Dont Let This Happen To You

The Year In Suburban Decline

Photo by James BunoanThis was a good and bad year for Huntington Beach. Good in that the cops didn't round up hundreds of city residents on July 4 and force them to spend the night in a urinal-free holding cell. That hasn't happened for, oh, eight years. But it was bad for cops refusing to arrest corrupt politicians long after they've been exposed for, oh, shall we say, the federal crime known as bank fraud. It was good in that the city was smart enough to trademark the name Surf City. Bad in that surfers kept getting sick when they were actually in the surf. It was good in that the city didn't have a federal jury telling them to pay the family of some unarmed kid such as Antonio Saldivar millions of dollars for having shot him dead. Bad in that a federal grand jury indicted the mayor. Again.

Surf City, here we go.

This year, Huntington Beach approved something called Pacific City, a project that will bring brand-new luxury condominiums to the city's downtown area. While that seems innocuous, Pacific City happens to be located in a former oilfield. Nearby residents protested the plan because it will involve unearthing countless tons of potentially contaminated soil. Their concern was likely augmented by a Weekly story from March that reported how in 1991, a year before the city passed an ordinance making it easier for oil companies to develop their properties, it passed another ordinance relaxing the city's soil contamination standards—by a factor of 10.

That story, "Bitter Harvest" (March 26), was about how several children in a tiny area of southeast Huntington Beach have died from a rare form of brain-stem cancer. The one thing they had in common other than living in a neighborhood dotted with abandoned oil fields was playing at a park across the street from a hazardous-waste dump. Although officials insist there aren't enough dead kids to warrant further study—apparently that magic number lies somewhere beyond four—on March 18, an inactive oil well at the dumpsite burst hundreds of gallons of crude into the air, inundating the surrounding homes with toxic goo.

Of course, when you're talking slime, you have to head down to City Hall. Last October, the Weekly reported that former mayor Pam Julien Houchen had illegally converted apartments into condominiums—elevating a municipal crisis involving dozens of unsuspecting city residents victimized by unscrupulous local realtors into a political-corruption scandal reminiscent of that which recently ousted Mayor Dave Garofalo. Garofalo pled guilty two years ago to political corruption charges stemming from his habit of voting to provide lucrative city contracts to advertisers in his throwaway newspaper.

By the end of the year, Houchen's planning commissioner Jan Shomaker had resigned her city job and federal prosecutors had indicted Houchen on 18 counts of bank fraud.

The city did manage to avoid a few other major disasters this past year. On March 2, city voters overwhelming defeated Measure E, a city initiative backed by Republican lobbyist Scott Baugh and his former client AES, which operates an aging, inefficient, polluting eyesore of a power plant along Pacific Coast Highway. If passed, Measure E would have shrunk the City Council by one-third and made it that much easier for powerful special interests—i.e., AES—to buy off politicians.

And the City Council smartly rejected a plan by Poseidon Resources to attach a seawater-desalination facility to the AES plant. The facility would have created 50 million gallons of supposedly drinkable water per day, but would also churn 50 million gallons of brine per day into the Pacific Ocean. It would also have likely raised bacteria levels along a stretch of beach that has already been repeatedly closed because of high levels of poop.

Of course, the beaches were still closed down a bunch of times for high levels of poop. . . .

Happy New Year!

 
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