Ventura County coastal town divided on name: ‘Port’ or ‘Beach’? Voters will now decide

People play in the shallow water at a beach with a pier in the background
An initiative on this week’s ballot seeks to rename Port Hueneme as Hueneme Beach in attempt to drive attention to this small strip of sand on the city’s southern edge.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

For most of the last century, a tiny city on the coast of Ventura County has borne the name of its major shipping hub that imports everything from BMWs to Dole produce.

Port Hueneme, a city of only 5 square miles and around 22,000 residents, is enveloped by the city of Oxnard (think Santa Monica in relation to Los Angeles). Most of its area is taken up by the shipping port and a section of Naval Base Ventura County.

The Port of Hueneme, the city’s namesake, imports more than $11 billion worth of goods each year.


But an initiative on this week’s ballot, if approved, would rename Port Hueneme as Hueneme Beach in an attempt by the City Council to drive attention (and tourist money) to the small strip of sand on the city’s southern edge.

In fact, the city’s name has been a point of contention since the 1540s, when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, exploring present-day California on behalf of the Spanish Empire, saw a group of Indigenous people at what is now Point Hueneme.

“His log identified the point as Quelqueme,” Beverly Kelley, a former communications professor at California Lutheran University and volunteer at the Port Hueneme Historical Society Museum, wrote in a story for the Tri County Sentry.

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“Being Spanish, however, he would have written it Quelqueme but pronounced it Wene’me,” Kelley wrote. “Now, to make it even more fun, if you anglicize the Spanish phonetic spelling, that’s when you finally get to ‘Hueneme.’”

The name roughly translates to resting or meeting place.

In the 1800s, a dispute between two sides with different names for the area led to the so-called Hueneme War.

An enterprising businessman, William Barnard, took advantage of his role as postmaster to name the post office after his company that provided lighters, large rafts for unloading ships. He called the post office Wynema after his Wynema Lighter Co.


Barnard, however, was a squatter on a rancho owned by oil baron Thomas Scott, whose land agent Thomas Bard disliked the name and sought to build a wharf on Point Hueneme.

“In June 1872, Bard created a plat map (street names and lots) for the ‘Township of Hueneme,’” Kelley wrote.

The semiofficial naming of the area was at odds with the name of the post office and created confusion, Kelley said. Residents at the time had become fond of the name Wynema.

But Barnard and his fellow squatters of Wynema were in the way of Bard’s envisioned wharf, local historian Powell Greenland wrote for the Museum of Ventura County. Accompanied by a group of armed supporters, Bard headed to the occupied land. No shots were fired in the “Hueneme War,” and the two sides came to an agreement that allowed Bard to build his wharf.

In 1874, the United States Post Office officially changed the name to Hueneme. It lasted until the 1940s, when the name was changed to Port Hueneme to recognize the new harbor.

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This year’s ballot initiative, Measure D, is not the first such attempt by city lawmakers to change Port Hueneme’s name. A decade ago, a similar effort by then-Mayor Norman Griffaw didn’t even make it to a ballot, Kelley said.


If Angela Colicchio, a Port Hueneme resident of six years, has her way, this effort will be sunk too.

“We’re known for the port,” she said Thursday afternoon outside a city library where she had just dropped off her ballot. “We’re not known for the beach or the pier.”

The current name, she said, shows pride in the port and the naval base. And she noted that Hueneme Beach is probably too small to be a major tourism draw.

“I like to keep it quiet,” she said. “There’s quite a bit of traffic here [already].”

Celia Robles also noted that Hueneme Beach is “very small” and said she was also against the name change.

“We should address the things that need addressing,” Robles said, pointing to city parks that she said could use funding for improvements.

The city estimated that a renaming from Port Hueneme to Hueneme Beach could cost as much as $200,000 to replace signage and labels.


Kelley is not surprised that people are opposed to the idea and expects the measure to fail Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 2 to 1 against,” she said in an interview with The Times. “There’s nothing to do at the beach.

“You’d have to charge $1,000 a day to make any money off of it.”