Huntington Beach city leaders participate in strategic planning workshop
Before tackling important city issues like homelessness, public safety and infrastructure, Huntington Beach City Council members had some fun Thursday morning.
A strategic planning workshop at Huntington Beach Central Library started with an icebreaker exercise designed to find common ground. The city leaders talked to their colleagues to discover non-work-related things they had in common with each other.
Mayor Tony Strickland found out that Councilwoman Natalie Moser is really good friends with his college girlfriend. Colleagues laughed.
“Why aren’t you still with that girl?” someone asked.
“She’s married,” Moser quickly replied with a smile.
So is Strickland. But love — or at least consensus — has not always been common in the first six-plus months of the current City Council, which has seen a lot of 4-3 votes on key issues. Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, Casey McKeon and Pat Burns, all elected in November, have the conservative majority.
But Thursday’s workshop was about working together to find key goals and priorities for the next four years. It was facilitated by accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly.
Steve Mermell, the former city manager of Pasadena, led the council and City Manager Al Zelinka through much of the four-hour discussion. It featured brainstorming based on six general topics: fiscal stability, public engagement, housing and homelessness, infrastructure investment, fostering a high-performing organization and public safety.
The discussion on housing and homelessness was particularly detailed. A large majority — 79% — of Surf City residents surveyed for a quality of life study, the results of which were shared at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, said that homelessness was an “extremely” or “very” serious problem.
According to last year’s county Point in Time summary, there were 330 homeless people in Huntington Beach, including 188 unsheltered and 142 sheltered individuals.
“If we do not address the real issue, which is the mental health and the drug addiction, nothing will be changed,” Van Der Mark said. “We have the state constantly on top of us, telling us, ‘Build more houses and everything will be solved,’ and that’s not the case. I think we need to focus more on the real issue, the fundamental health services they need. The county needs to step up some more.”
But housing advocates have consistently argued that the lack of affordable housing is a driving factor in homelessness. The median home price in Huntington Beach is more than $1.1 million, higher than the county average.
“We’re not going to be able to raise wages to the $280,000 to $290,000 a year it takes to buy a median home in Huntington Beach,” Councilman Dan Kalmick said. “[Prospective buyers won’t] qualify for a loan without what I call early inheritance, which is receiving a down payment from your parents. That doesn’t create a sustainable community.”
At the end of the workshop, each member of the City Council was asked to identify nine specific priority items they wanted accomplished during the first two years of the strategic plan. In the category of financial stability, they included considering options for new revenues and an economic development strategy.
Five of the seven also identified implementing a 311 system to manage and track calls for municipal services as a key public engagement goal. In housing, four said they wanted to take action to maintain local control of land-use planning. Huntington Beach has a pending lawsuit against the state of California over housing issues.
In infrastructure investment, four said they wanted to provide world-class beach facilities, including the renovation and expansion of 15 beach restrooms, new lighting for Pier Plaza, security and programming. Four also said they wanted to prioritize exploring additional sports and concert venues.
“I was thinking like a volleyball and basketball facility, or a world-class pickleball facility,” Strickland said. “They can do tournaments and bring people from all over California and Nevada to our community. Right now we have an economic study on our softball and baseball Sports Complex, and the economic study was dramatic in how positive it was for our city.”
In terms of creating a high-performing organization, all seven said they wanted to establish a one-stop-shop to consolidate development and frequently used services in one location. And, in the realm of public safety, five said they’d prioritize a Huntington Beach Fire Department community risk reduction program, including an engagement coordinator, opioid prevention and targeted risk reduction campaigns.
Baker Tilly will next provide a written workshop report before city staff drafts a strategic plan for City Council approval, to be reviewed in September. A final strategic plan and implementation plan would be introduced for council adoption in October.
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