Over public objections, Huntington Beach City Council changes human dignity policy, censures council member

Councilwoman Natalie Moser at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting.
Councilwoman Natalie Moser takes her seat as the Huntington Beach City Council meeting begins on Tuesday. She was later censured by the council’s conservative majority.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A Huntington Beach City Council that remains fiercely divided introduced a new Policy on Human Dignity on Tuesday night.

The amended policy was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Tony Strickland, Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and Councilmen Casey McKeon and Pat Burns voting in favor. Councilman Dan Kalmick and Councilwomen Natalie Moser and Rhonda Bolton voted against.

The policy came from an ad hoc committee that consisted of Van Der Mark, McKeon and Burns. At six paragraphs, it is much shorter than the original Policy on Human Dignity, which was first adopted in 1996 and last amended in 2021 by the previous council.


The new document no longer states that the city condemns hate incidents and hate crimes and in fact removes all references to them. One paragraph of the new document states that the city “will recognize from birth the genetic differences between male and female and respect the strengths and differences of each. Each sex carries advantages and disadvantages that warrant separation during certain activities (i.e. sports).”

Most residents who spoke during public comments Tuesday night were unhappy about the change. Some called that paragraph of the new document insensitive to transgender or non-gender-conforming people.

“I think to truly understand the gravity and importance of this policy, we need to first define equality versus equity,” one Huntington Beach High senior told the City Council during public comments. “Equality is treating everyone the same, while equity is ensuring that groups who have been previously oppressed have the opportunity to be on the same level with those who are privileged.”

The 17-year-old, who did not provide her name as she gave public comments, said she was “terrified” to speak at the meeting, adding that it was one of the first times she has publicly come out as queer.

“What is it about my existence as a human being, and the existence of all LGBTQ individuals in our city, that makes you so deeply uncomfortable?” she asked the council. “Why do you feel the need to erase us from policy ... why do you hate us?”

It was a full house at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday.
It was a full house at the Huntington Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Earlier this year, the conservative council majority voted to stop flying the Pride flag on city property each June for Pride Month.

But when the item came up for discussion at nearly 2 a.m. Wednesday, Councilman Pat Burns said comments like Lee’s were far from the truth.

“Why are certain segments trying to alienate themselves away from everyone?” Burns said. “I don’t like identity politics, I think it’s divisive, and I think it really hurts our community. This brings us all together under one umbrella, as everyone.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton, who is Black, disagreed.

“We are not all under the same umbrella because you do not ever have to worry about being pulled over for driving while Black or being killed because you’re Black, being shot at your synagogue,” she said. “As much as I’d like to say, yes, we’re all under the same umbrella, we’re not there yet.”

Elaine Keeley weighed in during public comments. Her father, the late Huntington Beach Mayor Ralph Bauer, helped form the original Declaration of Policy on Human Dignity in response to hate crimes in Surf City in the mid-1990s.

Keeley called the updated version, which uses some language from the original, “plagiarism.” She noted that it changes words like “diversity” to “difference” and “interdependence” to “independence.”

“Your attempt to write a policy on human dignity has failed,” she said. “What you have written is a statement of your own political beliefs.”

In a letter to the city, the Anti-Defamation League called the changes dangerous and discriminatory.

McKeon on Tuesday night questioned whether a policy was even necessary.

“I think every rational person condemns hate,” he said.

The new Policy on Human Dignity was finalized on the same night that the Human Relations Committee was officially dissolved, among other committees.

A woman shows her support for Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark at Tuesday's meeting.
A woman shows her support for Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark at Tuesday’s meeting.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Councilwoman Natalie Moser censured

Moser was censured by a 4-0 vote Tuesday for her remarks regarding Van Der Mark at the Aug. 1 council meeting.

Moser, Kalmick and Bolton left the dais in protest during the discussion and censure vote.

Moser had questioned Van Der Mark’s ability to be on the Policy on Human Dignity ad hoc committee, given that she had been called a Holocaust denier in the past and identified as associating with the far-right Proud Boys group. This sparked an immediate response from Van Der Mark and chaos on the dais.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Burns asked that a video from the May 7, 2018, council meeting be played. Van Der Mark, during those public comments five years ago, said she was not a Holocaust denier or antisemitic.

“She was accused of it back then, she defended it, she’s done it since then,” Burns said. “But yet, it’s ignored by people who want to weaponize a lie ... What was done on Aug. 1 was inappropriate and out of line.”

Strickland seconded the motion, adding that the decorum of the council has to improve.

Moser has previously called her questions relevant. In fact, she doubled down in a press release issued after Tuesday night’s meeting.

Issued jointly by Moser, Kalmick and Bolton, the release states that the trio believes that the censure was not about upholding decorum “but rather an effort to suppress necessary questions about qualifications and potential biases of those appointed to committees of great importance.”

Moser further blasted the City Council’s conservative majority.

“This council seeks to dismantle our city and foment chaos and division,” she said in a statement. “They continue to work to make us smaller, weaker and more divided. They create nothing. They build nothing. They put extremist party level politics over what is actually good for our town.”