Interested residents gathered for two election forums Monday and Tuesday to learn about the City Council candidates and Measure O.
About 50 residents, including many City Council candidates, listened to the arguments for and against Measure O on Tuesday evening at City Hall.
Measure O would remove debt service and other costs from inclusion in the 15% of the general fund parceled out to infrastructure improvement, repairs and maintenance every year. If passed, the measure wouldn't go into effect until the 2017/18 budget.
Infrastructure includes items like storm drains, streets, sidewalks, street trees, parks, beaches, playgrounds, traffic signals and public buildings.
The League of Women Voters moderated the forum, giving each side a five-minute opening and closing and one minute each to answer audience-submitted questions.
Former Mayor Shirley Dettloff and Councilman Don Hansen argued in favor of the measure against former Mayor Debbie Cook and Councilman Keith Bohr.
The proponents of the measure argued that residents directed the council to spend 15% of the general fund on infrastructure in 2002 when they approved Measure FF by almost 58%, but the council has been using a "loophole" to use some of the money for debt service.
That loophole has allowed about $6 million a year that should have been going to infrastructure to be used for other purposes, Hansen said.
"We need to realize that the will of the people can no longer be deemed inconvenient," he said.
Infrastructure is one of the most important issues facing Huntington Beach and is part of public safety and contributes to the litigation in the city, Dettloff said.
When infrastructure is in disrepair, an ambulance could be delayed by the street conditions, a child could be hit by a falling tree branch in the park, or an elderly citizen could trip and fall over an uneven sidewalk — the last two are common lawsuit issues the city faces, she said.
The issue isn't the need for infrastructure, which Bohr said is there, but where the money will come from and what the residents are willing to cut.
"Where is it coming from if we're not going to tax it?" Bohr asked. "We're down to the bone. Less services, less people doing them."
Hansen unveiled three charts showing that the majority of city money is going toward city pensions.
"The money is there. It's just going to take some tough, tough decisions to get it done," Hansen said.
Cook questioned whether residents want to tie the hands of the city to get at employee pensions.
"It's out now," Bohr said. "This is what we're trying to do. We're trying to get to the contracts in a backdoor way. This is not how you do it."
Cook said she has deep concerns for the future and would hate to see the city looking into anything further that forces the council to spend money on specific items when it isn't known what the situation will be like then.
The Huntington Beach Coordinating Council's Monday meeting gave City Council candidates a chance to speak to about 100 people at the Murdy Community Center.
There are 21 candidates, including one write-in hopeful, running for four open seats currently held by Mayor Cathy Green, Mayor Pro-Tem Jill Hardy and Councilmen Gil Coerper and Joe Carchio, who is up for reelection.
All the candidates except Carchio, Landon Fichtner, William Grunwald, Jim Katapodis and Bill Rorick were in attendance.
Candidates had 90 seconds to pitch themselves to the audience and the chance to hand out campaign information and network before the meeting.
Business was a recurring theme for several of the council candidates, who all pledged to make Huntington Beach a more business-friendly place.
Joe Shaw, a small-business owner, said Huntington Beach is known as a high-cost city to small businesses, and that needed to change.
"We need to help companies stay in this city," Erik Peterson said.
Planning Commissioner Barbara Delgleize also brought up the need for pension reform, and write-in candidate Blake Rose said the main issue is government employees being overpaid.
"We need to do [pension reform], we need to do it this time around," Delgleize said.
Candidates also brought up the need to listen to the constituents.
Planning Commissioner Blair Farley said being involved in the recent Downtown Specific Plan showed him how important it was to have council members who are willing to listen to the people.
Heather Grow, a Huntington Beach native, said she wants to get back to the basics where residents make the decisions, not the City Council.
"We need to bring a voice back to the residents," said Dan Kalmick.
For those who couldn't make the Monday meeting, the American Assn. of University Women and the Huntington Beach League of Women Voters are hosting a candidates forum at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the Huntington Beach Central Library theater, 7111 Talbert Ave.
The Measure O forum and the Thursday forum will be broadcast on Channel 3 and will be available to view at http://www.huntingtonbeachca.gov.