PUBLIC INFORMATION -- After settling a lawsuit with Richard McKee, the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau
disclosed that its insurance company spent about $250,000 on a lawsuit
against a Santa Cruz
surf shop to secure the city's nickname Surf City USA, reports Annie Burris for the Orange County Register.
The settlement also means that the bureau and the Huntington Beach Hotel/Motel Business Improvement District, which
the bureau oversees, will now open its board meetings and documents to
was filed in October by Richard McKee -- a member of the
Californians Aware, which promotes open government. McKee had argued
that both groups were public agencies and needed to disclose more
information to the public, including
the terms of the settlement with the surf shop."We simply wanted to give (Huntington Beach residents) an opportunity
to check on how their government is being run," he said.
Instead of fighting the lawsuit by McKee, which could have ended up
costing $500,000 to $1 million, the groups decided to settle, saying the
issue of public disclosure was not "significant" enough to continue
fighting, said the bureau's CEO and President Steve Bone.
"We've always been a transparent organization and it was much better
to pay a relatively little legal fee rather than incur a substantial
additional cost in litigation," said Bone, who added the bureau is
technically a private organization.The lawsuit cost about $40,000, which included $30,000 paid to McKee
for his legal fees and $10,000 in legal fees for the city and bureau.
The city and bureau each paid $20,000 for the suit.
The bureau and BID said they will comply with the Brown Act
regarding open meetings and with the Public Records Act, which is typically required of public
agencies such as City Hall.
Public disclosure by the bureau came to a head in September 2009 when downtown residents asked to see a study
by the bureau about putting a 50,000-square-foot cultural center at a
Main Street park. The bureau had originally denied resident's
requests but ended up posting the study online after the plans were
leaked to the public.
He said the settlement documents could prove that a lawsuit between
the bureau and a Santa Cruz shop owner was not necessary because the
moniker used before and after the suit is almost identical.
Bone said the lawsuit over the logo was about intellectual property
rights and the value of the publicity from the lawsuit was worth hundred
of thousands of dollars. He called the lawsuit "a good fraternity
"It is just not about the T-shirt. It is about the Surf City USA
ownership of the brand," he said. "And yes, absolutely, I'd do it 100
McKee, a La Verne resident, said he is not personally connected to
the logo or the bureau and sued because the public has a right to know
Now that the suit is completed, he said he does not plan on asking
for the documents. He said it is up to Huntington Beach residents to
request the paperwork.
McKee has had a presence in Orange County before. He was part of a
group that sued the Orange Unified School District for censuring trustee
Steve Rocco after he commented on a principal's relocation in the
district. The courts dismissed the case in 2008 and ordered the group to
pay $37,000 in legal fees.
McKee is using the same attorney, Dennis Winston, for the Surf City
case that he used in Rocco's.