The New-And-Improved HB City Council

Photo by Jack GouldBy the time they got to it just shy of midnight on Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council's unanimous repudiation of Mayor Dave Garofalo was anticlimactic. Only one citizen remained in the audience—Connie Boardman, a just-announced candidate for council. And Garofalo, facing an agenda loaded with issues he probably couldn't vote upon, never bothered to show up at all. Maybe he was watching it on TV.

If so, he might have seen the disintegration of support among his council colleagues. They voted 6-0 to "strongly recommend" that the city's tourism bureau sever its contract with the publisher of its visitor's guide because of Garofalo's longtime financial involvement. Even Garofalo's constant ally Pam Julien, his frequent defender Shirley Dettloff, and speak-no-evil Peter Green and Ralph Bauer cast votes with outspoken critics Dave Sullivan and Tom Harman. Bauer teamed up with Sullivan to put the item on the agenda.

But that wasn't the high point of the evening. The climax came a couple of hours earlier during a vote on a proposed housing development by PLC Land Co. Even absent, Garofalo was the centerpiece of the issue. In the wake of his myriad problems with conflict-of-interest accusations, Garofalo's colleagues were suddenly more sensitive to their own relationships to the land developer: so many council members disqualified themselves from considering PLC's proposal—to build a tract of luxurious, 8,000-square-foot houses on one of the last remaining open spaces in the city's center—that the board lost its quorum.

Julien suggested that she might live too close to the proposed project.

Dettloff wondered whether her rental property might be too close, too.

Harman mentioned that he rents space in an adjacent office complex.

Garofalo wasn't around to disqualify himself, but he's been leaving the room at every mention of PLC for nearly two months now, per a strong suggestion from the city attorney.

That left only Green, Bauer and Sullivan—one shy of the number needed to render an opinion. Harman, Julien and Dettloff held a lottery for the right to complete the quorum. Dettloff won and ultimately cast the decisive vote in a 3-1 denial of the PLC proposal.

As weird as that moment was, it signaled hope. More than one council member admitted that recent scrutiny of the complicated relationship between Garofalo's personal finances and political duties has made them all more sensitive to questions of conflict of interest.

"People are much more aware of it, acting out of an abundance of caution," said one. "Members sometimes kind of got lax before. I see this as healthy fallout from a bad situation."

That sentiment was translated into action later in the evening, when Sullivan introduced his resolution to pressure the tourism bureau to kill its printing contract with Garofalo's publishing firm.

Sullivan drew his strongest arguments from an Aug. 1 city attorney memo. In that memo, Gail Hutton concluded that Garofalo may have violated state law when he voted to approve city funding of the Huntington Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau at the same time he held a lucrative, no-bid contract to print the bureau's annual guide. She recommended the contract be voided by the bureau and, if it refused, that the city council cut the bureau's funding.

"This puts us all on trial, I guess," Bauer noted during debate. "It's a pretty serious matter, and we are all parties to it."

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