Surf City leaders are looking to close down one of the city’s oldest commissions focused on combating discrimination despite an increase in hate crimes and incidents across the county.
The recommendation to dissolve the city’s Human Relations Committee came from members of the newly elected Republican majority – Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilmembers Pat Burns and Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark, who argued the panel’s work is redundant.
“Many duties (the commission) issues are being addressed by Orange County … and/or community-based nonprofit organizations,” the council members wrote in a PowerPoint on the city’s website. “Dissolution will remove redundancy of efforts and redirect staff resources to other City priorities.”
Councilman Dan Kalmick, one of the council’s Democrat minority, said there were other boards that should go up on the chopping block like the Design Review Board and Historic Resources Commission before any vote to slash the Human Relations Committee.
“Boards and commissions are a reflection of the values of the community. By eliminating this commission it strikes a chilling note,” Kalmick said in a Monday text. “But all of this is just a distraction from the anti-democratic charter amendments that this new council concocted in secret.”
VC Rhone, the chair of the city’s Human Relations Committee, said they have no overlap with groups like the OC Human Relations Commission and run almost all of their events independently.
“Our committee really addresses the specific needs of our community whereas the OC Human Relations Commission operates on a higher level,” Rhone said in a Monday interview.
“We’ve never met those people, we’ve never done any work with them. There can be no redundancy.”
She also said the commission got no heads up they could be dissolved, despite meeting with Van Der Mark and Burns to explain that their work doesn’t take up significant staff resources since they plan a year in advance and are largely volunteer driven, along with donations from community members.
“Everything else we’ve done, we’ve custom tailored it for our specific community needs,” Rhones said. “We’re really not using a ton of staff resources.”
According to Rhone, the committee hosts around 10 events a year on its own, and partners with corporations in many instances for additional events, pointing out how they worked with Vans during the US Open last year, claiming the company had concerns about the city’s reputation.
“It was a wonderful partnership,” Rhone said. “Sadly this year, they’re not here, and I know they released a statement telling everyone this is the reason why they’re not here, but we know last year that it was already a little bit of a concern for them. We weren’t surprised when they decided not to come back.”
The 2021 Orange County Hate Crimes Report from the OC Human Relations Commission found that hate incidents and crimes have increased by 165% in the past five years, with over 300 reported hate incidents that year and nearly 100 hate crimes.
To read the full report, click here.
The 2022 report is set to be released this September.
The discussion comes before a city council that’s shown they’re split on how to handle discrimination in their city, and how much access people should have to LGBTQ+ resources through the city.
In June, council members voted 4-3 along political party lines to study limiting access to “obscene,” books at the public library, with much of the discussion focusing on books about the LGBTQ+ community and sex.
Earlier that month, a series of anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ flyers were posted around Edison High School after a video of a teacher at the school showed a student-created clip about Pride Month in the classroom that students were required to watch.
While council members unanimously condemned the flyers, some council members chastised the school district for showing the video in the first place.
“At no time was the teacher concerned with the student’s visceral reactions as they watched the video clips of couples in intimate positions and poses. In my opinion, it was not the students who were being inappropriate in that video,” said Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark at a Huntington Beach Union High School District board meeting in June.
While the council’s Democrat minority agendized a resolution denouncing “anti-semitism, white supremacy, and anti-LGBTQ hate,” after that, it ultimately ended up denouncing hate toward all racial groups, religious groups and sexism, at which point Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton abstained and Kalmick walked out of the meeting.
When asked why he walked out, Kalmick said they “All Lives Mattered” the issue.
“We were trying to make a fine point and they diluted it. You go to the doctor with a broken arm, and the doctor says ‘All bones matter!’” Kalmick said. “Well, doc, my arm is the bone we need to focus on right now.”
The city was also dragged into the spotlight when they voted to stop flying the rainbow flag during pride month, setting up a new policy that only allows the flying of governmental flags and the prisoner of war flag.
The city council is also set to discuss revising the city’s Declaration of Policy on Human Dignity, which was last updated in 2021 to add language.
The counci’s discussion for the removal of the committee is scheduled for Tuesday night.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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