First-time candidate favors economic development

Matthew Harper, a first-time Huntington Beach City Council candidate, has been involved in politics in some way — and often several ways at once — since he graduated from USC.

In addition to 12 years as a trustee with the Huntington Beach Union High School District, he's represented the Republican Party at the state and county levels and served the last three years as a policy advisor to Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

As a councilman, Harper said, he would make economic development a top priority. He identified the Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan, a mixed-use plan that the council approved in March, as a key area of revitalization for the city. He favors the senior center in Huntington Central Park and the proposed Poseidon desalination plant.

And though he favors development, Harper, a Realtor until taking the job with Nguyen, said one of his key priorities is ensuring that the city spends money responsibly.

Harper has sometimes been at odds with his school board colleagues.

He has opposed two bond measures — most recently in 2004, when he gave a thumbs-down to Measure C, a $238-million campus renovation effort approved by voters, because he felt it lacked proper oversight and a reserve for repair and replacement.

Two years ago, he was the only trustee voting in favor of mandating a Bible-as-literature elective course in the district curriculum. He also took a one-man stand in 2003 in favor of changing the district's dress code to allow more religious-themed apparel.

In the early part of the decade, he was the sole trustee opposed to denying school transfers to white students in an effort to prevent white flight in the interest of maintaining "racial balance," in the schools — a policy the district eventually abandoned.

But after more than a decade as an elected official, Harper considers himself a uniter more than anything.

"On the school board, I make an effort to talk to people on campuses," he said Friday while taking a short break from precinct walking. "That includes students, teachers, other staff and classified employees, principals.

"But I also make an effort to outreach to the residents of our community to try to listen to what a cross section of citizens have to say about our schools. And I would intend to take a similar approach to the city, which not only involves talking to those people that approach the City Council, but also outreaching to many other stakeholders that take an interest in our city."

Harper, who graduated from Huntington Beach High School, has racked up endorsements from area Republicans since declaring his candidacy last year. Among those lining up behind his campaign are Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach), Fountain Valley Mayor Larry Crandall and the Republican Party of Orange County.

Crandall, who also endorsed incumbent Joe Carchio for the council, said he had been impressed by Harper's leadership on the school board.

"I think he's held the line on budget cuts in the proper places, and he's been steadfast in opposing wasteful spending," Crandall said. "I think Huntington Beach needs that sort of leadership on their council. He's demonstrated that he has a very good grasp on dollars and cents, and I'm sure he will bring that to the table down there at every meeting."

Even some who haven't always agreed with Harper are pulling for him in his campaign.

"I've been on that board for eight years now, and I don't recall him ever missing a meeting," said school board President Brian Garland. "He did his homework. He knew the issues and studied the agenda and spoke to the issues from his particular persuasion, which was not always the same as mine, but he had a right to his own opinion.

"I think he would add a dimension to the council that would be good for the city of Huntington Beach."

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