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In the Pipeline: Norma Gibbs has been a jewel for H.B.

December 23, 2013|By Chris Epting
  • Huntington Beach's first city councilwoman Norma Gibbs at home in Huntington Harbour.
Huntington Beach's first city councilwoman Norma… (Chris Epting, HB…)

Norma Gibbs' soft laughter blends peacefully with the wind chimes outside her airy and cozy Huntington Harbour home, which is all decorated for Christmas, complete with fresh-baked cookies and tea on the table.

She is recounting a moment from 1970, just before she became the first city councilwoman in Huntington Beach history. She and then-Mayor Don Shipley were in the process of battling developers that wanted to build high-rise buildings stretching for miles along our beachfront.

"When I explained to our head of the Chamber of Commerce why I was so against the idea, he said, 'Don't worry, Norma. There will be six feet of space between the buildings so that people will still be able to see the ocean when they drive by.'"

He also boasted of wanting to turn Huntington Beach into "the Miami Beach of the West."

"I'd been to Miami," said Gibbs, 88. "And I was not going to let that happen."

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It was 50 years ago this month that the Cal State Long Beach professor moved to Huntington Beach from nearby Seal Beach, where she was mayor.

And how lucky we are that she did.

It almost didn't happen. When she first saw Huntington Beach, she noticed all the tin cans and tents on Bolsa Chica State Beach. She needed some convincing, which she received from her husband, who was working with the company that was developing Huntington Harbour.

Theirs soon became the first house on the block, and it's the same one was she lives in today. Recuperating from tuberculosis at the time, Gibbs recovered in an upstairs bedroom that overlooks the ocean. The day she saw whales out her window was the day she was convinced they'd made the right decision.

Impressed by her smarts and passion, then-Mayor Don Shipley convinced Gibbs to become part of the Recreation and Parks Commission. She was the first woman there too. That's where she got to know then-Parks and Recreation Director Norm Worthy. He helped Huntington Beach win hosting duties for the U.S. surfing championships in 1959.

Worthy was also on a mission to develop Central Park, which he did by painstakingly tracking down owners of the old "encyclopedia lots" — so dubbed because they were part of a marketing gimmick to promote the sale of encyclopedias — and buying the lots back. In 1968, in large part because of these efforts, Central Park opened.

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