By Gary Mussell
January 19, 2016 – An estimated 35 members of Naturists in the OC (NitOC) club, SCNA, the Camping Bares and others made their feelings known to the City Council of Huntington Beach over the cancellation of the monthly nude swims in the city’s gym.
City law forbids nudity in public places, but nudist speakers pointed out this was a private party and the city staff who were on site were volunteers. In addition, the gym’s windows were covered and the doors locked so that the public could not attend or see anything should they walk by the building.
Last September, the new city attorney decided the public law extends to private events on public property and refused to allow the pool parties. The parties were allowed for over 8 years without incident or complaint. There was no warning to the change in policy, no public hearing, and even the city council knew nothing about the change. All NitOC received was a letter denying the use of the gym and its pool.
At the city council meeting, nudists held up signs demanding the rescinding of the new regulation, known as AR704. Six speakers spoke against the regulation during the public comment period of the meeting. Each speaker had 3 minutes to address the meeting. Both Ron Mercer and Gregg Gatewood spoke eloquently that it was unfair for someone in power to impose their personal feelings arbitrarily onto an event that had demonstrated over the years a positive social and economic benefit to the community.
SCNA’s Rolf Holbach said,
“We are fully aware of your city’s anti-nudity ordinance that deals with the prohibition of public nudity, but these swims are private events, outside of the public view. Our members look forward to coming to Huntington Beach to enjoy these swims and depending on how far we travel from, often end up supporting local merchants from our fuel purchases, to restaurants, and even lodging. It would be unfortunate to let all these members and followers know that as respectful and law-abiding naturists, we are now being singled out, and are no longer welcome.”
Claudia Kellersch of Camping Bares reflected on the positive family values the swims have had on her own child. “I rent a motel room and eat in your restaurants when I come up from San Diego for the swims.”
Colleen Baylis reminded the Council that as a longtime resident of Huntington Beach, she had voted for many of the council members in the room and they should reject any regulation that was discriminatory and mean spirited.
Attorney Allen Baylis, President of NitOC, was the final nudist speaker. He reminded the council that the regulation had not gone through the council nor had any public hearing.
He said it was a private event by a non-profit corporation and the council was starting on a slippery slope should it start discriminating against private corporations whose philosophy its city attorney personally disagreed with.
No action was taken by the council since it was not on their agenda, but Baylis sounded an implied threat of legal action should the city decide not to rescind the policy change.
“I’ve tried to be nice,” he said at one point.
In total, the nudist speakers up took about 30 minutes of the meeting.
After the meeting, the general feeling among the nudists was that the council was very attentive, with the exception of the City Manager and the Mayor who walked out for a few moments at different times during the naturists’ public comments. The question now remains what will happen, and if the council will take any action. Comments from the City Attorney indicate that the regulation will remain in force unless directed otherwise by the council. With all the news coverage this is getting it may be on the council’s agenda at the next meeting, but then again they may just decide to let the regulation stand.
The protest received front-page coverage in the Orange County Register newspaper the following morning. The Los Angeles Times also posted an article, and both CBS and ABC affiliates in Los Angeles covered the story in their news broadcasts on Wednesday. By the end of the day over 200 different newspapers, TV and radio stations around the world had picked up the story.
“City employees have complained for years about the private events” City Atty. Michael Gates told CBS TV after the City Council meeting. However, he refused to give any details to Baylis when asked. In later news stories he claimed the employees “had trouble completing their work.”
On the ABC newscast, Gates was asked why the sudden change in policy when the previous city attorney had given his okay. “The new city attorney has a different opinion,” he replied. SCNA member Marsha Natalborg is also quoted in the newscast, saying “we are just normal everyday people who just happen to enjoy a recreational swim in a safe environment.
The entire meeting video can be seen at:
http://huntingtonbeach.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=10&clip_id=1206. The naturist portion begins at about the 1 hour 9 minute mark.