This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

The Huntington Beach City Council has less than two weeks to appoint a council member or it’s an election by default to fill a vacancy left by Tito Ortiz, who resigned last month with more than three years left on the seat’s term.

Residents may get to pick a new council member in a $1 million special election if city officials are unable to appoint someone to fill the vacancy by July 31.

“That special election would be held on November 2, 2021. We’d have to call for that election no later than August 6, 2021 to actually put it on the ballot,” City Manager Oliver Chi said Monday night at a special city council meeting.

The city council was expected to name Ortiz’s successor at the meeting but instead voted 5-1 to adjourn the meeting and reconvene within a week after failing to come to a consensus. Councilman Erik Peterson dissented.

If this stalemate carries on to the end of the month, it will be up to Huntington Beach residents to make the decision — a choice some residents want.

“Hold a damn special election and allow people to make the choice themselves,” One army veteran said, receiving applause from the audience. “Have an election. We’re a democracy, not a banana republic. Act like it.”

A public speaker addresses the Huntington Beach City Council on July 19, 2021. Some residents gathered to show their support for Gracey Van Der Mark to take over the vacant seat on the dais. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

Council members each nominated no more than three applicants before the council narrowed down the list to either Rhonda Bolton, Jeff Morin and Gracey Van Der Mark.

After several attempts to pick one of the three on a majority vote failed, the council took a recess.

At one point, Councilman Mike Posey made a motion for a special election which the crowd applauded, but his motion failed 2-4 and the cheers turned to people booing the council. 

Peterson supported him.

The council voted on the candidates individually following the election vote and could still not reach a consensus so Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize made a motion to reconsider having a special election. 

“What I’m seeing here is that we’re really at a stalemate on moving forward and naming somebody tonight, and the only thing that’s fair is a special election, whether it costs $1 million, or $2 million. That’s the cost of democracy.”

Mike Posey, Huntington Beach City Councilman

He added the budget shows a surplus and the city can afford the cost.

City Councilman Dan Kalmick argued it’s the council’s job to pick Ortiz’s replacement.

“A million dollars is a lot of money that we can do a lot of good for our city. That’s a lot of roads that we can pave,” he said. “A million dollars is a lot of money that Mr. Ortiz would be costing the city to have to go out to a special election to fill his seat.”

The reconsideration of the special election ended in a tie vote.

Many residents at the meeting were vocally interrupting council members as well as public speakers and at one point Carr threatened to take a recess, even asking people to leave the meeting or to continue the meeting online. 

At one point, Kalmick shot back at the audience when he was interrupted.

“​​Excuse me, please, please. I’ve been sitting here all night patiently and I’d like my time to speak. It is my job. Again, I don’t come down to where you volunteer and yell at you and sir, can you please watch your mouth? This is not second grade,” he said.

The debate all started when Ortiz abruptly resigned from his position on the council on June 1st citing being targeted by the press, as well as his family’s safety as the deciding factors to vacate his seat.

Right, former Mayor Pro Tem, Tito Ortiz shakes hands with a Huntington Beach resident at the July 19, 2021 city council meeting. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion’s roughly six month tenure in office was riddled with criticism from some residents for his stance against masks and his social media activity.

Ortiz also nearly had his ceremonial title as mayor pro-tem stripped by his fellow council members.

“People on this council, people in this community went after him viciously — more vicious than they’ve gone after any of us. And you know what he’s a dad, he’s a business owner and he’s a celebrity. So it actually was starting to affect him, so I don’t blame this on Tito at all.”

Erik Peterson, Huntington Beach City Councilman

At the same time, other residents have defended Ortiz — who was elected with the most votes in Huntington Beach history last November. 

They want the seat filled by a conservative.

“We have a lot of people who voted for Tito because he’s very conservative. So if this person that you guys have chosen or decide to choose is not 100% MAGA, make America great again — because some of you guys think that’s a crazy thing to say — we don’t support you,” one resident said.

His departure sparked debate on how the council should go about filling the spot on the dais — a debate that has played out over the years in cities throughout Orange County — most recently in Costa Mesa, Orange and Cypress.

[Read: Huntington Beach to Appoint New Council Member, Reviving a Debate Other OC Cities Tackled]

Huntington Beach City Council Members decided they would interview a pool of applicants to fill the vacancy. 

Multiple cities in the county choose to fill such vacancies through a similar appointment process within a 60 day timeframe.

One local Facebook group encouraged people to apply for the city council spot — even if they’re not interested — as a form of protest.

Within a week’s time frame, a little less than 200 residents sent in applications to the city to take Ortiz’s place.

Around 100 applicants were interviewed briefly over the course of two days earlier this month.

Since Ortiz stepped down, some residents have shown up or called into council meetings to voice their support and demand council members appoint the runner up in the 2020 November election — Gracey Van Der Mark.

Van Der Mark won 8.2% of the vote, but lost to Ortiz, Kalmick and Natalie Moser.

Supporters of Gracey Van Der Mark cheer and clap at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on July 19, 2021. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

Some showed up to the meeting Monday in t-shirts that read “Honor the Vote” in support of Van Der Mark and a couple of them criticized the council’s decision to fly the LGBTQ+ flag. 

“The most undemocratic thing that this council has done is to take away the vote of the people. Gracey Van Der Mark — by fair and square — won fourth place in the election. It should be a done deal. She deserves to be on the council and to take away the vote of the people is despicable and quite honestly, in my opinion is political suicide,” one resident said.

Ortiz has voiced support for Van Der Mark and showed up to the meeting wearing a “Honor the Vote” shirt but did not speak during the meeting.

Peterson spoke in favor of Van Der Mark and nominated her as his only choice to fill the seat. 

Van Der Mark has been criticized in the past as being racist, islamophobic and anti-semitic. She was also removed from two committees in Huntington Beach’s local school districts. 

One resident said the city did honor the vote.

“We would not even be here if it wasn’t for his resignation. So he did not honor the vote — Tito Ortiz, he left and stepped down,” the man said.

Moser later echoed those comments.

“For those that say to honor the vote, how can you also say to ‘Stop the Steal?’ It’s very confusing to me,” she said.

A resident who spoke in favor of the appointment of Dom Jones at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on July 19, 2021. Credit: LUPITA HERRERA, Voice of OC

Others at the meeting called for the appointment of Dom Jones — a business owner and fitness instructor.

“Dom Jones is someone who understands that it doesn’t matter what your affiliation is, doesn’t matter what your background is, doesn’t matter how much money you have in your pocket. She will represent the people at every juncture,” one man said.

Meanwhile in Cypress, council members are also grappling with their own vacancy following the resignation of Councilwoman Stacy Berry and are going through an application process to appoint her replacement.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.