Friday, August 24, 2018

Alternatives to Council Approach for Parolee Housing

After Tuesday's contentious City Council meeting, and my previous post about it, I've had people reach out to discuss what went on, what's happening in town, and what can be done.  I really appreciate the opportunity to engage with everyone about this.

In discussing this issue with people around town, I've come across folks that support Council actions.  They say that this is the best we can do, that the Council has no choice. That the current Council is doing all they can to fight, while passing ordinances that appease the State. They complain that there is a lack of an alternative presented. They may say it's easy to criticize without offering solutions. But none of that is true.

It is obviously false that the City Council is doing everything it can do and this is the best possible outcome. How do we know this? Because at the July 17 meeting they approved an ordinance that put a buffer zone at 500 ft. and had to change it later because it didn't do enough.

They had claimed that the 500 ft was the best they could do. That 500 ft was the best possible outcome. That anything further would cause the state and the ACLU to target the city and we'd pay untold dollars in defending an indefensible ordinance. At the July 17 meeting they then said, 500 ft is the most defensible.

But then what happened? At the Aug 21 meeting they increased the buffer zone to 1000 ft. They said that 1000 ft was the best possible outcome. That anything further would cause the state and the ACLU to target the city and we'd pay untold dollars in defending an indefensible ordinance. At that meeting they then said, 1000 ft is defensible. Notice the pattern? If they are correct now after the Aug 21 meeting, they must have been wrong at the July 17 meeting. And if they were wrong then, doesn't it stand to reason that they could still be wrong? For something this important, I would appreciate if they would take more time to do their diligence.

So what is the alternative? What should the Council do? This is what the Council should have done:
  • The Council should have provided more time to gather input - public notice, hearings, and town hall type events
  • They should have laid out the goals of this and any ordinance, and their rationale for why they think those are being met
  • They should have identified constraints the city may face, and the diligence engaged in to test those constraints
  • The Council should have read into the record the increased risks parolee housing poses to the community - incident crime, police activity, and rates of recidivism of the parolee population
  • After providing this information, the Council should have listened to the community, provide them time to understand the issues, to offer their own ideas, and weigh the options.
And most of all, because the advice of City Counsel at the July 17 meeting was shown to be inconsistent, the City Council should have engaged outside counsel and apply more rigor around any recommendations. This is the type of decision making I would use if elected.  This is the type of leadership that was absent throughout the last two council meetings.  Jim Diaz to his credit, recognized this and voted no on the Aug 21 ordinance, even after voting yes on the less restrictive July 17 ordinance.

Councilwoman Catalano found another city that got into trouble and had to settle a lawsuit regarding their ordinance - why not engage outside counsel to determine if the difference between that City's ordinance and one that hasn't gotten sued is colorable? That the Council felt it had to act, that there was an urgency because the moratorium on parolee housing was set to expire, is not a point in their favor.  The urgency the Council faces is self inflicted. They had years to examine this issue and they punted until the last possible moment because they did not exercise due diligence.  The expression is, "poor planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on my part".  But in this case that's not true - poor planning on the part of the Council is a problem for all of Clayton residents.  They say they did not act because they were waiting to see what the state did.  I think that was a poor decision.

When the city is faced with major decisions that may lay outside the expertise of staff, it's okay to seek outside counsel. We know there was a low level of diligence performed because Staff had to backtrack the buffer distance, and they forgot completely about the park in Stranahan Cir.  The Council didn't know about pocket parks in Keller Ridge, and didn't know that those parks are outside the scope of the sensitive areas as described by the ordinance.  It's understandable if some members of the Council aren't in possession of all of this knowledge.  But they should have taken the time to find out well before the expiration of the moratorium was upon us.

Detractors may scoff at the criticism that the Council is setting aside the interests of public safety. And of course everyone will say they care about the safety of Clayton residents. But look at what actions the Council took. If they cared about safety as their #1 priority, would they have deferred acting on an ordinance until the last possible date? Would they vote in favor of a weak ordinance and then have to strengthen it later only after hearing everyone's complaints? Would they only listen to the advice of Counsel who had to backtrack on what was considered defensible? Would they set aside private parks vs. public parks, as if kids who play at private parks don't deserve the same protection as those that play at public parks? Would they target those that have the least means to protect themselves in multi-family neighborhoods to funnel parolee housing into? I'm sure the Council cares about public safety, but do they care enough? If they did, the Council would have addressed this issue much earlier, with enough time to do proper diligence, engage outside counsel, and truly explore all possible actions.

Further detractors may accuse new candidates of inflammatory rhetoric, that the Council is painted as mustache twirling villains out to harm the city.  But that's not true either.  I firmly believe that everyone involved in the Council, city staff, and other positions in the city are acting with positive intent.  I don't believe for a moment that anyone is out to do harm to the city, or its residents.  I respect the people who have stepped up to do public service, as I am by seeking election.  And reasonable people can disagree on what the best course of action is in any given set of circumstances.  What I lay out above, in previous posts, and in future posts, are the ways we may disagree.  I am presenting an alternative approach, highlighting the differences between what the Council has done, and what it could have done so much better.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues, these differences, and to present a clear choice in November's election.  I hope to have your support, and your vote.

There is one criticism however, that I fully accept.  The idea that opposing parolee housing is a form of NIMBYism (not in my backyard).  To that, I say most definitely not in my backyard.  I feel no shame saying that I do not want parolee housing in Clayton.  I do not want parolee housing in Clayton.  If that is NIMBYism, then so be it.  The types of crimes that are eligible for parole under the AB109 realignment as low level crimes, the non sexual, non violent, non serious (non-non-non) crimes include things like:
  • Meth/PCP/other drug related manufacturing and possession
  • Child stealing by person without custody
  • Brandishing firearm at person in vehicle
  • Second degree burglary
  • Looting
  • Grand theft of various kinds
  • Cruelty to an animal
  • Bring/possess weapon on grade school grounds
  • Threatening to injure a public or school employee
  • Threats against witnesses
  • Removal of officer's firearm while resisting arrest
  • Compounding or concealing a felony offense
  • Bringing loaded firearm on state grounds
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Taking of hostage
  • Assault on a public official
  • Causing train derailment
  • Battery of a peace officer with injury
  • Discharge of firearm in grossly negligent manner
  • Compel illicit relation by force
  • Selling of person for illicit use
  • Inflicting cruel/inhumane corporal punishment on a child
  • Possess firearm in school zone
  • Solicitation to commit a felony other than murder
  • Unlawful transfer of firearm to minor
  • Possession of assault weapon or machine gun
Looking at the complete list of crimes eligible for parole under AB109 (there are over 500, the above is a limited selection), I'm completely comfortable saying Not in My Backyard.