The Huntington Beach City Council majority is looking to ban universal mask and vaccine mandates, a move they argue prevents government overreach and protects personal freedoms.

It comes as state officials haven’t announced any plans on bringing back a mask mandate or rolling our vaccine mandates. 

As COVID-19 hospitalizations are slowly climbing statewide and in Orange County, Councilmember Gracey Van Der Mark brought the item forward at last Tuesday’s meeting to ensure the city’s stance as a “no mask no vaccine mandate” city.

“These mandates, like many other COVID-19 response restrictions, unnecessarily limited the freedom of the citizens of Huntington Beach,” Van Der Mark said during the meeting. “The City Council of Huntington Beach should take a stand against the government imposing on individual liberties.”

The item passed 4-3 through the council’s Conservative majority, with Councilmembers Dan Kalmick, Rhonda Bolton and Natalie Moser voting against the item.

Van Der Mark said the only exception will be for residents who have tested positive for COVID-19. Private business owners will be able to enforce mask and vaccine requirements. 

One of the primary arguments from the dissenting council members is that there was never a mandate in Huntington Beach, and it likely won’t come up in the future from the state.

“There are no rumblings of mask or vaccine mandates,” Kalmick said. “We’re not being told that that’s happening. I haven’t heard that we’re going to have these things anytime soon.”

The vote was the final item on the council’s agenda and came at nearly 3 a.m. There were five hours of public comment, focused mainly on different council items, including a vote to censure Moser and amend the city’s human dignity policy.

[Read: HB City Council Majority Censures Natalie Moser; Removes Hate Crime Condemnation]

Bolton questioned why the proposal was on the agenda in the first place.

“I find it incredible, it’s almost 3 a.m. and we’re sitting here talking about COVID masks and vaccines. Nobody has asked for this. The residents expect us to solve the e-bike issue and deal with homelessness,” Bolton said.

“It sounds like we’re taking our marching order from somewhere outside the city.”

Meanwhile, Orange County’s 17.5% of COVID-19 tests are positive, according to state data.  

As of Friday, 90 OC residents were hospitalized for COVID, including 13 in intensive care units, according to statewide hospital data. 

That’s up from 60 hospitalizations a month ago. 

COVID-19 has now killed 8,127 OC residents in total as of Friday. 

For context, the flu kills an average of 543 residents a year.

In Huntington Beach, Mayor Tony Strickland said it’s important for the city to make a statement to ensure mask and vaccine mandates aren’t enforced down the road.

“We are going to fight hard to make sure that individual freedoms are respected,” he said. “We’re not going to abide by what happened in the past because there was amazing damage in our economy … There was amazing damage to kids psychologically.”

“Those individuals not directly at risk of direct exposure should have a right to choose whether to wear a mask or not or whether to get a vaccination or not,” Van Der Mark said.

Most residents who spoke and commented on this issue supported the proposal.

“The over the top, authoritarian reaction from government officials during COVID was appalling and completely unnecessary,” Jeanne Paris, a Huntington Beach resident, sent in a comment to the council. “The damage done to small businesses, public school children as well as our economy will take years to recover.”

Critics of the proposal worried that if COVID-19 cases resurge then the city will be left without the capability to keep residents safe. 

Others questioned why this item was on the agenda since the council members are not health experts and argued they shouldn’t be making decisions on public health issues.

“Please let the public health professionals and science dictate the needs for public health actions — and not politicians who are pandering to their base with such declarations such as this for our city,” Diana Lithgow, a nursing professor at the Western University of Health Science and 40-year Huntingtin Beach homeowner, wrote in a comment to the council.

A final resolution will be brought back to the council at their next regular meeting on Sept. 19 for another vote and potential adoption. The council’s open session begins at 6 p.m.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.


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