By John Earl
Surf City Voice
After being sworn in last Monday for his first term on the Huntington Beach City Council, Joe Shaw, who is openly gay, said he wasn’t surprised that he was elected.
“When I first came to Huntington Beach with my then partner eight years ago,” he reminisced in his acceptance speech , “we opened a business downtown and at once we were warmly embraced by the people of downtown, our customers and people from all over the city.”
Shaw says he and his partner were accepted “unconditionally and without judgment” and that “I looked at this beautiful city and its wonderful people and knew I had found a new home.”
Surf City does offer domestic partner benefits for city employees, but its citizens also reelected Dana Rohrabacher, one of the most homophobic representatives in Congress, by overwhelming vote margins for the past several decades.
Rohrabacher opposes marriage, adoption and military enlistment rights for openly gay or lesbian adults and he favors amending to the Constitution to define marriage as an act to occur between men and women only.
Rohrabacher’s anti-gay views might not be openly shared by most of his Surf City constituents, but they still hold sway in Orange County Republican politics and, at least indirectly, in Surf City politics.
One of the main reasons that the Orange County GOP didn’t endorse Barbara Delgleize—who lost fourth place in the city council election to Shaw by a handful of votes—is that she supports the right to same-sex marriage, according to reports in the Republican blog Red County, including one written by OCGOP Chairman Scott Baugh.
Robert Gentry, who served on the Laguna Beach City Council 1982 – 1992, was the first openly gay elected official in Orange County, but Shaw is the only one currently holding office in the county.
Shaw will concentrate on being the “best councilman I can be,” not the “gay city councilman,” he said. But he believes that his victory should provide hope to others.
“I must acknowledge it,” he said, “because it will make a difference in many peoples’ lives to know that this is possible in Huntington Beach and Orange County. It does get better.”
Lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people want the same things in life that everyone else does, Shaw said, explaining the broader significance of his victory. “We want good schools, safe and well maintained streets, clean water and air, and abundant open space,” he said.
For his first-term priorities, Shaw hopes to tackle the city’s tough financial problems. “First, we have challenging financial conditions ahead of us. We have made some difficult cuts and will likely have to negotiate more. I intend to be fiscally prudent without harming our ability to provide our essential services,” he declared.
Not harming “essential services” is the obligatory mantra of even the most hawkish fiscal reformers on the city council, and those services are usually defined as police, fire and infrastructure, which includes just about everything a city government provides.
Protecting those services won’t be easy under the ongoing recession—likely to be exacerbated by plans to cut a $25 billion state budget deficit and federal tax cuts for the rich proposed by Obama and the new Congress—with little hope for state or federal bailout money for cities across the country.
Shaw’s goals for Surf City’s future are optimistic, however, including a proposed 25-year mobility plan designed to accommodate future development with alternative modes of transportation, “including buses, trollies, trains and bike ways.”
Shaw seeks to develop a more sustainable city by encouraging projects like the Community Garden set to open soon in the southeast portion of the city and he will try to encourage new business creation through deregulation, making sure that “all of our citizens are treated as valuable customers by the city.”
Shaw also announced that he will reappoint Blair Farley to the Planning Commission. Farley, who narrowly trailed Delgleize in the election, campaigned with Shaw and co-victor Connie Boardman as part of Team Huntington Beach.
Photo: Arturo Tolenttino for the SCV