Huntington Beach hires Oliver Chi as new city manager

Current Monrovia City Manager Oliver Chi will take over as Huntington Beach’s top administrator under a four-year contract with a starting salary of $260,000 per year.
(Courtesy of Oliver Chi)

After a nearly three-month search, Huntington Beach has a new city manager.

With a 7-0 vote Monday, the City Council officially hired current Monrovia City Manager Oliver Chi as Surf City’s next top administrator.

He is slated to take the post by Sept. 30, according to the city.

Chi, who has led Monrovia since 2014, was selected as the top contender from among 90 candidates. His approved four-year contract comes with an annual starting salary of $260,000.

In an interview Tuesday, Chi said that he is “incredibly excited” to take the reins of a city he described as “one of the best communities in the entire state” and help it become even better with the council’s help.

“I think the world is moving today at such a different speed than government in general and we’re going to maintain and enhance the public’s trust as a city,” Chi said.

As he wraps up his time in Monrovia, Chi said he is planning to visit Surf City at least once a week to get the lay of the land and start building relationships with the council and city staff so he can hit the ground running. He said he’s also looking forward to demonstrating to the council and community that they haven’t misplaced their trust in him.

Praise for Chi was uniform during Monday’s meeting, with council members citing his “creative ideas” as one reason for his high performance during the competitive recruitment process.

Mayor Erik Peterson said his recent business dealings with the city of Monrovia were more “customer-centric” than what he previously experienced six years ago, before Chi took the reins. The city’s downtown area was cleaner, livelier and “activated,” he added.

“Some of the things [Chi] talked about, I put the pieces together,” Peterson said. “Some of the creative ideas he had, I think, really helped that process go through. He had to deal with a lot of different issues we deal with. You might say on a smaller scale, but it’s really not. A bunch of upset residents are upset residents … and he had some very active residents up there, too.”

Under Chi’s contract, Huntington Beach will provide him with a vehicle allowance of $450 per month for city business, instead of mileage reimbursement. He also is eligible for temporary rental expenses of up to $3,500 per month for up to six months because he plans to move to Huntington Beach with his family in the coming weeks.

Chi’s contract also includes a housing loan and equity sharing agreement with the city.

Although he voted in favor of the hire, Councilman Mike Posey took issue with Chi’s relocation benefits, citing the potential impact to taxpayers. Posey was recorded as a “no” vote on that clause of the contract.

“My concern from day one about selecting a candidate from out of town was what was going to be the exposure on the relocation,” Posey said. “I can certainly applaud Mr. Chi’s creativity, but creativity doesn’t equal magnanimity.”

However, the rest of the council saw the agreement as a win-win. Some said they were surprised Chi was willing to give equity of his home on a long-term basis.

In light of the city’s financial status, Councilwoman Jill Hardy said Chi proposed an option that would benefit himself and the city.

“That gives me a lot of optimism as we bring in a new city manager,” she said.

As Monrovia’s city manager, Chi spearheaded the creation of GoMonrovia, a public-private partnership with Lyft as the city’s transportation service provider. He also worked to address homelessness, rising pension costs and the pressures that come with development.

Chi has two decades of public service, including serving as Barstow’s assistant city manager for nearly four years. He earned his undergraduate degree in political science from UCLA and a master’s in public affairs from USC.

As Huntington Beach conducted its nationwide search for a new long-term leader, the role was filled temporarily by Dave Kiff, former city manager of Newport Beach.

Kiff was tapped after Lori Ann Farrell Harrison — now Costa Mesa’s city manager — temporarily filled the role in Huntington Beach following the departure of former top administrator Fred Wilson in May.

Allied Arts Board

In other business, the council unanimously finalized the dissolution of the city’s Allied Arts Board in light of its pending public art master plan. The nine-member advisory panel will officially disband in 30 days.

The Allied Arts Board was established in 1979 to help promote local art and cultural activities. City officials say it appears the panel has fulfilled its goal, as several other groups — including the Huntington Beach Art League and the Huntington Beach Art Center’s Artist Council — have the same mission.

The council anticipates reviewing a draft art master plan — which would outline procedures for management, funding, public engagement and site selection — within the next six months.

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2:19 p.m. Aug. 6, 2019: This story was updated with comments from Oliver Chi.