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Recall effort started against members of the Huntington Beach City Council

Rhonda Bolton was sworn in as City Council member on July 26.
Rhonda Bolton was sworn in as City Council member on July 26. Eight days later, a recall group served notices of intention to circulate recall petitions to six City Council members.
(Spencer Grant)

A vocal group of conservative Huntington Beach residents have decided to take further steps to try to shift the balance of power on the City Council.

The residents have formed a group called “Save Surf City,” with the intention of getting every council member but one off the dais.

Six Huntington Beach City Council members were served with notices of intention to circulate recall petitions during Tuesday night’s meeting, City Clerk Robin Estanislau confirmed afterward. However, Estanislau said Wednesday that she would be informing the group that new member Rhonda Bolton is not eligible to be recalled, as she has yet to serve 90 days in office.

Bolton, Mayor Kim Carr, Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Delgleize, Mike Posey, Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser are those targeted by a group of about 40 Surf City residents. That represents every City Council member except for Erik Peterson, a conservative who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting for personal reasons.

Speaking during public comments, resident Russell Neal mentioned Save Surf City, noting that a website advocating the recall had been created.

“We love this city and have worked hard to earn our own little piece of this paradise,” Neal said. “We are not inclined to let you destroy it without a fight.”

The Save Surf City website does not name who is behind the recall effort, only calling it a grassroots campaign “to restore political and fiscal sanity in Huntington Beach.” It says Carr, Delgleize, Posey, Kalmick and Moser deserve to be recalled for, among other things, “failure to protect the interests of the citizens of Huntington Beach and damaging the city charter by surrendering local zoning control to the state.”

The group also calls for Bolton’s recall because she never ran for office or received a single vote, though the charter sets forth that it’s the council’s prerogative to appoint a candidate.

Russell Neal speaks during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Russell Neal, one of the Huntington Beach residents behind the recall effort, speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
(Screencap by Matt Szabo)

Bolton was confirmed by a 4-2 vote on July 26, with Delgleize, a Republican, switching her vote to “yes” to allow for the appointment. Though it is supposed to be a nonpartisan position, that left many conservatives unhappy with the current makeup of the council. Carr, Kalmick and Moser are all Democrats.

Now that the six council members have received notice of the recall intent, they each have seven days to file a response of no more than 200 words. The petition to recall must then be published in a local newspaper of record.

“The process starts now,” Estanislau said. “The clock is ticking.”

Should the petition for each council member be approved as to form by Estanislau, it would have to receive the signatures of at least 10% of Huntington Beach registered voters to trigger a recall election. However, the Registrar of Voters recommends at least 15% in case some are deemed ineligible. In Huntington Beach, 15% of voters is just more than 20,000 people.

The recall organizers would have 160 days to gather that many signatures, once the petitions are deemed valid.

The public comments were split roughly 50-50 during Tuesday’s meeting. Some congratulated and welcomed Bolton, a civil rights lawyer who is believed to be the first Black councilwoman in city history, to the dais. Others were critical of the council for not holding a special election, at an estimated cost of $1 million, and instead appointing Bolton to the seat vacated when Tito Ortiz resigned on June 1.

Gracey Van Der Mark, the last individual to make an in-person public comment Tuesday night, finished fourth in last November’s election that put Ortiz, Kalmick and Moser on the council. She delivered an impassioned speech.

“Everyone wants to pat themselves on the back like something’s changing, and nothing changes,” she said. “We’re not being disrespectful. We just want to be heard.”

Most of the conservative commenters did not stay for the rest of the actual meeting, leaving after public comments ended.

Earlier, former Huntington Beach mayors Shirley Dettloff and Ralph Bauer were among those who welcomed Bolton to the dais.

“A well-qualified candidate was chosen, Rhonda Bolton,” Dettloff said. “She has all the credentials to be a City Council member. She has an excellent education, she’s an attorney by profession, she has a record of community participation, and she brings a fresh voice to the council.”

Dettloff also characterized Delgleize’s vote of confirmation of Bolton as standing up for what was right.

Dave Sullivan, who served 16 years on the council and was mayor in 1996 and 2006, had a different view. He said he was one of the 40 people behind the recall effort, adding that the current City Council is the worst he’d seen in 53 years in the city.

“You just do not represent the people of this community,” Sullivan said.

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