By Jim Tortolano
After more than four hours of public comments that included everything from statistics to chants, from a song to angry insults, the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6-1 Monday night to instruct the city attorney’s office to file a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of Senate Bill 54, which limits interactions between federal immigration enforcement and state and local police agencies.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he will challenge the new state law, and Huntington Beach will now makes its own legal opposition based on what City Attorney Michael Gates called “overreach” by the state.
Before the council voted – Councilwoman Jill Hardy cast the lone dissenting ballot – the chamber was packed with loud and sometimes rowdy spectators. Of the more than 100 speakers who addressed the council, 77 spoke in favor of the legal challenge and 32 against.
The lawsuit was proposed by Mayor Mike Posey and Mayor Pro Tem Erik Peterson. It follows on similar action taken by the Los Alamitos City Council last week.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) began the public comments by calling the law a “betrayal of America,” which was greeted mostly by applause from the crowd, many of whom wore “Make America Great Again” baseball caps or carried signs supporting President Donald Trump.
On the other side, Cheryl Martinez spoke about a “moral crisis affecting our city and country.” She lamented what she called “the bullying and mean-spirited comments made and the incivility” of the event.
Many speakers were indeed heckled or interrupted during the public comments and Posey had to repeatedly use his gavel to quiet the crowd and stop shouts from the crowd, not always successfully. One speaker was told to “go back to Mexico,” by a person in the audience, and one social media post pictured two council members as members of a white supremacist group. Democrats were called “Communists” by some speakers, while one man referred to opponents of SB 54 as a “Circus of Hate.”
One sidelight of the evening was when a speaker broke into a full-throated version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” in which both sides joined.
Supporters of the lawsuit argued that illegal aliens were the cause of crime, disease and loss of jobs. Opponents suggested that the law makes the public safer by making it more likely for immigrants to cooperate with police without fear of being handed over to immigration enforcement.
After the public comments, council members weighed in. Posey and Erikson agreed that the lawsuit was not aimed at any ethnic group, but was simply about the state interfering with the city’s rights.
“When I was sworn in as mayor,” said Posey, “I vowed to uphold local control.”
Other members were concerned about the tone of the meeting. “I’m very upset about the message that has been sent tonight,” said Hardy. Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize said she was “heart-broken” by the shouting and insults during the public comments. “I’ve lived in this city for 45 years and never” seen anything to compare, she said.
When the vote was finally held, those who had come to support the lawsuit chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” while others shouted “Shame! Shame!” at Hardy as she left the council chambers.
Categories: Huntington Beach