Huntington Beach votes through raises for city employees, despite vocal opposition by members of public

Residents participate in a drive-by parade outside of Huntington Beach City Hall on Monday to protest a vote on union raise agreements.
Residents participate in a drive-by parade outside of Huntington Beach City Hall on Monday to protest a vote on union raise agreements.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Despite efforts by residents to raise their voices — and honk their car horns — against raises for city employees amid a widespread economic crisis, the Huntington Beach City Council on Monday voted 4-3, with Mayor Lyn Semeta and council members Erik Peterson and Jill Hardy dissenting, to adopt contracts with city workers totaling $5 million in raises paid over the next three years.

On April 6, the City Council voted to introduce for adoption three memorandums of understanding as they were negotiated earlier this year. The unions and city tentatively agreed on the MOUs in early February. Alternately, they could have voted for the agreements to be renegotiated.

The approved MOU will account for $2.58 million, or 1.7%, of the city’s budget, for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The Huntington Beach Police Officers Association, representing about 250 city employees, secured a 4% base salary increase in the first year of the contract and 3.5% base increases in the next two years.

The Huntington Beach Municipal Teamsters represents about 375 city employees, who will all receive a 3.5% pay increase in an agreement which lasts through September.

The Huntington Beach Management Employees’ Organization secured 3.5% raises for the 100 employees it represents. That agreement lasts through October.

A young community member holds a sign that reads "Crisis budget B4 raises! Duh!" during a drive-by parade outside of Huntington Beach City Hall. Mayor Pro Tem Jill Hardy and Councilman Erik Peterson observe the action before the evening's City Council meeting, which was closed to the public due to precautions related to COVID-19.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Residents gathered at City Hall Monday afternoon to object to the raises. Starting at 4:30 p.m., approximately three dozen motorists — and a handful of cyclists — paraded through the City Hall parking lot honking horns and imploring the council to deny or delay the contracts that would give raises to more than 700 city employees.

“I think it’s great that they have found a way to use their 1st Amendment right to make their voices heard,” said Peterson as he watched the protest from the edge of the City Hall parking lot.

In light of social distancing measures put in place by the city, the public was barred from physically attending the meeting and protocols were instituted to collect public comment and supplemental communication, which were read for the record by city staff.

Peterson, Hardy and Semeta attended the meeting from council chambers, while the remaining council members and City Attorney Michael Gates participated over video.

City staff took turns reading electronically submitted supplemental communications and public comments and lasting until approximately 10 p.m. — the meeting lasted 6½ hours.

“I’m disappointed that we are even talking about giving pay raises to city workers during this time. Don’t you see that some small businesses won’t even be able to open back up?” said one comment by Leanne Krueger. “Start listening to your constituents, not the unions.”

“This needs to be tabled until our citizen city and economy have recovered from the economic downfall,” Janet Lovell said.

“Please be responsible stewards of finances,” Cari Swan urged.

“No matter how well deserved a pay increase may be, now is not the time,” Ted Ross said.

Residents participate in a drive-by parade outside of Huntington Beach City Hall to protest a vote on union raise agreements.
Residents participate in a drive-by parade outside of Huntington Beach City Hall to protest a vote on union raise agreements.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

William Peterson, who identified himself as a retired member of Huntington Beach Police Department, communicated his support of the compensation package, calling it “reasonable” and necessary “to maintain quality law enforcement in the city.”

Some cited Huntington Beach as one of the lowest paying agencies in Orange County and argued that raises are necessary to recruit and retain personnel.

However, others on the City Council pushed back, noting that many local cities and agencies are seeing furloughs and layoffs.

“It is absolutely irresponsible for us as a city to go forward with giving $5 million worth of raises, given what our economy is experiencing,” Semeta said. “I mean how can we possibly, you know, approve an expense like this when we know a lot worse is coming?”

As a huge volume of written statements in support of the POA poured in, Councilman Patrick Brendan requested the council reconsider the process for accepting public comment.

“I’m not pleased with the process,” Brendan said, suggesting that there are measures that could be taken to allow for community members to state their comment at City Hall with appropriate social distancing measures, such as setting up a podium outside the chamber.”

“I just think the way were are doing it right now … it looks like it’s being manipulated and it can be manipulated, and even if it isn’t manipulated, people can claim that it is being manipulated because it‘s so confusing,” Brendan added.

The meeting was distinguished by the high volume of written communication, including many duplicated comments, despite the staff’s attempt to identify them and streamline the process.

Among the comments, there were 195 submissions of two different form letters supporting the approval of the police contracts.

“Had it not been for a unique situation … we would have been ready to go and this would have been in the past,” Councilwoman Kim Carr said, referencing the sequence of transitions in the city manager’s office. “This is a fair deal … this isn’t an extravagant deal by any means.”

“Sure, the world has changed in the last 30 days … but I’m not turning my back on the negotiations,” Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize said.

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