Huntington Beach leaders announced the Pacific Air Show would be making a comeback this year after the city settled a lawsuit brought by the air show’s operator, which alleged city leaders broke contracts that cost the company millions.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we saved the airshow!” Mayor Tony Strickland exclaimed to a small crowd down at the Pier Plaza Tuesday morning. “The Fab 4 saved the air show!”
The “Fab 4,” is Strickland and the rest of the council’s conservative majority, including Councilmembers Casey McKeon, Gracey Van Der Mark and Pat Burns, who was absent from the event.
Kevin Elliott, CEO of Code Four, the company that puts on the air show, also praised the council’s work on a settlement.
“Congratulations!” Elliott said to the council. “You saved the airshow!”
While a copy of the settlement has not yet been released to the public, City Attorney Micahel Gates shared an overview of the deal with Voice of OC, which confirmed the city will be paying at least $5.4 million to the airshow operator in a mixture of fees and waived expenses.
In addition, if the city wins any money from its lawsuit involving the oil spill for reparations, they’ll give up to $2 million to Code Four as well.
Gates said the council had multiple chances to review the agreement behind closed doors.
But Councilmemers Dan Kalmick, Rhonda Bolton and Natalie Moser – the council minority – said they have yet to see a full copy of the agreement and were not invited to Tuesday’s announcement.
“I have not seen an executed settlement,” Kalmick said. “I was not supportive of the settlement.”
The suit stemmed from the October 2021 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach that forced an early closure of that year’s airshow.
On Oct. 2 that year, city leaders in Huntington Beach said they started getting warnings about a potential spill off the coast at 9 a.m. the same day the airshow was launching into the sky.
[Read: How Were More Than a Million People Allowed Along Huntington Beach Coast as a Massive Oil Slick Approached?]
Within the next three hours, Huntington Beach leaders were told the spill could reach Surf City’s shores, and that afternoon boats anchored off the coast began to spot oil swirling in the water nearby.
By that night, city leaders announced the coast was closed, and the next day announced they’d be cancelling the rest of the airshow.
In September 2022, city leaders voted down plans to subsidize the airshow’s costs for a campground, leaving Code Four, the company that operates the airshow, to pay a fee of almost $257,000.
The following month, Code Four sued the city and former Mayor Kim Carr, arguing city leaders cancelled the show in 2021 without going through the proper channels and they lost significant money over it because the city still charged them fees.
To read their legal complaint against the city, click here.
But the dynamics changed after last year’s elections.
A new Republican majority won across the board in the race for Huntington Beach City Council, coming onboard with a pledge to guarantee the airshow stayed in town.
While Voice of OC found no signs of Code Four donating to the candidates’ campaigns, Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilman Pat Burns each paid the company nearly $1,100 apiece for campaign banners and events according to their finance disclosures.
Councilman Casey McKeon also paid the company the same amount, but did not state what the purchases were specifically for.
That December, those same council members voted along with Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark to pay for an environmental review on behalf of the airshow, something the company had generally taken care of in the past.
According to City Attorney Michael Gates, the city is in the process of conducting that environmental review, but the rest of the costs will be taken by Code Four.
The airshow is scheduled for the weekend of Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 this fall, with Elliott promising their biggest showing yet.
“”Every year our team tries to dial up the action, but this year’s lineup is simply mindblowing!” Elliott said in a statement. “If you’ve ever planned to attend Pacific Airshow, this will be your year.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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