Responding to community anxieties about the recent presidential election, Palo Alto officials plan to pass on Monday night a resolution pledging the city's commitment to diversity and unity and vowing to oppose "any attempts to undermine the safety, security and rights of members of our community."
The resolution, which the City Council will consider in its final meeting of the year, was prompted by a memo from Mayor Pat Burt and council members Karen Holman, Liz Kniss and Cory Wolbach. Every person, the resolution states, is "naturally entitled to live a life unmolested by harassment, discrimination, persecution, or assault, whether perpetrated by individuals, groups, businesses or government."
It also points to a "significant and growing concern in our community based upon recent national and regional incidents of hate crimes, discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, and fear of a rend toward more of these crimes in the future."
"There also exists considerable concern in our community of risks to marginalized communities of persecution, deportation, denial of constitutional and human rights, and relaxation of national law protecting people from discrimination, harassment and assault," the memo states.
While vowing to reject bigotry "in all its forms" and opposing any attempts to undermine residents' safety, the resolution also states that the City of Palo Alto "recognizes, values and will proactively work to ensure the rights and privileges of everyone in Palo Alto, regardless of religion, ancestry, country of birth, immigration status, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity."
"The City of Palo Alto will promote actual safety, a sense of security, and equal protection of constitutional and human rights, leading by example through equitable treatment of all by City officials and departments," the resolution states.
Wolbach told the Weekly that he floated the idea of adopting such a resolution during this year's bitter presidential campaign. The proposal picked up traction after Donald Trump won the election, prompting peaceful demonstrations by high school students in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
Wolbach noted that the while the tone of the national election inspired the resolution, so did the actual criminal incidents of hate and discrimination that were reported after the election in the Bay Area and in other parts of the nation. He also pointed to a recent decision by a group of student dancers from Palo Alto's sister city, Oaxaca, Mexico, to cancel a trip the group was planning to make to Palo Alto next spring.
"We have a very diverse community, and I think a lot of people are worried for themselves, their families and their friends," Wolbach said. "This is an opportunity to re-enforce our values and say that no matter what happens at the national level, Palo Alto is still in favor of diversity and inclusion."
The memo does not, however, offer specific policy changes. It does not, for instance, propose that Palo Alto become a "sanctuary city" like East Palo Alto, San Francisco and Seattle. Sanctuary cities have a policy of protecting undocumented immigrants and of not cooperating with federal immigration-enforcement officials. Wolbach said that after speaking to key city staff, including top staff from the Police Department and the Office of the City Attorney, he was pleased with the city's existing policies on this topic. Even so, he called the prospect of Palo Alto become a sanctuary city an "open question."
"One of our hopes is that this can be -- not the final word on matter but -- a first step," Wolbach said. "We're opening up the door to future actions by the council and staff and others in the community. And, speaking to staff, I got the sense that this would provide them with the backing they need to do the right thing."