A split Huntington Beach City Council is moving forward with limiting access to “obscene,” books at the public library for kids after hours of heated discussion from public commenters and council members on Tuesday night. 

Precise details on the policy remain unclear, but the council’s Republican majority asked city staff to come back with more ideas on what limits could look like in September, making it clear there would be no book bans. 

The discussion was brought up by Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark, who said the city needs to set up a new system restricting access of children to certain “obscene,” books approved by city leaders, claiming she’d discovered multiple “pornographic,” children’s books at the HB library. 

[Read: Surf City Politicians Want to Decide What’s Obscene At the Local Library]

“Our City libraries should not be engaged in infecting our children with obscenity or pornography,” Van Der Mark said at the meeting, before reading an excerpt of a book describing wet dreams and another describing masturbation as a “lovely shivering feeling.” 

She also read instructions for sexual activities such as fisting, oral sex and the use of various sex toys.

“I’ve never proposed a ban,” Van Der Mark said. “When I tell people there’s a book in there that teaches children how to fist safely, play with blood, urine, they said I was crazy, and I was a conspiracy theories. They never imagined it was in our schools or libraries, but it was.” 

Van Der Mark did not list the titles of all the books she was quoting from at the dais, but claimed they came from the children’s section of the library. 

To review a copy of Van Der Mark’s presentation, click here

“S.E.X.: The All You Need to Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College,” was one of the books quoted by Van Der Mark, which is not part of the young adult section of the library according to the city’s catalog. 

Other council members brought up concerns that any limits on access to books opened the door to censorship or a potential future ban. 

“There are safeguards in the system against obscenity at every step,” said Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton, who ultimately voted against the limits. “I’m sorry some parents don’t know what’s in the books. It’s not perfect, but that’s the way that it works.” 

Councilmembers Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser also voted against it, with Moser calling it “a tragedy.” 

Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilman Casey McKeon compared the city’s new system to a movie’s rating system, with Councilman Pat Burns saying the city needed to draw the line somewhere. 

“We keep pushing the boundary and I keep worrying what’s next? Are we going to say pedophilia’s ok?” Burns asked. “We keep pushing the boundary, at some point we need a check.”

Van Der Mark’s proposal picked up a lot of attention from city residents, with hundreds of comments flowing in online and from speakers who came out in force at Tuesday night’s meeting to hotly debate the issue for nearly six hours. 

Most of the speakers opposed the restrictions, saying it violated residents freedom of speech and choice for what books they wanted to read to their kids and was reminiscent of Nazi Germany, with others calling it a “Fahrenheit 451 fiasco.” 

“You’re basically saying you don’t trust us with our families,” said one commenter. “You’re worried about pornography when you have a statue of a naked man down at the beach.” 

Van Der Mark’s idea received support from some residents, with some holding up signs with excerpts from the books showing drawings of oral sex or reading excerpts from library books describing oral sex and other sexual topics. 

“We’re not talking about burning books,” one man said. “We’re saying this should not be available to minors.” 

The final word went to Ken Inouye, a former city council candidate, who brought up concerns over the city’s budget and the city’s fight with state leaders over affordable housing zoning.

Read: Federal Judge Denies Huntington Beach’s Requested Injunction Against State Housing Law

“There’s a lot more I want to say here ladies and gentlemen, but I think the point is we ran together to serve this city,” Inouye said. “Please understand all your actions have a financial impact to this city.” 

The hours of public comment ultimately ended up killing any discussion on the budget, which has less than 10 days left to get adopted, and the discussion was pushed to a special meeting for next Monday, June 26. 

That discussion could ultimately yield real cuts to the very same library system city leaders spent the night debating.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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