Cell towers' fates in judge's hands

Huntington Beach residents have voted against approving two cell towers to be constructed in public parks, but it remains to be seen what that vote will mean for the city.

As of Friday, 56.4% of voters had rejected Measure Q, which the ballot describes as an "advisory" on whether to allow two towers in Harbour View and Bolsa View parks.

The city, however, is mired in a court battle with T-Mobile over the towers, and voters' opinion may have no bearing on the outcome of the case, City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said.

"What weight the judge gives to the election results is entirely up to the judge," she said.

The city approved zoning permits for the towers in 2007, but suspended them last year when it learned that the cost of construction exceeded $100,000.

Under city law at the time, projects costing more than that amount required voter approval, although charter revisions approved by voters this month increased the threshold to $161,000. T-Mobile filed a lawsuit against the city, and the case is expected to go to trial next year.

Of the three other measures on the November ballot, voters favored Measure P, which alters the city's utility user tax, and Measure N, which makes amendments to the city charter.

City spokeswoman Laurie Payne said the measures won't go into effect until the Orange County Registrar of Voters officially certifies the election results and the City Council votes to accept the measures, most likely in December.

Measure P will allow taxes on more types of electronic communication, including paging, texting and voice mail. The city, however, doesn't expect to see a change in revenue because the measure lowers the tax rate from 5% to 4.9%, Payne said.

Measure N's revisions include changing the city administrator's title to city manager and requiring new credentials for high-ranking officials. The city attorney must have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn., while the city clerk must hold a bachelor's degree in business, public administration or a related field, and hold a certification as a municipal clerk or obtain one within the first three years in office. The city treasurer must have at least five years' financial or treasury experience and a master's degree in accounting, finance, business or public administration or a bachelor's in one of those fields with certification by the California Municipal Treasurers Assn.

And though it doesn't change the city's policies, the new charter officially makes Huntington Beach gender-neutral; the sections of the old charter referring to city leaders as "he" and "him" have been updated to "they" and "them."

"We've had women on the council for many years, and so in all places in the charter where things were outdated, our intent was to bring those in line with what is happening in reality," said former Mayor Shirley Dettloff, a member of the Charter Review Commission. "So those were relatively easy choices to make."

As of Friday, 54.5% of voters opposed the fourth ballot item, Measure O, which sought to change the city's infrastructure payment system so that 15% of the general fund would go into immediate repairs rather than debt service.

If Measure O had passed, the money the city is currently using to pay off construction bonds on previous projects would have had to come out of the other 85% of the general fund. The No on Measure O side argued that in that case, the city might have to close a fire station, cut senior services, close branch libraries and the Huntington Beach Art Center, reduce uniformed police patrol and more. Payne said those cuts were possibilities, but the decision ultimately would have rested with the City Council.

Dettloff, who campaigned for Measure O, called the loss a disappointment, but said she was glad the charter still included the 15% infrastructure requirement that voters passed in 2002.

"We just have to be vigilant and make sure the city takes care of its infrastructure needs," she said. "And that's what we intend to do."

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