Surf City leaders decided to disband a host of advisory committees, removing their own appointees focused on addressing issues involving mobile homes and hate incidents.
The recommended cuts came from Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilmembers Gracey Van Der Mark and Pat Burns, members of the city council’s Republican majority.
“I appreciate everybody’s participation on any of these boards,” Burns said at the Aug. 1 council meeting. “But in all this, it’s always what’s going to serve our community best.”
Human Relations Committee
One of the most controversial decisions last Tuesday night was to sunset the city’s Human Relations Committee, which was set up in the 90s after a series of publicized hate crimes pushed city leaders to take a stronger look at the problem.
The council chamber descended into arguments between commenters and city council members multiple times throughout the night, with Strickland repeatedly banging his gavel to try and restore order to the meeting.
Many residents came out in support of the Human Relations Committee and other boards the city council was looking to cut, insisting they provided too much public good to be tossed aside.
“The committee does much more than just track hate crimes,” said Vanessa Chow, vice chair of the committee, at the meeting. “The HRC’s programs are custom tailored for the city of Huntington Beach.”
Others insisted the board did nothing but perpetrate Surf City’s reputation as the home of skinheads and white supremacists – a title they say the city hasn’t earned.
Some said it wasn’t right for some victims to get special treatment.
“I consider it a monstrous miscarriage of justice to have ever concocted the idea of hate crimes,” said one speaker. “All violent crimes and assaults are despicable acts worthy of severe punishment. It matters not a whit to me what particular prejudices the perpetrator may have been acting on. “
As of June 2023, the city’s police department has reported six hate incidents and eight hate crimes for the year.
Councilwoman Natalie Moser, who chaired the Human Relations Task Force before her election in 2018, said the committee was more necessary nwo than ever.
“It’s not always easy. There’s disagreement in the committee, but if anybody has to figure out how to have a dialogue, it’s that committee,” Moser said. “We have a lot of people who do not feel safe in this city, and if having a committee that is at least aspiring to create connections, to make people safe … I don’t know how we could remove that and dissolve it.”
Councilman Casey McKeon argued the committee and others took “valuable time and resources,” from city staff, and said that the efforts of the committee were duplicating work done by the OC Human Relations Commission.
“The county has more resources to deal with this, and we need to work alongside the county to focus on countywide issues and not narrowly focus and inflate Huntington Beach hate incidents that have remained minimal over the last several years,” McKeon said. “The narrow focus on these incidents perpetuates the false narrative that Huntington Beach is a divisive and hateful city.”
The council ultimately voted to shut down the committee in a 4-3 vote along political party lines. Councilmembers Ronda Bolton, Dan Kalmick and Moser voted against the move.
Burns also recommended amending or potentially canceling the city’s Declaration of Policy about Human Dignity, which was signed in the 90s and called for an end to hate crimes and incidents.
To read a copy of the policy that was updated in 2021, click here.
“It’s aspirational. It’s not just a document, it’s a vision for the kind of community we want to have,” Moser said. “I don’t know how having a document like this is a negative.”
Burns complained that the document was “dramatically,” rewritten by the previous city council in 2021, and said he’d be open to reverting it to the original draft but wanted to keep removing it altogether as an option.
“We have equal laws right across the books, through our Constitution and every level of government that protects people in this same manner,” Burns said. “That’s all I’m doing, equal application of the law for everybody.”
When asked by Councilman McKeon what the problem was with updating it again, since the council previously had in 2021, Moser said “I don’t think that the intentions are pure.”
“Well don’t think then,” Burns said.
Strickland suggested appointing McKeon, Burns and Van Der Mark to serve on a secret committee to review the policy.
Moser then questioned if Van Der Mark, who’s faced repeated criticisms from the Anti-Defamation League and questions around her alleged associations with members of the Proud Boys, should be involved with the committee given her history.
Van Der Mark insisted she had never denied the Holocaust, calling Moser a liar and pointing out that her husband is part-Jewish.
“I never did that! So stop lying!” Van Der Mark said. “I can do my job fairly.”
The move to look at revising the statement on human dignity passed in a 4-3 vote.
Mobile Home Advisory Committee
Council members also voted to shut down the 30 year old Mobile Home Advisory Board in a 4-3 vote.
“This is one that’s been on the chopping block the last two times the boards, committees and commissions have been reviewed,” Burns said. “We don’t have any regulatory power over them, so I’m supporting this be dissolved.”
The Mobile Home Park Advisory Board represents around 3,000 mobile home residents throughout the city, and was convened in 1993 to “ensure the quality of life in mobile home parks,” and “act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on matters concerning the mobile home community.”
“I’m not here to beg for my job, I literally did it just to try and help out,” said Eric Silkinson, the chair of the board. “I guess it’s deemed not important.”
Mobile home park owners were very supportive of the Republican majority during their last campaign, spending over $25,000 on advertising their campaigns through the Manufactured Housing Educational Trust PAC, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Councilman Dan Kalmick suggested instead changing the board to an advisory committee for “attainable housing,” that would focus on mobile homes, apartments and other options to help “bring down the cost of housing.”
“It would be kind of a catch all for the folks that come down here, they’d have a clearinghouse to voice their concerns,” Kalmick said. “We could repurpose this committee to cover housing as a whole.”
“This is a private sector property issue that needs to be handled in the private sector,” McKeon said. “This is a dispute between tenants and landlords, and the government should not be intervening here.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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