Update: Ed Shikada announced Thursday morning, June 4, that the curfew has been lifted after he and Police Chief Robert Jonsen had both determined that the conditions that had warranted the order no longer apply. Read more here.
Citing reports of potential criminal activity stemming from recent protests, Palo Alto instituted a curfew that began Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. and plans to keep it in place through next Thursday, June 11.
City Manager Ed Shikada notified business owners of the curfew in an email message earlier in the day on Tuesday. The curfew, he said, is "based on monitoring of potential criminal activity in the region."
The declaration of curfew, which Shikada issued Tuesday afternoon, will come a day after the city saw several peaceful protests by residents demanding justice and racial equality. Later that evening, at the City Council meeting, Shikada, Police Chief Robert Jonsen and other leaders condemned the May 25 killing of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minnesota and pledged to protect peaceful protesters.
Violation of the curfew, which will be in effect between 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m., is considered a misdemeanor.
San Mateo County also imposed a curfew on Tuesday afternoon, though the countywide curfew was slated to be limited to Tuesday and Wednesday. The San Mateo County curfew will similarly stretch from 8:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
County Manager Mike Callagy said in a statement that the county curfew is based on "looting and other criminal activities in the county as well as that in neighboring jurisdictions."
"While the county remains hopeful that protests will be peaceful, the County is aware of specific threats of civil unrest, including plans to conduct coordinated looting," the county's announcement states.
On June 2, Shikada clarified in an email to business owners that the curfew is "not due to lawful protests, which we support, but due to criminals taking advantage of current events as cover for their crimes." The declaration made a similar point and cited intelligence from the law enforcement community as the reason for the curfew.
That said, the city curfew will empower police officers to fine or arrest most individuals who are out at night. The declaration states that police are "authorized and charged, to the extent provided by law, with the responsibility of enforcing this curfew and are further authorized to arrest persons who do not obey this curfew after due notice, oral or written, has been given."
The declaration states that Palo Alto's law enforcement has observed "scouting behavior in Palo Alto, including in and around the Stanford Mall and downtown retail core."
"Local and regional law enforcement intelligence-gathering suggests that planning is underway for additional organized criminal activity that could very quickly threaten harm to persons and property, and that such activity is imminent," the declaration states.
The declaration claims that it is necessary to "immediately restrict the use of public areas throughout the city, including streets, roads, sidewalks, alleys, parks, plazas and other rights-of-way during the nighttime hours, according to the declaration."
The curfew means that the city will postpone its plan to allow outdoor dining, a program that was set to kick off Friday. The curfew will expire at 5 a.m. on June 11 and it will exempt public safety workers, emergency personnel or civilians engaged in police or emergency work. It also exempts utility workers, authorized representatives of any news service and homeless people; people traveling to and from essential workplaces; and people traveling to seek or provide medical care, according to the order.
In adopting the curfew, Palo Alto and San Mateo County is joining a growing number of cities and counties that have already done so, including Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. In the Bay Area, Santa Rosa and San Francisco have instituted curfews, as have Contra Costa and Alameda counties, among others.
While some large cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have experienced looting before instituting curfews, Palo Alto adopted it as a preventative measure. Shikada said the curfew strikes "a balance between ensuring peaceful and lawful protests, while safeguarding against the unlawful actions and organized criminal activity seen locally and throughout the Bay Area that could very quickly threaten harm to our community members and local property."
"The curfew is an important tool to keep our community and businesses safe during this challenging time," Shikada said in a statement.
Mayor Adrian Fine told this news organization that the action is based on "credible threats" about people targeting Palo Alto's commercial districts. He called the curfew a "preventative move" that is necessary for public safety.
"Folks can continue to exercise those rights peacefully and the city will protect them," Fine said. "We also have an obligation to protect private property and persons. There seem to be threats to that at the moment."
When asked about the 10-day duration of the curfew, the city's Chief Communication Officer Meghan Horrigan-Taylor said the timing was based on issues seen in the Bay Area and the expectation that peaceful protests will extend into early next week. Both she and Fine said that the duration may be adjusted.
"It circumstances change, we may shorten that," Fine said.
In anticipation of possible looting, numerous local businesses have already begun to board up their front doors. At Stanford Shopping Center, most of the entrances to the mall were blocked by barriers on Monday afternoon. The Apple store was boarded up and the jewelry store Shreve & Co. had a sign advising people that all merchandise has been removed from the premises. The Apple store on University Avenue was also boarded up and workers were installing boards on the side of Hotel Nobu on Hamilton Avenue.
Stanford Shopping Center has been particularly on edge since Sunday, when police in Menlo Park and Palo Alto received word that a large group of people was on the way to the mall to loot businesses, according to the Menlo Park Police Department. Menlo Park officers on the lookout for looters arrested two men who were on the way to the mall while allegedly in possession of stolen clothing and a stolen cash register.
Palo Alto Police Chief Robert Jonsen said in a statement Tuesday that the department is partnering with other Bay Area departments to protect communities.
"The threats to public safety continue in our region and a curfew is one tool of many to help us act more quickly to protect our community from harm," Jonsen said.
The recent announcements by the city and the county have already prompted a growing number of businesses in Palo Alto's commercial districts to start boarding up their entrances in anticipation of possible looting.
On Tuesday morning, the Apple stores on University Avenue and Stanford Shopping Center were among just a handful of retailers that had boarded up their stores. The list grew substantially by Wednesday morning. At the Stanford mall, stores such as Victoria's Secret and Neiman Marcus had already been boarded up and workers were installing boards at Bloomingdale's. A similar trend was unfolding at University Avenue, where Café Venetia was in the process of joining a growing number of boarded-up businesses, which now includes JoS. A. Bank, Lululemon, Arnold Jewelers, Maum, Juut and JPMorgan Chase, among others.