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    Petitions in Huntington Beach want to ask voters to overturn changes at city libraries
    • May 31, 2024

    Dual petitions in Huntington Beach seek to overturn some of the controversial new policies and proposals made by the City Council for the city’s public libraries in the last year.

    The first, which is gathering signatures now, wants to remove a review board the council is creating that will have the power to reject new children’s books from being added to the library’s collection and move books already in circulation to a restricted section.

    The second petition supports creating a law to prevent the city’s libraries from being owned by a private company or having its operations privatized without a majority approval from the City Council and voters.

    The proponents hope to turn to voters with their concerns over recent changes to the library system and have them weigh in during a future election.

    “We think the voters should have an opportunity to speak out,” said Cathey Ryder, a proponent behind the petition to overturn the review board ordinance.

    The city passed the ordinance in March to create the review board and also requested staff to take bids to allow an outside company to run Huntington Beach’s library branches as a potential cost-saving measure.

    Signatures are already being gathered to qualify the initiative overturning the review board. Its organizers will have until Oct. 28 to get signatures from 10% of registered voters. The second ballot initiative that would make it harder to privatize the library is expected to start gathering signatures in June.

    Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark has been the driving force on the council for the review board. Privatizing the library’s operations came from the Interim City Manager Eric Parra, who then got approval from the council’s four conservative members. Currently, the city is moving to take proposals for an outside operator and officials haven’t said they would support the change in the end.

    The review board has also yet to form. Van Der Mark said the city is a few months away from forming the board.

    In May, the council rejected a proposal from its three left-leaning members to ask voters if they wish to outsource library operations, which prompted the continued pursuit of the ballot initiative.

    “Up until now, the hundreds of Huntington Beach residents, like myself, who actively support our public library felt we didn’t have a voice regarding the changes the council majority wants to make with book restrictions and privatization,” said Carol Daus, a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Huntington Beach Library. “We spoke up at council meetings, sent emails to councilmembers, and held protests, but it didn’t make a difference. The petitions allow us to fight their measures using a democratic process.”

    Daus argued the library community didn’t ask for the city to pursue these changes.

    For more than a month, residents opposed to the library changes have held weekly silent protests walking down Main Street in Downtown Huntington Beach. Up to several hundred people hold up signs and hand out leaflets.

    “People are feeling empowered to get involved,” Ryder said. “Civic engagement is beyond just voting, it’s holding elected officials accountable. This is what we are trying to do.”

    Van Der Mark said she respects the right of residents to circulate the petitions, but emphasized that the city hasn’t issued the request for proposals on outsourcing the library’s management.

    “It doesn’t make sense to me, but if this is what they feel they should do then it’s their right to circulate the petition,” Van Der Mark said.

    Poll says strong support for libraries

    An April poll made public in May said its results indicate 67% of likely voters in Huntington Beach oppose privatizing the library’s management. After giving poll respondents arguments for and against privatization, that number jumped to 74%.

    The poll said residents responding had a strong favorable view of the city’s library and a net unfavorable view of the City Council.

    Labor unions that would be affected by privatization paid for the poll, including the Orange County Employees Association. The poll surveyed 400 residents and its margin of error was 4.9%.

    Tim Steed, assistant general manager of the OCEA, which represents the library’s managers, said during a call discussing the poll that the union hasn’t had much discussion with the city yet on privatization.

    “Usually privatization leads to the elimination of those positions as they exist currently,” Steed said.

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    ​ Orange County Register