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City reverses stance on car-crash fees

In other council action, budget is approved and Costco gets final approval.

September 22, 2010|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com

The Huntington Beach City Council this week voted to revoke the portion of a recent ordinance that sticks out-of-town drivers with the bill for emergency services if they cause a car accident in Surf City.

The council voted 4 to 1, with Councilman Keith Bohr dissenting. The section of the ordinance in dispute would have made nonresidents, the estimated 16 million people who come to Huntington Beach annually, responsible for emergency services for car accidents, car fires or vehicle extractions.

Residents were always exempt, as they pay property taxes that go toward the city's budget for services.

The council kept in place a section of the law that makes companies responsible for emergency costs for pipeline or powerline incidents.

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The ordinance was originally approved last month, but Councilman Don Hansen asked to reconsider it at the Sept. 7 study session after he received "significant commentary and heart burn" on the subject.

Hansen said Monday that he hadn't considered the number of nonresident employees who commute to the city every day. That, coupled with all the negative press the city has gotten nationally for the ordinance, made him reconsider, he said.

"In hindsight now, the impact to the employees, and to our reputation, goes too far," he said.

The ordinance as a whole was expected to generate about $100,000 in revenue, but about 80% of that was from auto accidents, so the revenue projections should fall accordingly.

Councilman Devin Dwyer, the only one who originally voted against the ordinance, "I'm glad to see this come back through, and I support the idea of listening to our constituents and having to change our mind if we have to."

"It's a big step to actually admit we were wrong to something and bring it back and make changes," he added.

New city budget

In other action, the council approved closing a police substation, reductions in lifeguard services, cuts to downtown police patrols and helicopter flight time and axing the Fire Department's summer ambulance service — all in an effort to fill a $3 million budget gap.

The council approved a $301,136,077 budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, with about $3 million in cuts to services and personnel and a 10% reduction to City Council members' stipends. The city has made about $20 million in cuts over the last two years and implemented a retirement-incentive program that is projected to save the city about $11 million over the next couple of years.

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