Huntington Beach leaders address State of the City gathering
Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta is a mixed media artist.
On Friday morning, she painted a positive picture for the present and future of Surf City, despite leading Huntington Beach during an often tumultuous 2020.
Semeta, Mayor Pro Tem Kim Carr and City Manager Oliver Chi were the featured speakers at the State of the City presentation, hosted by the Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce.
The event was held in the courtyard outside of City Hall, with chairs 6 feet apart to promote social distancing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Chamber of Commerce interim CEO Sheik Sattaur used a sanitizing spray on the podium microphone after each person delivered a speech.
These were reminders of the challenges that Huntington Beach has faced this year, the recent bitter political campaign being another. Two of the three elected to the City Council last week — Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser — attended Friday’s event. Tito Ortiz, the leading vote-getter among 15 candidates for three spots on the City Council, was not present.
Tito Ortiz, a former mixed martial arts star and lifelong Huntington Beach resident, was voters’ first choice for City Council.
Semeta said she hoped the community would reach out to the three newcomers and show a spirit of collaboration. As for leading the city in 2020, she said it has been like “constantly threading a needle.”
“We had so many different opinions on should we keep the beaches open or should we close them,” Semeta said. “Should we mandate the wearing of masks, and how we were managing the demonstrations? Should we have public comments in person at our council meetings or not? The opinions differed widely, but I thought the city did a good job of trying to go down the middle and balance those interests. Not everyone was happy all the time, but I hope that we achieved that overall.”
Semeta pointed to successes like the Junior Lifeguards program, which continued with contact tracing and safety protocols put in place by the Huntington Beach Fire Department.
“We didn’t have a single transmission of COVID with all of those families, all of those children that came day after day,” she said. “It was a real success and it made our city very proud.”
Renovations at Murdy Community Center were recently completed, and this week the city launched a renovation project at Edison Community Center, the first improvement project there since the center was dedicated in 1973. The city also held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its homeless Navigation Center earlier this month.
The Navigation Center, which is expected to open by the end of November, will provide up to 174 shelter beds for adults and will also facilitate additional case management and support services.
Carr, who will become mayor next year, said she hoped to emulate Semeta’s “steady hand” as a leader of a City Council that was often divided. She started off her speech with a joke, noting that the event was being held on Friday the 13th.
“I want to know what joker picked this date, of all days,” she said. “I think that pretty much sums up 2020.”
Carr said small business owners in Huntington Beach have been courageous and gritty in 2020, though she conceded that COVID-19 will dictate how the city does business for most of next year as well.
“We as a community owe it to these businesses, and we owe it to ever resident who has made huge sacrifices during this pandemic, to do our part,” Carr said. “This means leading by example and practicing the three ‘W’s — wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance ... Wearing a mask should not be a political issue. It’s science.”
The advisory encourages residents to avoid nonessential travel. It also asks those arriving from another state or country to quarantine for 14 days.
Carr said she sees 2021 as an opportunity to heal the community and develop a new respect for one another. She referenced the Human Relations Task Force, which is chaired by Moser and hosted a five-part community summit series over the summer.
“During that series, I heard a phrase over and over again that I truly appreciated,” she said. “That is, ‘Speak without offending and listen without defending.’ That’s something that I think we all could benefit from after a long, brutal year that included protests, economic shutdowns, beach closures, wildfires, a very long political season and so on.
“I’m asking the community to restore that ‘Aloha’ spirt and bring back the Surf City vibe that we all love and celebrate.”
Carr said various park improvements are in store in 2021, including restoring the railing at Bluff Top Park and creating a flagship playground at Central Park West. She also wants to bring more City Hall services online, and completely revamp the city website.
Chi, who will enter his second full year as City Manager in 2021, said he also has hope for the future.
“Across Orange County, everybody’s trying to do their best to respond,” he said. “I know that Huntington Beach will be able to show that we are the brightest gem in the crown that is Orange County.”
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