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Mayor Steven Gama (Photo courtesy City of Port Hueneme)
Thursday, August 12, 2021

By Chris Frost

Tri County Sentry

Port Hueneme-- Before the city council went on its August recess, it unanimously voted to begin the process leading to a November 2022 General Election ballot measure and citywide vote by the residents of Port Hueneme to change its name to Hueneme Beach.


The topic brought a lot of emotion to the dais, but ultimately, the group unanimously approved the action.


City Manager Brad Connors said in September 2020, the city council approved its strategic plan, which included possibly rebranding the city, including a name change.


"Earlier this year, the council directed the staff to examine the process and costs associated with changing the city name," he said. "Mr. Steve Kinney (Economic Development Consultant)  was assigned that task. 


Kinney said his approach to the report was to think about the most obvious questions about this topic and what the community's residents will ask about changing the name and rebranding the city.


"We came up with four key questions to be answered," he said. "The first one is why are we even thinking about this? I think it boils down to two reasons, one of which is to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative."


On the positive side, he said the beach is the city's prized physical asset and defines Hueneme on the map.


"We want to look at how this community can grow over time given the constraints that we live with," Kinney said. "We need to focus on those assets that will attract the type of high tech, knowledge-based businesses to the community that are compact enough to find a place to be in Hueneme and still offer high-value businesses for our community to support." 


He said there is a lot of competition for that caliber of employee, and communities that successfully attract those people display an image of a culturally sophisticated, physically attractive warm, and safe community.


"There are so many ways that our beach supports that image," he said. "Without making any more effort than to say beach in our name, we convey an image that is totally supportive of our economic development direction that we want to go."


Kinney said the change to Hueneme Beach eliminates the confusion between Port Hueneme and the Port of Hueneme.


"It's a fine line for people who don't understand the geography and the politics and very easy to stumble over and get confused," he said. "If we can eliminate the source of that confusion by making us Hueneme Beach and the port continues to be the Port of Hueneme, it's beneficial to both bodies at the same time."


Looking past that issue, he said the council must look at the cost to the city and community for the name change, including changing the name on the 101 Freeway exit signs and changing the name on the city clerk's seal for official documents. 


"When you catalog all of those, you come up with a number just under $200,000," he said. "There are $170,000 in hard costs, then you factor in some staff time, and it would be in that range of just under $200,000. We didn't go down to the dollar, but it gives you a sense that it's not going to be $50,000, but it's not going to be $500,000."


Kinney said the cost to the community is minimal.


"It's like what you have to go through when you change your address," he said. "If you move down the street, you have to face the same inconvenience that you'd be going through with the city's name change. "It's your letterhead and business cards if you have those."


He noted the most significant change is how the post office will address the change.


"When I talked to the postal people, they said basically the name on the envelope is the least important piece of information to them," he said. "If they can read the zip code, they don't care what you want to call yourself or your city. You can take all the time you want to make the change from Port Hueneme into Hueneme Beach."


Since Port Hueneme is in the city's charter, he said the city would need to change the charter.


"The only way that would happen is by a vote of the people," he said. "If you want to pursue this and lay the process out to the electorate in Port Hueneme, you need to authorize us to take the proper steps at the proper time to make sure a ballot measure gets added to the November 2022 election and stand by for the results. It's the ultimate in community engagement."


Kinney said the city would engage the public about the change, the same way it did when Measure U was on the ballot.


"It's a series of informational meetings, so whoever has a question can have it answered before the election," he said.  


If the measure passes, he said the city can then arrange a proclamation to change its name on the 75th anniversary in March 2023.


Councilwoman Laura Hernandez said she sees plenty of positive reasons to change the name, and the discussion has been floating around for a while.


"How do we know that there's confusion out there, and how do we know that the impact is going to be minimal," she asked.  "How do we know this is going to be so easy for people who are attached to our current name and don't want to see it changed? How do we know this? "


Kinney said he knows it anecdotally, and Hernandez wants to see a survey before taking it to the voters.


"I see you have a quote of $3,000 for getting this onto the ballot," she said. "Is that really all it's going to cost, $3,000?"


Kinney said the $3,000 quote came from the election board.


"But then there is all this activity that goes with it, so it could be $3,000 minimum but maybe more," Hernandez said. 


While in the community, she said changing the city's name has generated mixed reactions.


"My concern is that we get public input on this process," she said. "I would like to see us do some kind of survey to ask people what their level of interest is in adopting a name change and what they think the benefit of that will be. I'd really like us to do a thorough job on what the impact is going to have on the business community."


Hernandez noted the change is an emotional issue for people, and it will not be all that easy.


Councilman Bobby Martinez said the public would have the opportunity to vote on the change.


"They would have a voice and be heard," he said. 


Hernandez noted that the city has to do some leg work first.


"Do some explaining on how this is going to benefit the city," she said. "It's a name change, but what are we going to change, and how are we going to look different to others."


Conners said the was a survey done as part of the strategic plan outreach.


"That is the basis for this initiative we brought to the council," he said. 


Councilwoman Misty Perez said when the marketing people presented to the council, they learned that a name change would bring travel and tourism to the city.


"I do agree that we put it out there and get ideas about name options," she said. "I do agree with Bobby (Martinez) that when it's put to a vote, that is people's voices. If they say no, then it's no. If it's yes, then that's what we do."


Mayor Steven Gama said it's not being thrown out there to a vote.


"There has been outreach on this matter," he said. "What is the benefit from this $200,000 investment? I remember when Grover City become Grover Beach, there were a lot of emotions involved. It's been a resounding success for them economically."


Mayor Pro Tem Rich Rollins said he likes the sound of Hueneme Beach, but that's personal.


"I feel we have a unique opportunity to weigh in and set the identity of our community and what we call ourselves in the future," he said. "Naming is a personable thing. Think of the emotion that parents take to call their kids what they're going to call them."