Ocean View School District vice president sues Huntington Beach over Pacific Airshow settlement

Mayor Tony Strickland speaks during a press conference about the Pacific Airshow on May 9.
Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland speaks during a press conference about the city “saving” the Pacific Airshow on May 9.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)
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Ocean View School District Board of Trustees vice president Gina Clayton-Tarvin is suing to try to get Huntington Beach to release the full settlement with Pacific Airshow operator Code Four.

Clayton-Tarvin filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court on June 7, demanding that City Atty. Michael Gates release the full settlement.

“That settlement document is a public document,” Clayton-Tarvin said in an interview Monday. “There is no ifs, ands or buts about it. When you settle with a party and you go out and announce to the public that we’ve saved the airshow and we have come to an amazing settlement … you can’t then walk it back. California law stipulates that documents that are held by government entities should, as practice, be released to the public. That’s in the best interests of the public.”


Gates announced the settlement last month, on the same day as a press conference at Pier Plaza announcing that the airshow would be returning to Huntington Beach from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 this year.

Per an executive summary provided by Gates, Huntington Beach will be paying Code Four at least $5.4 million, as well as up to $2 million that the city recovers in its ongoing lawsuit against Amplify Energy Corp.

Code Four chief executive Kevin Elliott had sued the city and former Mayor Kim Carr last October, claiming the decision to cancel the final day of the Pacific Airshow in 2021 after a massive oil spill cost the company millions of dollars.

Clayton-Tarvin filed a California Public Records Act request for the full settlement with Gates on May 11. Six days later, she received an email back from city senior legal assistant Christina Kelemen denying the request.

The three reasons given why it was denied were the attorney-client exemption, pending litigation to which the city is party and a claim that the public interest in maintaining confidentiality outweighs the public interest in disclosing.

That answer did not satisfy Clayton-Tarvin, a Huntington Beach resident who finished fifth in the City Council race last fall. Her lawsuit argues there can’t be an “attorney client” exemption because the settlement agreement is not an attorney-client communication, and also because an agreement signed with a third party can’t be covered by attorney-client privilege.

“[Gates] has to be responsible and answer to the people who pay his salary, the taxpayers,” she said. “He has to show us the agreements he is making behind closed doors. If you want to represent the people, you will answer to the people … This entire settlement reeks of impropriety. We know the facts. The facts are that Mr. Gates and Mr. Elliott do business with each other, they are friends, they have enriched each other.”

Gates said he had yet to be served with Clayton-Tarvin’s lawsuit as of Monday night.

Gina Clayton-Tarvin, shown speaking during the ribbon cutting for Park View Park last October.
Gina Clayton-Tarvin, shown speaking during the ribbon cutting for Park View Park last October.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

He did not deny he was friends with Elliott, who supported Gates and the four conservative City Council candidates — Tony Strickland, Gracey Van Der Mark, Casey McKeon and Pat Burns — who all ended up getting elected last fall.

Code Four helped organize a “victory rally” for the candidates held on Oct. 28, 2022, days before the election. But Gates said that there was nothing improper with the settlement, calling the notion “pretty silly” in a phone interview Monday.

“That’s a common refrain by people who want to cast baseless accusations, and it seems to be used conveniently at times, right?” Gates said. “If there’s some basis to allege wrongdoing, then say it. What is it? As far as I know, people can be friends and still have disputes, and legitimately and honestly work through disputes. What I can tell you is that negotiations in this case were done at arm’s length. They were very difficult negotiations that consumed a lot of time, and there was a lot of back and forth. If there was a cozy relationship, then the negotiations wouldn’t have been as difficult as they were.”

Gates said that Huntington Beach is still a named defendant in the airshow lawsuit; former Mayor Kim Carr, who was also sued, has yet to have her day in court. Additionally, the city’s lawsuit against Amplify is also still pending.

Citing those cases, he said he couldn’t get into specific reasons why he couldn’t release the full settlement.

“This was handled just like any other lawsuit or settlement,” he said. “It’s kind of a weird situation to have people insisting we disclose the full settlement when we have pending litigation. That’s what the state law contemplates when it says we don’t have to disclose. We’re not compelled to disclose it … I’m pretty confident about our reading of state law and our requirements under state law. If the judge disagrees with me and orders disclosure, then I’ll abide by that, obviously.”

City Councilman Dan Kalmick agreed with Clayton-Tarvin that the settlement agreement is a public record and should be released as such. He added that he believed the city had limited exposure to the lawsuit, calling it “a bad deal” for Huntington Beach.

“For the nearly $8 million this settlement cost the city, the city should have put out a request for bids instead of just handing over taxpayer dollars behind closed doors,” Kalmick said. “The residents and taxpayers deserve to know what this new council majority agreed to in secret … the entirety of the deal should be made public and as soon as possible.”