A Huntington Beach woman who was ousted from two school district committees after she was alleged to have referred to minorities as "colored people" in a YouTube video will remain on the city's Finance Commission after an investigation by Councilman Patrick Brenden found "insufficient evidence" to remove her.
"I have completed a thorough and time-consuming review of the allegations against Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark," Brenden said in a text message to the Daily Pilot.
Brenden, who appointed Larrea-Van Der Mark to the commission in 2017, said he made his decision after meeting with her about the allegations. Brenden said he also considered input from people on both sides of public comments about the issue during City Council meetings.
"From this process, I find insufficient evidence to support a finding of just cause for removing her from her appointed volunteer position," Brenden said. "I have complete confidence in Gracey's ability to fulfill the responsibilities of serving on the Finance Commission and I look forward to her continued service to the community."
Larrea-Van Der Mark could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Larrea-Van Der Mark, who is Latina, came under fire in April after she reportedly made the "colored people" comment in a post with a video she uploaded to YouTube in 2017 showing protesters crashing an anti-racism workshop in Santa Monica by a group called Committee for Racial Justice.
According to the OC Weekly, Larrea-Van Der Mark wrote: "This meeting was being ran by the elderly Jewish people who were in there. The colored people were there doing what the elderly Jewish people instructed them to do."
Brenden's decision, which he announced in the message late Friday, came days after Larrea-Van Der Mark publicly addressed the allegations during the May 7 council meeting. She denied claims in the community that she is racist and contended that "liberals have become increasingly intolerant of diverse viewpoints."
She said her words were "attacked and twisted so viciously by the left in an attempt to remove me from positions, threatened by ideological differences."
She said she was "physically assaulted" when she attended the anti-racism workshop and then described what happened using "terminology" used at the event.
"I consider myself to be a colored person. I am not offended by the term," Larrea-Van Der Mark said. She added that the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People also uses the phrase.
"In my opinion, all people of all colors should be accepted, all political sides should be accepted," she said. "But school boards should be nonpartisan."
Several of Larrea-Van Der Mark's supporters called the allegations against her a political blow initiated by Ocean View School District trustee Gina Clayton-Tarvin, who last year appointed Larrea-Van Der Mark to a district bond oversight committee but last month called for her removal from the panel and from the city Finance Commission after the alleged "colored people" comment surfaced. Clayton-Tarvin said the remark promoted bigotry and did not reflect the school district.
The Ocean View school board voted April 24 to remove Larrea-Van Der Mark from the Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure R. A week later, the Huntington Beach City School District removed Larrea-Van Der Mark from its Measure Q Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee. Both panels oversee expenditures related to voter-approved bond measures for school facility improvements.
Huntington Beach City district officials said Larrea-Van Der Mark was removed after hearing concerns from parents and community members. She was assigned to that committee in 2016 by the Orange County Taxpayers Assn.
Brenden's decision to investigate came after several people, including Peter Levi, Orange County regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on the city April 16 to take action against Larrea-Van Der Mark.
Though Brenden didn't know Larrea-Van Der Mark before appointing her, he said he thought she would be a good addition to the Finance Commission after learning she had been appointed to the Ocean View committee.
Larrea-Van Der Mark's online activity has received heightened attention since she spoke in support of Huntington Beach's plan to file a lawsuit against California to challenge Senate Bill 54, a state law that expands protections for undocumented immigrants.
The OC Weekly reported on the "colored people" comment days after the City Council approved the lawsuit early last month.