HUNTINGTON BEACH : City Hall Sold on Auto Dealers Group

City officials are hopeful that a newly formed association of car dealers along Beach Boulevard will generate more sales tax revenue and help clean up a section of the highway they say has long resembled "a circus."

The Huntington Beach Automobile Dealers Assn. comprises a dozen dealerships between Heil and Yorktown avenues who hope to bolster their clout at City Hall while promoting the 2-mile strip as the city's first auto center.

The city for years has feuded with many of the dealerships over their often extravagant methods of on-site advertising, which planning commissioners and some council members say sullies the appearance of Beach Boulevard.

Code enforcement officials have frequently cracked down on the dealers for flying multicolored flags, wind-powered spinning signs and other attention-grabbing gimmicks.

"What the city has been saying," Councilman Jim Silva said, "is if these things are bringing customers in, fine. But if everybody is doing it, it creates a circus atmosphere. . . . By having an association, (the dealers) can more or less police themselves on the matter, so the city doesn't have to be the bad guy."

Rick Evans, president of the association, said a main goal of the alliance will be to pass on city code information to all the dealers to avert recurring violations.

"The city's most recent sign code came in December, and many of us didn't realize it was changing," Evans said. "As a group, we can keep better apprised of these things."

Evans said he hopes the association will also help open lines of communication between dealers and city officials, and give dealers a stronger voice in city policies that affect them.

"Instead of one dealer having a pet peeve and taking it to the city, perhaps we take care of it within the association," he said. "And if the issue is important enough, then we can go to the city and say, 'This is a concern of all the auto dealers.' "

The main reason the association was formed, however, was to promote a "Huntington Beach Auto Center" to compete with thriving centers in Cerritos, Irvine, Santa Ana and Tustin, Evans said.

The formation of the association has been a priority of City Administrator Michael T. Uberuaga. Since becoming chief executive earlier this year, Uberuaga has emphasized that the city needs to generate more revenue to keep pace with its rising service costs. In particular, he has targeted sales tax revenue as a primary source of additional city income.

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