Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles on candidates for the Huntington Beach City Council.
When Connie Boardman announced her intention to run for Huntington Beach City Council 10 years ago, she positioned herself as a champion of everyday residents’ needs.
“I think it is really important to elect candidates that will listen and take the interest of people at heart instead of outside special interests,” she said.
For the next four years, Boardman said, she stuck to that creed — even if it occasionally placed her in the minority and led to a controversial vote or two.
The Cerritos College biology professor, who won an environmental award from Southern California Edison this spring for her activism with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, opted not to run for reelection in 2004, citing a need to concentrate on teaching and family responsibilities.
Just hours before this year’s deadline passed for candidates to file paperwork, though, Boardman unexpectedly entered the race — and, along with Team Huntington Beach running mates Joe Shaw and Blair Farley, she’s again trumpeting the need for city leaders who respond to residents’ concerns.
Residents are a diverse lot, of course, and Boardman made opponents during her four years on the council. She cast the deciding vote in a hotly contested move to bar a fireworks show on the beach, an event some feared would cause safety problems.
She twice called for the resignation of city commissioners. She sometimes drew the ire of Independent letter writers who accused her of being overly opposed to development and biased toward the environment.
To some, though, Boardman was a boon for Surf City: a non-career politician who put her community’s agenda ahead of her own.
“I think they represent a ray of hope,” Merle Moshiri, a longtime environmental activist, said about Boardman and her running mates. “We need a turnaround here.”
Boardman is under no delusion that she’ll please everyone if she’s elected to the council again. But she wants to fix what she sees as a lack of gentility on the dais, where public comments, she said, often turn into hostile cross-examinations by the council members.
“I didn’t always accomplish this goal, but I tried — that whether I disagreed with them or agreed with them, I always treated them the same,” she said.
‘A smart council member’
When Boardman ran for the council in 2000, the circumstances were similar to this year’s: 20 candidates vying for three open seats. Boardman, who had run unsuccessfully in 1998, informally aligned her campaign with fellow candidate Debbie Cook’s, and the two of them won seats along with Pam Julien Houchen.
During her first two years on the council, Boardman often stressed her campaign promise of favoring residents over corporations.
When the city’s planned Sports Complex came up for a conditional use permit in December 2000, Boardman and Cook voted against the permit, arguing that since the project’s cost had ballooned from $1.5 million to $16.9 million, it should go to residents for a vote under Measure C.
It wasn’t the last time the two councilwomen ended up on the losing end of a 5-2 vote; in June 2002, they unsuccessfully fought using redevelopment funds to clean up a contaminated landfill, arguing that the companies that dumped waste there should be responsible for it.
Cook, a fellow environmentalist who went on to lose a for Congress, has endorsed Boardman this year and said she plans to participate in her campaign.
“She’s proven to be a smart council member who listens to all sides,” Cook said.
In 2002, responding to residents’ complaints, Boardman proposed an ordinance prohibiting banner-towing planes from flying over Huntington Beach. The ordinance rankled some in the business community, but many residents called it a needed solution to noise problems, and the council passed it 5-2. In the end, though, the council had to repeal the law when the Federal Aviation Administration asserted its authority over air space.
Boardman, who had joined the Land Trust long before she served on the council, made the environment a key priority during her term.
More than once, she urged the council to take an official stance supporting the purchase of areas of Bolsa Chica. She opposed Parkside Estates, a Shea Homes residential development in an area some considered to be wetlands, when the council passed it 4-3 in October 2002.
A few months before her term ended, the council approved her proposal to eliminate Styrofoam at city events and facilities.
Fireworks over the Fourth
Probably the most contentious moment in Boardman’s term came in February 2003, when, as mayor, she tipped a 4-3 vote against holding a massive Fourth of July fireworks show on the beach.
Organizers believed the show would be the second-largest in the country after New York’s, but Boardman and three colleagues opposed the event. Some wanted to avoid a repeat of the 1990s, when the city’s Fourth of July celebrations often led to chaos downtown, but Boardman said she was mostly concerned with money and traffic problems.
Since Huntington Beach High School’s field was undergoing renovations and there was no alternative site for the fireworks, that meant canceling the city’s annual display entirely — and it meant some pithy comments directed at Boardman and the council.
Police Chief Ken Small, who said at the time that he thought Huntington’s police could control the crowds, noted Tuesday that the city has had no safety issues since it reinstated the fireworks on the beach in 2004. Still, he could understand Boardman’s reasoning.
“I think at that time, the vote was appropriate,” Small said.
Boardman, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2003, had more troubles ahead that year. During the summer, facing heavy state budget cuts, she and the council voted unanimously to cut $11.1 million and lay off 37 employees.
The mayor was also vocal in her opposition to the Poseidon desalination plant, which the council would go on to pass in 2006.
She appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of the project’s environmental impact report, and in September 2003, when she called for the resignation of commission Chair Randy Kokal due to a protocol breach, she expressed disenchantment at the commission for having moved slowly on Poseidon.
Shortly before her term on the council ended, Boardman called for another resignation — this one of Public Works Commissioner Dean Albright, who had allegedly written in an e-mail to a resident that Boardman and other councilwomen were protecting Houchen from political fallout during a police investigation.
In addition to longtime friends like Cook and Moshiri, Boardman has some more unlikely supporters in her campaign this year. One of them is Kokal, who said he always admired Boardman’s dedication.
“Connie is there because she sees problems in the community, and she thinks she can have a hand in addressing them,” he said. “I have a lot of respect and admiration for her.”
The candidate has also gotten a thumbs-up from another council hopeful: John Von Holle, who served as president of the city’s Municipal Employees Assn. during Boardman’s time on the council.
“I’m kind of inclined to get people in there who know what’s going on, and I think she could do a really good job,” he said. “If someone’s going to win, I’d like to see her win besides me.”