News

Defying critics, Palo Alto grants over $300K to Downtown Streets Team

City to request information about nonprofit's response to sexual harassment allegations

Ruben Michael and Darlene Berryessa of the Downtown Streeets Team pick up litter in Palo Alto on Nov. 21, 2019. The City Council approved on June 15 more than $330,000 in grant funding for the nonprofit, whose senior leaders has faced numerous allegations of sexual harassment and a hard-partying culture. Photo by Sammy Dallal.

Despite public calls for more scrutiny of the sexual harassment allegations against Downtown Streets Team, the Palo Alto City Council voted on Monday night to allocate the nonprofit more than $300,000 in grant funding.

The nonprofit, which has won accolades over the years for its work in providing services such as housing vouchers and mentoring to homeless individuals, is also facing accusations from numerous former employees about a hard-drinking culture and incidents of sexual harassment. The allegations were first reported by San Jose Inside and corroborated by this news organization.

The $336,400 allocation that Downtown Streets Team received Monday night was part of $856,146 in federal funding that the city is distributing to nonprofits. This includes funding from the Community Development Block Grant Program, as well as the $294,909 that Palo Alto received from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The list of grantees also includes nonprofits such as LifeMoves ($294,000), Project Sentinel ($37,480), Silicon Valley Independent Living Center ($75,000) and Alta Housing ($149,950 for refurbishment of Alma Place and $29,931 to help the nonprofit, which was previously known as Palo Alto Housing, support residents in its single-room occupancy units).

Some residents, however, felt that the council should take more steps to ensure that the Downtown Streets Team has addressed the allegations against its senior officers before it approves the funding. Steven Lee, a member of the Human Relations Commission, told the council Monday that if it approves the funding without verifying the nonprofit's response to the allegations, it is abdicating its responsibilities and deferring to city staff and the Downtown Streets Team board.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

As a member of the commission's Selection Committee for grant funding, Lee lobbied for conditioning funding on the release of a report that was compiled by the Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer, who was hired by the nonprofit in 2018 to investigate the various accusations against the nonprofit from women who had worked there.

Lee said the council must address the allegations "fully and in the public view, and hold all organizations, regardless of the great work that they may do, to the same community standards and values." He urged the council to condition the funding on the disclosure of the Oppenheimer report.

"Sexual harassment is a serious issue. If the council chooses to remain silent or does nothing to address sexual harassment, the electorate will hold the Council accountable this coming November. Silence is complicity," Lee said.

Owen Byrd, chair of the Downtown Streets Team board of directors, assured the council that the nonprofit has already spent an enormous amount of time and money investigating the allegations. The firm it hired conducted 23 interviews of current and former employees and concluded that there was no gender bias in salary levels or promotion opportunities, Byrd said. There was also no evidence that staff was rewarded based on favoritism or socializing.

He also said the report "partially substantiated" some claims about behavior at the nonprofit, pertaining to a holiday party that occurred six years ago. He said the board has since strengthened its Human Resources Department, created a board committee to oversee human resources governance and increased training.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

"Where this has now come down to is (that) former employees are dissatisfied with the steps the board has taken," Byrd said. "They'd like to see us dismiss our Executive Director Eileen Richardson and Program Director Chris Richardson. The board has chosen not to do so."

Michele Dauber, professor of law at Stanford University, also urged the council to require Downtown Streets Team to share with the public a redacted version of its own investigation report. If the council approves the money based on an assurance from the organization's board chair, it would not be providing the type of "independent oversight that the community has a right to expect," she said.

"Doing less than that sends the message that you don't take sexual harassment seriously, and that you are happy to defer to staff recommendations even when they fall short of minimum standards of transparency and good public policy," Dauber said.

To date, however, city staff has declined to require the nonprofit to submit any documents pertaining to the allegations. Planning Director Jonathan Lait said Monday that it's "not the type of information that we typically request from nonprofit agencies that are engaged in (the CDBG) program." City Manager Ed Shikada concurred and said that the city looked at "questions of consistency among the organizations being granted."

The council agreed that given the nonprofit's prominence in the community and the seriousness of the allegations, the city should request the Oppenheimer report. However, council members declined to make this report contingent on this year's grant allocations. Instead, they directed staff to request that Downtown Streets Team provide some documentation relating to its response to the allegations before the end of August.

Council members Liz Kniss and Lydia Kou both lauded the organization's long track record of assisting the homeless population and said that it's difficult to see the allegations against Downtown Streets Team "continuing in the press."

Given that the city is giving a "fair amount of money" to the nonprofit, it would be appropriate for the city to see the whole report, Kniss said. "If there was some kind of allegation against one of us, we'd like that opportunity to put that to bed."

Kou agreed. She lauded the organization for its "noble mission" but agreed with residents who want to see the report. It would be great, she said, to "put this to rest."

Kou made a motion, which the council approved, that staff return before the end of August with an update about the Downtown Streets Team report. While this won't have any impact on this year's funding, Kou suggested that the nonprofit's cooperation on this issue may impact future grants.

"They're going to come back next year for more funding, so there's that opportunity," Kou said.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Defying critics, Palo Alto grants over $300K to Downtown Streets Team

City to request information about nonprofit's response to sexual harassment allegations

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 16, 2020, 1:04 pm

Despite public calls for more scrutiny of the sexual harassment allegations against Downtown Streets Team, the Palo Alto City Council voted on Monday night to allocate the nonprofit more than $300,000 in grant funding.

The nonprofit, which has won accolades over the years for its work in providing services such as housing vouchers and mentoring to homeless individuals, is also facing accusations from numerous former employees about a hard-drinking culture and incidents of sexual harassment. The allegations were first reported by San Jose Inside and corroborated by this news organization.

