After hours of debate and cringeworthy public comments, the Huntington Beach City Council has voted 4-1 to restrict minors’ access to “obscene” library books. But given its delicate financial position, the city will be lucky just to keep the libraries open.
On June 23, public agendas for an upcoming meeting revealed enormous fiscal challenges. They put the projected deficit for FY 2024-2025 at $7.4 million, with a projected shortfall of $11 million the following year.
Leaders will now cut $7 million from the budget to address the gap. In addition to various program cuts, Huntington Beach staff may ultimately be placed on a four-day work week.
The city’s financial woes almost seemed like an afterthought, published at the tail end of a week where book bans dominated the discussion.
“This process was chaotic … there are aspects of it I’m still trying to figure out,” said Councilmember Rhonda Bolton, who is part of the council’s minority. “This just does a disservice to our residents and I’m really unhappy about it.”
Huntington Beach’s conservative majority was already facing criticism for its relentless focus on culture war issues. As one former executive put it, “they’re not doing any real work anymore, it’s all these sort of performative fights.”
Those fights have included a public property ban on LGBTQ pride flags and changing the types of prayers said at city meetings. These matters look even more frivolous now that Surf City’s financial troubles have been exposed.
Huntington Beach has also been embroiled in costly lawsuits, like its fight against state housing mandates. Leading the charge is City Attorney Michael Gates, who recently received a substantial pay increase. He’s also getting more staff, despite the budget challenges.
Gates will need the extra help. The council majority wants him to help determine which books should be removed from public libraries – if it can keep them open, that is.