The Huntington Beach City Council declared itself a “No Mask and No Vaccine Mandate City” Oct. 3, following an initial proposal for such last month where the city’s conservative majority voted to direct City Manager Al Zelinka to draft the resolution.
Agendized by Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark, the resolution comes in response to COVID lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 and other mandates by national, state, and local governments including mask wearing and vaccine requirements.
The resolution passed 4 to 3, and bans such mandates in the city with exceptions for residents and city employees who have tested positive for the virus or for first responders while responding to emergency calls.
“Business owners were not allowed to open unless they asked for vaccine cards or forced masks onto people. That’s not the country that we live in. I believe as a city we need to stand up for our residents and our businesses, which is why I found it necessary to bring forward this resolution,” Ms. Van Der Mark said during the meeting.
She said the resolution is a preliminary action as stories in the media recently have surfaced about the possible return of such mandates.
“The media has already been covering stories about possible return of mask mandates. Schools have already canceled sporting events, discussed school closures and masking for students as well. So, this resolution is a pre-emptive measure to protect our citizens from suffering through the same abuses,” she said.
The liberal minority of the council—consisting of councilors Dan Kalmick, Rhonda Bolton, and Natalie Moser—reiterated arguments offered during the first discussion of the resolution in September.
“We’re going to have a resolution that doesn’t actually accomplish anything and in fact likely puts the city in a more precarious position with regard to public health,” Mr. Kalmick said before voting against it.
He argued the city’s resolution won’t achieve anything besides media headlines. During the city’s first discussion, the topic was picked up nationally by media entities such as FOX, ABC7, CBS News, the Daily Mail, and more.
Councilwoman Bolton argued the resolution falsely claims that government responses to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 “disrupted more than a century of Huntington Beach’s embrace and exercise of individual freedoms, including but not limited to moving freely throughout the City, and, individuals making their own personal health decisions,” which was written in the resolution.
“There were multiple events in the early to mid-1900s dealing with scarlet fever, meningitis, and polio. And each one of those occasions we could say considerable hardship was caused to residents and businesses and people’s ability to move about the city,” she argued.
Mayor Tony Strickland said the resolution was necessary to prevent future financial, and what he called social harms to residents.
“Many restaurants and entrepreneurs lost their life savings during COVID. Many children lost lifetime memories that they would have otherwise had,” he said.
But Councilwoman Natalie Moser contended her conservative colleagues were just putting on a show.
“I think that this is purely political theater … it’s like a bat signal to certain parts of alleged news media to come and cover this,” she said.
She also argued many people lost their lives to COVID, which she said trumps arguments for the resolution.
Residents during the public comment portion of the meeting spoke for and against the proposal.
“I think after going through … today’s vote on the anti-mask and vaccine mandate is going to set the tone for what the rest of the nation is going to be following through with … there’s no stipulation in the Constitution that a health department can go ahead and regulate what the entire population has to do,” one resident said in support.
Another argued against the resolution.
“You’re city council members. You’re not the public health department. Does this mean you would outlaw a mask mandate in health care facilities where sick people and immunocompromised people intermingle?” she said.
The Orange County Health Care Agency did not respond to the same request.