Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Aug 21 Council Meeting - Parolee Housing on the Agenda Again

At last night's City Council meeting, it was standing room only and the crowd went out the door and outside.  Of most interest was the issue of parolee housing which was on the agenda again.  As a requirement, the Council needs to do two readings of any ordinance, and only after that +30 days can the ordinance go into effect.

There were over 25 people who spoke in the public comment section of the meeting and I can say confidently that every single person was opposed to the Council's actions.  I also spoke and here it the transcript of my statement:
The #1 priority of the City Council should be the safety of its residents. The City Council failed in its primary duty with its ordinance on parolee housing at the July 17 meeting. The council let fear of potential future litigation paralyze its collective thought process. This was demonstrated by the lack of creativity and vision in presenting only three options for the Council to choose from.
The council did not clearly present what their goals were in adopting the half measure ordinance that would seek to put parolees a mere 500 feet away from our schools and children. Instead, the only message I heard was that you needed to do something, and you wanted to avoid litigation. Doing something so ineffective is equivalent to doing nothing. Sure there was a fig leaf of a limitation – but tell that to the folks who live in Keller Ridge or Stranahan or right off of Oakhurst Dr. – the target location the Council has designated for parolees. It seems like the goal of the City Council is to avoid litigation at all costs, rather than protect the safety of Clayton residents. What prevents the Council from simply declaring they do not want parolees in Clayton, anywhere?
We’ve been told by the Council that there is a mandate by the State – that Clayton is required to accept parolees in these community based programs in our neighborhoods. But this isn’t true. AB109 directed the State to send prisoners to the Counties. Each county could adopt a plan on how it was to handle the new influx. But this doesn’t specifically bind the City. When you debate between 300, 500, or 1000 feet, it’s clear the city has choices on the regulations it adopts. Why didn’t the Council adopt the most restrictive ordinance possible?
That nearby Antioch and Oakley have greater distance requirements belies any claim that the Council is being as restrictive as possible. Fear of litigation has made the council lose sight of the real danger being ushered into our city. Don't the residents of Clayton deserve the greatest possible restriction, or does the Council want to adopt a new mantra, "not as safe as Antioch"?
The legal jeopardy the Council is so afraid of should be explored in much greater depth. The specter of potential litigation is fear mongering. If the city bans parolee housing, does the Council believe we'd automatically lose against a disparate impact claim? That we are banning parolees so we are discriminating against minorities? It's hardly persuasive that the Council explored all possible actions when in their diligence they forgot about the park in Stranahan Cir when they identified potential locations for parolee housing right next to the park.
If you can say that the ordinance passed is the very best the City Council can come up with, then you are not trying hard enough. The Council should go back to the drawing board and take action that actually protects all Clayton residents and more heavily restricts or outright bans parolee housing in the city.
We can do better and that is why I’m a candidate for City Council in the upcoming November election.
At the previous July 17 meeting, the Council was sure that they had done everything they can, they were being as restrictive as possible when they set the buffer at 500 feet from our children.  They spoke in no uncertain terms that a 1000 feet buffer would be a de facto ban and that would be too great a risk for litigation to accept.  But last night we heard a different story.  Last night, after listening to pubic comment, the Council backtracked from their previous position and all the sudden now a 1000 feet buffer is apparently okay and not a de facto ban.

The Council explains this discrepancy as a result of Staff and Council going back to look in more detail at the map.  And that was supposed to be comforting, that before they didn't do all they could do, but they decided to adopt a 500 ft buffer anyways?

Here’s the problem. Even though the Council increased the buffer last night, it reveals at best a group asleep at the wheel who failed to do their diligence at the July 17 meeting, and is now realizing their mistake. At worst, it shows poor judgment and a stunning lack of commitment to the safety of Clayton residents. It shows the City Council has forgotten its primary objective – ensuring the safety of the people. And while the Council stumbled around trying to get details for a new ordinance together on the fly at the Aug 21 meeting, the newly proposed ordinance is still badly flawed. That the Council would act so hastily, without regard to community input, is indicative of a Council that isn't responsive to the needs of Clayton residents.

It’s especially revealing in the way Councilman Shuey talks about the issue. When trying to justify the action of the July 17 meeting, here is what Mr. Shuey said:
“Thus, staff has come up with a proposal that does as much as possible to narrow the risk to Clayton.”
First, we know for a fact that the staff did not come up with a proposal that did as much as possible because at last nights Aug 21 meeting they revised and increased the distance requirement in the newly proposed ordinance. And while we can appreciate the potential risk to the city, this reveals a fundamentally different way of approaching issues. The first consideration should be the safety of the residents, the risk to the people. But no, if Mr. Shuey would have his way, his first priority is to avoid litigation, the risk to the city itself,but nothing about its residents whom he represents.

So what does changing the buffer to 1000 feet mean to the residents of Clayton? Perhaps the Council would celebrate, pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Hey, they listened (belatedly) and made a change! For everyone else though, that’s NOT what it means. If someone abuses you, but they only leave you bruised instead of breaking your arm, we don’t celebrate the fact that there was only a bruise this time. Here are the take aways for the residents of Clayton:
  1. The Council acts before weighing all available options
  2. The Council acts without prioritizing the safety of Clayton residents
  3. After acting hastily and without due diligence, it was only after candidates for the next election, myself and Brian Buddell, and other residents of Clayton spoke out and challenged the Council that they capitulated.
We should have a Council that doesn’t need to react after making terrible choices. We should have a Council that always acts with the best interests and safety of Clayton residents as a priority. A change to the buffer now is a face saving maneuver and a thin smokescreen to obfuscate the poor decision making by the Council.

 That is one reason why I'm a candidate for City Council in November and I hope to get your vote.