Huntington Beach leaders this week spent more than six hours engaging hundreds of residents to publicly debate how to shield kids from obscene books at the local library. 

Yet looming in the background was a swelling budget that’s likely to force closure of several library branches altogether, along with a host of community programs. 

Those cuts drew barely any public discussion, much less warnings or planning earlier in the week. 

Until late Friday.

That’s when public agendas released for upcoming budget meetings showed residents the city’s fiscal house is a mess. 

And the budget cuts proposed by city leaders – up for public discussion this coming week – are staggering. 

Residents could see some major cuts to city services over the next few months as city leaders grapple with a $7 million deficit in the upcoming 2024/25 budget. 

The year after that, the budget features an $11 million funding gap. 

Most of the cuts pitched by city staff in a report published Friday evening are hitting the city’s community programs and services.

Meanwhile, city leaders are proposing to increase spending on the city attorney’s office. 

To review the full list of the city’s proposed cuts, click here

Libraries are taking the hardest hit.

There are plans to close three of the city’s five branches and cut back hours at the remaining branches. 

[Read: Huntington Beach Leaders Will Try to Define What’s “Obscene” at Public Libraries]

In addition to closing the Banning, Main Street and Helen Murphy library branches, city leaders are also weighing getting rid of the library’s Community Cafe program and eliminating security guards at the city’s libraries. 

“There’s substantial cuts in services coming, including likely to our libraries,” warned Councilman Dan Kalmick during the tail end of council’s library discussion last Tuesday during the council remarks part of the meeting. 

“The budget is our most important meeting of the year,” Kalmick warned, adding “and it’s usually poorly attended.”

At the council’s June 6 meeting, Strickland said the cuts are necessary to defray the city’s expected shortfalls over the next few years, and that the city staff should come back with ideas on where to cut. 

“My understanding is we’re going to be in deficit,” Strickland said. “I think the department heads know best their department and where is the most efficient way to make those modest reductions.”

In an interview Saturday morning, Strickland declined to comment on the specific cuts, but said it was necessary to ensure the city would get ahead of any potential deficits. 

“We know we’re going to go into a recession, it’s always good to get ahead of it,” Strickland said. “It’s better to make reductions today…I think we’re being very good stewards.” 

Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton said the process was too “rushed,” and that the closure of library branches and layoffs were out of the question. 

“A process like this with a restructuring, that usually takes months,” Bolton said. “I keep saying I’m disappointed in things, I’ve had a lot of disappointment in the last six months.” 

According to the budget projections, the city is set to have a $7.4 million deficit by the next fiscal year and an $11 million deficit the year after that. 

Councilmembers Natalie Moser and Pat Burns declined to comment on the proposed cuts Saturday morning.  

Councilmembers Casey McKeon and Gracey Van Der Mark did not return requests for comment on Saturday morning. 

The only two departments facing no cuts are the city attorney and city treasurer, both of whom are elected by the voters. 

City attorney Michael Gates has insisted his department needs $687,000 more to hire four more attorneys to help handle the department’s active cases, which he says are booming after the pandemic delayed a series of trials that are all coming up now. 

“We’ve been getting by with a skeleton crew since Covid,” Gates said in an interview with Voice of OC last month. “But these trials are now hitting.” 

While Gates’ office is currently wrapped up in high profile cases such as the city’s lawsuit against state leaders protesting housing mandates and the city’s $7 million settlement with the operators of the Pacific Airshow, he says the new lawyers would not be focused on those cases. 

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

In a text to Voice of OC, Kalmick said he would be asking Gates to figure out a cheaper solution, such as contracting cheaper attorneys, that would let the city keep libraries open, which would cost around $166,000 according to the city staff report. 

The city treasurer is also set to move forward with a $100,000 office renovation according to Kalmick, while the city clerk’s office is set to give up their proposed remodel of the same cost. 

Beyond libraries, the senior center will now close on Saturdays, and the city plans to limit how often it cuts back trees and the gardening at city facilities like Pier Plaza and Bluff Top. 

Visitors to the city will also see some changes, with the city set to end their annual ice rink that brings 15,000 people a year to town and eliminate the Circuit transport program, a shuttle service that lets people ride around town for $2 a ride. 

In addition to cut programs, numerous city departments are set to lose staff, including the part time workers at the city’s call center, which is responsible for directing over 200 calls a week to the right department in the city. 

“Elimination of this program would decrease customer service levels to the public,” staff wrote in their proposal. 

The city has struggled with an exodus of staff under the new city council, with the most recent departure of interim Chief Financial Officer Sunny Han, who announced her departure on Thursday after 12 years working for the city. 

City leaders are set to appoint her interim replacement, Mark Alvarado, just before they vote on the new budget cuts. 

Read: Surf City Bleeds Executive Staff Under New City Council Leadership

City leaders are set to eliminate the city’s contracted park rangers, a move that could force the police department to pick up the slack and handle over 3,200 citations according to the staff report.  

In addition to the cuts, city staff also pitched increasing fees for emergency services and putting up paid advertisements on the sides of the city’s lifeguard towers. 

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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