The $336,400 allocation that Downtown Streets Team received Monday night was part of $856,146 in federal funding that the city is distributing to nonprofits. This includes funding from the Community Development Block Grant Program, as well as the $294,909 that Palo Alto received from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The list of grantees also includes nonprofits such as LifeMoves ($294,000), Project Sentinel ($37,480), Silicon Valley Independent Living Center ($75,000) and Alta Housing ($149,950 for refurbishment of Alma Place and $29,931 to help the nonprofit, which was previously known as Palo Alto Housing, support residents in its single-room occupancy units).

Some residents, however, felt that the council should take more steps to ensure that the Downtown Streets Team has addressed the allegations against its senior officers before it approves the funding. Steven Lee, a member of the Human Relations Commission, told the council Monday that if it approves the funding without verifying the nonprofit's response to the allegations, it is abdicating its responsibilities and deferring to city staff and the Downtown Streets Team board.

As a member of the commission's Selection Committee for grant funding, Lee lobbied for conditioning funding on the release of a report that was compiled by the Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer, who was hired by the nonprofit in 2018 to investigate the various accusations against the nonprofit from women who had worked there.

Lee said the council must address the allegations "fully and in the public view, and hold all organizations, regardless of the great work that they may do, to the same community standards and values." He urged the council to condition the funding on the disclosure of the Oppenheimer report.

"Sexual harassment is a serious issue. If the council chooses to remain silent or does nothing to address sexual harassment, the electorate will hold the Council accountable this coming November. Silence is complicity," Lee said.

Owen Byrd, chair of the Downtown Streets Team board of directors, assured the council that the nonprofit has already spent an enormous amount of time and money investigating the allegations. The firm it hired conducted 23 interviews of current and former employees and concluded that there was no gender bias in salary levels or promotion opportunities, Byrd said. There was also no evidence that staff was rewarded based on favoritism or socializing.

He also said the report "partially substantiated" some claims about behavior at the nonprofit, pertaining to a holiday party that occurred six years ago. He said the board has since strengthened its Human Resources Department, created a board committee to oversee human resources governance and increased training.

"Where this has now come down to is (that) former employees are dissatisfied with the steps the board has taken," Byrd said. "They'd like to see us dismiss our Executive Director Eileen Richardson and Program Director Chris Richardson. The board has chosen not to do so."

Michele Dauber, professor of law at Stanford University, also urged the council to require Downtown Streets Team to share with the public a redacted version of its own investigation report. If the council approves the money based on an assurance from the organization's board chair, it would not be providing the type of "independent oversight that the community has a right to expect," she said.

"Doing less than that sends the message that you don't take sexual harassment seriously, and that you are happy to defer to staff recommendations even when they fall short of minimum standards of transparency and good public policy," Dauber said.

To date, however, city staff has declined to require the nonprofit to submit any documents pertaining to the allegations. Planning Director Jonathan Lait said Monday that it's "not the type of information that we typically request from nonprofit agencies that are engaged in (the CDBG) program." City Manager Ed Shikada concurred and said that the city looked at "questions of consistency among the organizations being granted."

The council agreed that given the nonprofit's prominence in the community and the seriousness of the allegations, the city should request the Oppenheimer report. However, council members declined to make this report contingent on this year's grant allocations. Instead, they directed staff to request that Downtown Streets Team provide some documentation relating to its response to the allegations before the end of August.

Council members Liz Kniss and Lydia Kou both lauded the organization's long track record of assisting the homeless population and said that it's difficult to see the allegations against Downtown Streets Team "continuing in the press."

Given that the city is giving a "fair amount of money" to the nonprofit, it would be appropriate for the city to see the whole report, Kniss said. "If there was some kind of allegation against one of us, we'd like that opportunity to put that to bed."

Kou agreed. She lauded the organization for its "noble mission" but agreed with residents who want to see the report. It would be great, she said, to "put this to rest."

Kou made a motion, which the council approved, that staff return before the end of August with an update about the Downtown Streets Team report. While this won't have any impact on this year's funding, Kou suggested that the nonprofit's cooperation on this issue may impact future grants.

"They're going to come back next year for more funding, so there's that opportunity," Kou said.

Comments

Barron
Community Center
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm
Barron, Community Center
on Jun 16, 2020 at 1:21 pm
2 people like this

If the Palo Alto Weekly and other local news publishers had scrutinized the PAPD over the years the same way they scrutinize other groups like the DTST than perhaps their wouldn't be need for police reform now. Instead the Weekly gave a pass to the police because they are bias for and prejudice against.


Resident
Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2020 at 4:42 pm
Resident, Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2020 at 4:42 pm
16 people like this

Thanks to Council member Kou for her positive motion to get more information about this troubling situation.


Due diligence
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm
Due diligence, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm
Like this comment

I have been a financial supporter of DST for many years. The press in the paper was quite distressing and will cause me to cease supporting this organization. I do not think that the city should allocate additional funding until the accusations are fully investigated. DST is a good organization which should cooperate to get it's name back in good standing.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:32 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:32 am
2 people like this

Posted by Due diligence, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I do not think that the city should allocate additional funding until the accusations are fully investigated.

DST is a private org, and, can do (somewhat) whatever it wants. But, since it wants public funding, it should be -transparent- about this issue, which it has not been.

>> DST is a good organization which should cooperate to get it's name back in good standing.

DST needs to do two things:

1) Be transparent about the issue. They have merely asserted that they have addressed it, but, not disclosed how they addressed it, or, what their current policies are. Use of public funds requires transparency. If they don't want to be transparent, they should stick to private donors.

2) Specifically, it makes no sense for an organization built around employing people with substance abuse issues to serve alcohol at employee events. Bad idea. Just don't do it. Is that the current policy, or, not? Why can't they just say what the current policy is?


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.