Huntington Beach leaders are getting sued by a former mayor for attempting to payout over $7 million to the operators of the Pacific Airshow in a settlement after the event was shut down by an oil spill off the coast in 2021.
Now, they’re asking for an Orange County Superior Court Judge to immediately stop any payouts over the settlement and throw out the settlement approved by city leaders because it wasn’t the city’s fault the airshow was shut down.
Former Mayor Connie Boardman is claiming the settlement is an illegal gift of public funds.
City Council members have faced constant questions on the settlement since it was signed in May after it came out that Code Four, the company responsible for managing the air show, was also a paid campaign vendor by the city council’s Republican majority, dubbed the “Fab 4.”
While City Attorney Michael Gates released some of the details included in the settlement, such as the max cost of $7.4 million, no copy of the settlement has been released publicly.
Originally, the city fought the lawsuit from the Pacific Airshow, moving to have the case dismissed.
“All plaintiffs’ causes of action do not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action as against the City,” wrote deputy city attorney Lauren Rose in that filing, which also listed Gates’ name.
To read a copy of the motion, click here.
But city leaders changed course after a new city council was elected in November 2022.
The suit was filed by Boardman, a former mayor who’s been an outspoken critic of the city council majority since they took office, and Mark Bixby, a former planning commissioner.
Both are arguing the city should not pay out any funds.
“(City leaders) knew that (Pacific Airshow operator’s) complaint in the Underlying Litigation was without factual support,” wrote Lee Fink, Boardman and Bixby’s lawyer, in a court filing. “Such an expenditure is an unlawful gift of public funds.”
In the suit, Fink asks for a complete stoppage on any payout and a review of the settlement.
“This Court has the authority to prevent this massive waste of public funds,” Fink wrote.”The Court can stop this unlawful gift of public funds, and save the taxpayers of Huntington Beach millions of dollars.”
To read that filing, click here.
In that filing, Fink pointed out that it wasn’t the city’s choice to shutdown the airshow, and that the oil spill forced the closure of much of the Orange County coastline for days as the Coast Guard and other agencies worked to clean up thousands of gallons of oil that hit the coast.
“Despite the fact that the City had no practical choice but to cancel the airshow, and the cancellation was caused by the oil spill, directly resulting from the negligence and carelessness of Amplify, the operator of the Huntington Beach Airshow, Pacific Airshow LLC (“PALLC”), brought an action in the Orange County Superior Court,” Fink wrote.
The city is already facing another lawsuit from local school board member Gina Clayton Tarvin, asking to see an unredacted copy of the $7 million settlement.
Gates, OC’s only elected city attorney, has repeatedly refused to turn over a copy of the settlement agreement to the public, stating on multiple occasions there’s no law that compels him to do it and that it could damage the city’s chances in other lawsuits, adding the only people who want to see it are “eager and ambitious” folks in the community.
“If a judge tells me I have to release it, I‘m happy to release it,” Gates said at the council’s special budget meeting on Monday. “My role is to follow the law, and we’ve followed the law on the non release of the settlement.”
City spokesperson Jennifer Carey did not respond to a request for comment from Voice of OC on Thursday afternoon.
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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