Huntington Beach City Council ratchets up heat on City Atty. Michael Gates

A woman holds a sign supporting Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates during Tuesday night's meeting.
(Matt Szabo)

Good morning. It’s Friday, July 8. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of news and events.

While maintaining it was “nothing personal,” a majority of the Huntington Beach City Council this week took the unusual step of releasing to the public a report critical of City Atty. Michael Gates prior to allowing him to read it himself. The action took place Tuesday night at the council’s regular meeting, one of several over recent months during which the topic of Gates and how he operates his office came up.

The panel has long been at odds with Gates and commissioned an outside look (or audit, as one council member called it) of how his office handled a 2019 age discrimination suit against him. That suit was settled in May 2021 for $2.5 million and city officials said it also cost about $1.5 million to fight the complaint.

It should be noted here that Gates is an elected city attorney, not appointed. Fewer than a dozen cities in California, notably San Francisco and Los Angeles, have elected city attorneys. Some say maybe Huntington Beach, not being a metropolis, should follow the suit of other cities of a similar size and go with an appointed position, which would, for one thing, soften the specter of politics. The City Council, in fact, considered putting a charter amendment in front of voters this year that would change that designation. They will still be putting forth proposed charter amendments, but decided this week they’ll ask voters to allow changes to how the city attorney’s office operates instead.

The council, concerned about the high costs of the legal fight over the discrimination suit, decided to commission the report from Craig Steele of Los Angeles-based law firm Richards, Watson & Gershon. (Steele himself is a city attorney for the municipalities of Seal Beach and Monrovia.) Although he stopped short of saying Gates had violated the law, according to the news coverage by my colleague Matt Szabo, Steele didn’t paint a rosy picture.

“In my opinion, the lack of any independent supervision of this case was not reflective of good litigation management practices and created a situation where a majority of the members of the City Council now question whether over $1.5 million in city funds were well spent,” Steele wrote in the report.

According to Szabo, the report’s summary is critical of Gates at some junctures, calling him “overly aggressive” in his assertion of the authority of his office.

“One important way to achieve more clarity, in my view, is to replace conflicting, incomplete and ambiguous language in the City Charter regarding the roles and responsibilities of the city attorney and City Council in legal matters with more specific language and rules,” Steele wrote in his report.

In an interview with Szabo on the day after the meeting, Gates said he’d been “ambushed” by the City Council, “adding that the hiring of an outside lawyer to look into the city attorney’s handling of a complaint filed in 2019 by Neal Moore and Scott Field, was a violation of the city’s charter,” Szabo writes.

If voters back the City Council by approving the City Charter amendments in November, the hope is that the issues related to the city attorney’s office will be smoothed out and there will be less acrimony in City Hall.


An incarcerated student, left, works on an assignment with the help of a college coordinator.
An incarcerated student, left, works on an assignment with the help of a college coordinator at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. UC Irvine, which helms the project, announced it will receive $1.8 million in state funding toward its goals.
(Courtesy of Marc Bossi / RJD)

— About $1.8 million in state funding will be allocated toward expanding a pilot program helmed by UC Irvine for incarcerated individuals to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology, according to an announcement this week by the university. The program, Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, or LIFTED, is the first of its kind in the UC system, though similar programs have allowed prisoners to earn their associate’s degrees from local community colleges since at least 2015.

— The official Instagram account for Disneyland Resort was hacked early Thursday morning by someone posting a string of racist, homophobic and other insensitive posts. The posts went live before 5 a.m. and were soon taken down, but not before many people saw or took screenshots.

— Fullerton College has a new interim president, Dr. Monte Perez, after controversy swirled around his predecessor, Dr. Gilbert Contreras, who was passed over for a promotion. Perez is expected to complete his interim role at the end of this year while the North Orange County Community College District searches for a permanent president.

— The city of Costa Mesa recently learned that state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) has secured $10M in state funds for upgrades at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex and Fairview, Shalimar and TeWinkle parks, while Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris successfully secured $1.2M to expand Ketchum-Libolt Park.

— New Laguna Beach Fire Chief Niko King, whose appointment to replace outgoing Chief Mike Garcia was announced in June, officially stepped into the position Tuesday afternoon following a badge-pinning and swearing-in ceremony at Laguna Beach City Hall. King’s annual salary is pegged at $225,500.


Green chile ramen at Kitakata Ramen on Baker Street in Costa Mesa.
(Edwin Goei)

— Restaurant critic Edwin Goei this week writes about the ramen shops that having been springing up in Costa Mesa. “If you haven’t noticed, in and around the three square blocks of Baker Street, there are now seven uniquely different ramen shops that compete with varying styles of noodles, soups and toppings. And that’s not counting the sushi bars, izakayas and udon shops that also serve ramen,” he writes. “To put it in perspective, there are more places to get ramen in these three blocks than there are Subway shops in the entire city.” His reviews of those seven shops can be found here.

— Speaking of food, you haven’t been imagining things at the supermarket checkout stand: grocery prices have jumped 10.9% in the region over the last year. L.A. Times writer Hugo Martín spoke to experts and compiled a list of useful tips when it comes to keeping food costs down.

— Aliso Viejo resident Jon Seeman, a sculptor who creates public artworks that can be found on display around SoCal as well as farther reaches, has donated his 43rd public sculpture, “Onward,” to his hometown. The abstract work stands 7 feet tall and 7 feet across and has been installed at the entrance of Aliso Viejo Ranch, near the property’s Red Barn, according to a story by my colleague Sarah Mosqueda.


Olympic gold medalist Maddie Musselman is mobbed by neighborhood kids during a welcome home block party last year.
Olympic gold medalist Maddie Musselman is mobbed by neighborhood kids during a welcome home block party in Newport Beach last summer. Over this past weekend, she was a big contributor to Team USA at the FINA World Championships in Hungary.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— At the FINA World Championships last weekend, former Corona del Mar water polo star and recent UCLA graduate Maddie Musselman put the insurance goal away, her fifth one of the match. Team USA was moments from celebrating its fourth straight world title after beating Hungary, 9-7, for the championship in Budapest, Hungary. Musselman, last year’s Olympics Most Valuable Player, also was named the MVP of the FINA World Championships title match. Former CdM and USC star Stephania Haralabidis, another Olympic gold medal returner, also contributed for the Americans, as did 30-year-old Kaleigh Gilchrist a former Newport Harbor High and USC standout

— This Saturday will be the busiest and best day to see seven-on-seven summer football competitions played on Southern California high school campuses, advises sportswriter Eric Sondheimer. O.C. campuses hosting the games include Edison High in Huntington Beach and Newport Harbor High.


— The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, celebrating 85 years of living pictures under this year’s theme “Wonderful World,” opened yesterday and runs through Sept. 2. The pageantry unfolds at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. For more information visit the website or call (800) 487-3378.

— The Friday Night Sunset Cinemas offered by the county of Orange and OC Parks are back. Tonight at 8 p.m. you can catch a free showing of 1999’s “The Mummy” at Carbon Canyon Regional Park, 4442 Carbon Canyon Road in Brea. Pack a blanket, beach chairs and a picnic. Free parking is available after 6 p.m. A calendar of upcoming films and the parks where they will be shown can be found here.


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