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Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts second City Council candidates forum

Huntington Beach City Council candidates participate in an online forum Thursday night.
(Screenshot by Matt Szabo)

With less than six weeks left until Election Day on Nov. 3, the Huntington Beach City Council race remains as crowded as ever.

There are still 15 candidates for three available spots. Twelve of the candidates showed up for at least part of a forum Thursday night, the second one hosted via Zoom by the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates were able to give opening and closing statements. They also were asked questions by moderator Dianne Thompson, some of the yes-or-no variety and some more detailed.

Thompson asked the candidates if they supported new commercial and residential development, and all except for Amory Hanson said yes. The next question was if candidates supported cannabis as a source of revenue for Huntington Beach. Again, everyone in attendance voted yes, except for Hanson, Billy O’Connell and Jeff Morin.

All 12 candidates said they would not support a measure to increase the sales tax by one cent.

Later the candidates were asked if they supported Proposition 15, which would hike property taxes on big businesses and raise money for schools and local governments. Oscar Rodriguez and Natalie Moser were the lone ones to support it, with Eric Silkenson saying he has not decided.

They were then asked about Proposition 21, which would allow local government to enact rent control. Rodriguez was the lone candidate in favor, with Hanson saying he was unsure.

Some of the hot topics included whether candidates supported the allowance of short-term rentals, which was discussed at Monday’s City Council meeting. Gracey Van Der Mark, Morin, John Briscoe, Casey McKeon and Thomas LaParne indicated that they did not.

“There’s a lot of aspects to this that are very problematic, and that risk outweighs any possible outcome that I could see would be beneficial to the city,” LaParne said. “It’s straining our homeowners, it’s straining the neighbors and it’s straining our first-response services.”

Moser, Rodriguez and Dan Kalmick said they thought the City Council was taking a reasonable path forward, while Hanson and Matthew Harper said they were open to the short-term rentals in at least some fashion. Silkenson agreed, considering the city’s budget shortfall, while O’Connell also said he was fine with short-term rentals.

“I’m a believer in personal private property rights,” O’Connell said. “People pay a lot of taxes on their properties, and I’m open to this. I don’t think we should be penalizing everyone because there’s a few bad actors out there. We should identify the bad actors and hold them accountable.”

Many of the candidates touted their experience when asked about the important qualifications for running for City Council.

The other question posed was if candidates thought California health and safety guidelines should be followed in order to reopen businesses quickly and in a safe manner. Moser was the first to answer.

“How long do I get for this?” she asked. “Yes. That’s my answer.”

She eventually expounded.

“I have kids that are in school, hopefully going back to school this coming week for hybrid ... but I think it’s imperative for us to follow the evidence, follow the science,” she said.

Harper noted that there was no green tier under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reopening plan.

“There is no way to be able to get back to normal under the governor’s plan,” Harper said. “I think we need to advocate for green, in the clear [tier], and what are the thresholds to be able to get back to that level so we can get back to normal for our businesses and peace of mind.”

Morin said he felt that with the current dropping transmission numbers, Orange County should already be fully reopened. Kalmick, meanwhile, went the other direction, urging caution.

“Our council members need to be in masks at meetings,” Kalmick said. “I still don’t know why we’re doing in-person meetings when we have the technology to avoid it. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.”

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