Possible Huntington Beach charter amendments start to take shape

The Huntington Beach City Council listens to public comments during the meeting on Aug. 1.
The Huntington Beach City Council listens to public comments during the meeting on Aug. 1.
(File Photo)

The Huntington Beach City Council took straw votes on a number of proposed charter amendments during its third of four special meetings on the subject Thursday night.

Several possible charter amendments were moved forward, including ones dealing with elections and a flag policy.

The amendments come back for the final special meeting this Thursday, when formal votes will be conducted to put these proposals on the March 5 primary ballot for Huntington Beach voters. Possible groupings for items to be put into measures will also be discussed.


The council voted 4-3 to place language on the ballot that would localize municipal elections beginning in 2026 and would include voter identification requirements, at least 20 residential voting locations and city-monitored drop boxes.

The conservative majority of Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, Casey McKeon and Pat Burns voted in favor, while the minority of Dan Kalmick, Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voted against.

Language of the election code changes, found in city charter Sections 702 and 705, would read “may” instead of “shall” per the request of McKeon, so the city wouldn’t be locked into following them.

“It gives us flexibility to test it,” McKeon said. “If it’s too cumbersome or too costly, we don’t have to move forward with the election plan. But if it’s not, and we can do it, we have the ability to do it.”

Voters check in at the Civic Center polling location in Huntington Beach in 2020.
(File Photo)

Moser responded that city staff is already overworked and called it “disrespectful to the residents and our staff, frankly, to have them go on a fool’s errand to see if this is an idea that should be implemented for no reason.”

The Orange County Registrar of Voters is well-regarded, and there has been no evidence presented of voter fraud in Huntington Beach. But Strickland insisted that the change would be “bringing back integrity into our election system.”

Hours before the Thursday meeting, California Atty. General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber sent a letter to the City Council warning it against voting changes. The communication came after Kalmick, Moser and Bolton sent a letter to Weber, asking her the legality of voter ID requirements in the state.

Bonta and Weber argue that the voter ID proposal conflicts with state law and that drop box monitoring could impinge on state law and county authority. The letter states that Huntington Beach “has not identified any basis for its voter ID proposal, much less a basis supported by uniquely local concerns.”

During the meeting, though, City Atty. Michael Gates cited a 2020 case, City of Redondo Beach v. Padilla, where an appellate court said that Redondo Beach did not have to follow the California Voter Participation Rights Act due to its status as a charter city. Huntington Beach is also a charter city.

“The charter supersedes state law when it is a municipal affair,” Gates said.

Kalmick, Moser and Bolton also had drafted a letter last week to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, asking if Huntington Beach would be allowed to consolidate its elections with the county via the Registrar of Voters if the new requirements were put in place. Also, the letter asked if Surf City could contract with the Registrar of Voters for elections, even if the county won’t work with the city.

“I think it’s a big unknown what it’s going to cost the residents, to solve for a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kalmick said.

City Atty. Michael Gates addresses residents during a Mayor's Town Hall meeting on Aug. 30.
City Atty. Michael Gates addresses residents during a Mayor’s Town Hall meeting on Aug. 30.
(File photo)

The council also voted 4-3 to move forward a possible charter amendment related to flags. It would be similar to the ordinance passed earlier this year that limits the flags the city may fly to government and military flags, the POW/MIA flag and possibly the Olympic flag.

Burns decried “identity politics” in voting for the amendment, while the progressive minority argued that it was already an ordinance and didn’t need to be in the charter.

“I think it pours concrete over this council’s approach, values and style of governance,” Moser said. “Therefore, it takes away the voice of future councils and also future voters.”

Biannual budgets, rather than annual ones, were another item moved forward. The council also agreed to ask voters to change language in Section 303 that a meeting can be canceled due to lack of a quorum or by the mayor or a majority of council members.

Another vote was to recommend that a council member appointed due to a vacancy will hold office until the next general municipal election, not necessarily the entire remainder of the term.

Discussion of a possible amendment to Measure C, which deals with public utilities, parks and beaches, was delayed until this week to give staff more time to prepare.

The council voted down charter changes relating to its authority over the city attorney, as well as one that would delete language that the city clerk is required to hold a bachelor’s degree in business, public administration or a related field. Each came on a 4-3 vote, with McKeon, notably, not voting with his conservative colleagues on these two items.

Several other charter amendment proposals from Kalmick were also voted down 4-3 with the conservative majority voting against them, including creating staff positions for council members and increasing pay for future council members. Two proposals by Bolton, including one stating that the council should not be involved with review or removal of library books, also were voted down 4-3.

Discussion on another Bolton amendment relating to nepotism, which states that the council could not appoint a spouse as an elected department head, was continued to this Thursday’s meeting by a 4-2-1 vote. Bolton admitted that discussion of Gates’ wife Kelly possibly running for city clerk led her to look at this area of the charter but said that the proposed amendment was not about targeting her.