and member and employer contributions.

Kalmick said the pension issue could have been resolved with an Excel spreadsheet using estimates offered by CalPERS.

Sterud disagreed, saying CalPERS couldn’t “predict what [investment] returns will happen in the future.” He said the city needs “strong council members” who will negotiate with employee unions.

Hanson said the city needs to create a pension task force to focus on the issue.

Some candidates said they would surround themselves with experts to help guide them toward potential solutions.

“If I’m not the expert, I’m going to surround myself with subject matter experts,” Kennedy said.

Candidates also were asked for their thoughts about the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, a state requirement that a certain number of low-incoming housing units be outlined in a city’s general plan.

Nearly all candidates said they want to “maintain and retain local control,” saying the state shouldn’t dictate how affordable housing should be offered in a charter city.

Ellis said a “one-size-fits-all plan” wouldn’t work in Huntington Beach and that he’d like to see more investment in the city’s Inclusionary Housing Program, in which homes become available for purchase by eligible low-, median- or moderate-income buyers when new developments are built or when existing owners decide to sell.

Burley said he would make sure the city attorney has all resources necessary to legally challenge RHNA.

In 2016, City Attorney Michael Gates wrote a letter to the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the Southern California Assn. of Governments indicating the city’s opposition to a state requirement that 1,353 low-income dwellings be added by 2021.

But Kalmick said the city needs to be prepared in case it doesn’t succeed in challenging the state requirement.

“We don’t need high-density development everywhere,” Kalmick said. “High density has to be part of it; the state says that.”

Nearly all the candidates voiced opposition to local offshore drilling.

Fockler said the city needs to protect the ocean, which serves as its “economic engine.”

Simons said “none of us want our beaches in jeopardy.”

Peterson said the way offshore drilling in the area is being done now is the “most responsible” because it’s underground.

“In that case, I’m for offshore drilling the way we’re doing it now, but I don’t want to see more rigs out there because they do have problems,” Peterson said.

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