Huntington Beach residents will be able to enjoy the city’s existing libraries after officials pulled the proposed cuts following a strong public backlash against shuttering three branches. 

The original proposed cuts published by the city on Friday would’ve shut the Banning, Main Street and Helen Murphy library branches, and cut hours and security services at the remaining libraries. 

[Read: Surf City Leaders Unveil Budget Gap That Could Close Libraries, Shuttle Service]

Now, the city’s looking to cut $7 million in spending from other parts of the city budget – shortly after settling a $7.4 million lawsuit with the annual air show operator earlier this year. 

[Read: Will Surf City Residents Get to See Details of a $7 Million Air Show Settlement?]

City council members insisted the settlement was not damaging the city’s long term finances due it being a “one time” expense of around $2 million next year, and $500,000 in the following years until the settlement was paid off. 

“This has nothing to do with structural ongoing revenues,” said Councilman Casey McKeon. “The 1.9 million this year is already budgeted.” 

In a list of revised cuts that were handed out in council chambers at the start of Monday’s meeting, city leaders took any cuts to the library branches off the table, and also opted to keep services like the city’s Park Rangers and landscaping services intact. 

However, other programs like the city’s annual ice rink and community cafe groups got cut, taking a $7 million bite out of a projected $7.4 budget shortfall city staff are projecting will hit in the fiscal year after the upcoming budget. 

With the cuts, city staff are now projecting a “slight deficit,” of around $400,000 for the 2024/25 fiscal year, with a $4.7 million shortfall forecasted the year after that, according to outgoing acting chief financial officer Sunny Han. 

The savings created by the council’s cuts, which come to around $5 million, are set to largely be put into reserves. 

While the entire city council voted in favor of the new budget, the council’s Democrat minority repeatedly protested the last minute changes, arguing to approve the original budget staff presented on June 6 and make any potential changes at their mid-year review in Jan. 2024. 

“This process was chaotic … there are aspects of it I’m still trying to figure out,” said Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton. “This just does a disservice to our residents and I’m really unhappy about it.”  

It was a complaint echoed by many of the public speakers, who thanked the council for not getting rid of their libraries, but asked for more time to figure out what was in the abruptly revised city budget. 

“We were given this document at the last minute,” said former Councilwoman Debbie Cook, hinting council members could’ve violated the state’s chief local government transparency law, the Brown Act.  

“If four of you got together and decided we’re going to take that off, I mean that’s a Brown Act violation. It’s not appreciated when the public isn’t given the information they need up front,” Cook added.

Mayor Tony Strickland and other members of the council’s Republican majority insisted that without action, the city would be staring down millions in deficits in the future. 

“Once we spend money, we can’t get it back,” Strickland said. “We have a balanced budget vs. a $7.4 million deficit if we do nothing.”  

Strickland said the new changes were made by staff, not at the direction of the city council. 

“There was nothing on that list that any of our seven members put out there, it was all staff recommendations,” Strickland said. “As staff realized some of those ideas were not going to be supported by council members, they came forward and provided the document we have here today.”

While no libraries will close, the city is immediately cutting off funding for the library’s community cafe, a program designed to help residents from around the city get to know each other better and talk about what they want to see in Surf City according to the city’s website 

Councilwoman Natalie Moser questioned why the city couldn’t fund the community cafe, but moved forward with a “$100,000-plus” budget for outreach for the city council. 

“The value of these programs is if we can’t talk to each other, then we can’t talk about our future together, and we can’t talk about the values we share together, and the budget we share together,” Moser said. “You have no idea what value it provides.” 

Since his election, Strickland has held multiple town halls and outreach events like “Coffee with the Mayor,” to interact with residents, which Moser referred to as “campaign outreach,” events at Tuesday night’s meeting.  

Strickland said it was a fund set up for any council member, and encouraged other council members to use it to get the word out.  

“These aren’t my recommendations … I just happen to agree,” Strickland said. “You can utilize those services any time you want, they’re for all seven members of the council.” 

“It’s been presented as the mayor’s outreach,” Moser replied. 

“It was the mayor’s idea,” Strickland said. “You’re able to use any of the services we do from the communications department. In fact, I encourage you to do it, you know that and Dan Kalmick knows it cause I’ve encouraged you to utilize the communications department.” 

Moser asked for $12,000 from that budget to go toward the community cafe, but there was no mention of that money being sent to the program during the rest of the council’s vote. 

The city council also extensively debated whether or not to expand the staff of city attorney Michael Gates, who asked for and was ultimately awarded four new full time employees at an annual cost of $675,000. 

Gates insisted that it would be more expensive to contract an outside law firm to handle the work, and said his current staffs’ 60-hour work week stretches into the weekends. 

“Our attorney staff is way overworked, that’s nothing new,” Gates said. 

When questioned by council members about the ongoing lawsuits against the state over housing mandates, the city’s settlement with the operators of the Pacific Airshow and the city’s current legal fight over whether or not to release the details of that settlement, Gates insisted that he can’t control the workload of his office. 

“I think the number of cases that the city is involved in where we are on the plaintiff’s side, is fewer than five,” Gates said. “We can’t control the volume of those cases…when we get sued we have to defend.” 

City staff could also be facing a four-day work week, with plans to continue limiting the hiring of new staff that city leaders put in place in January that is expected to save the city $2.2 million, according to a city staff report. 

It’s unclear if that four day work week would result in city hall actually closing during the week, with Strickland pitching the idea of having some staff take off on Monday while others miss Friday, ensuring an open, but less staffed city hall. 

The city’s downtown shuttle service contracted through Circuit hangs in limbo until the council’s mid-year budget review, with plans to continue the program over the next six months and only kill it if the city can’t get enough grants to fund it. 

Kalmick said the cuts leave the city in a bad spot.

“We’re not funding this city at appropriate levels … we’re funding it at a C level, maybe C-,” he said. “This is not how you run this.” 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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