Palo Alto's elected leaders all agree that the city should create more holidays as part of an effort to spread awareness about cultural diversity, demonstrate inclusiveness and combat hate crimes.
But as the City Council plans to take up the topic on Oct. 2, a few questions remain unresolved.
Should Cesar Chavez, for example, be celebrated in the same breath as Dolores Huerta, his partner and co-founder of United Farm Workers, or should each of these labor leaders have their own day?
Should the Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Armenian Remembrance Day get the same treatment?
What about the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day? Is it now officially the Indigenous People's Day or can both names co-exist?
Juneteenth is almost certain to become an official day of recognition in Palo Alto after the city's Human Relations Commission voted last year to recommend its inclusion as a paid holiday. The holiday, which falls on June 19, celebrates the emancipation of slaves — in Galveston, Texas, in the aftermath of the Civil War — by Major General Gordon Granger.
"It's a time of celebration, it's a day of remembrance — an awareness day," Human Relations Commission Chair Kaloma Smith said during the commission's September 2022 discussion.
The decision on Juneteenth is also made easier by precedent; June 19 is already a federal holiday. Similarly, California recognizes Cesar Chavez Day on March 31.
"So that begs a question to me. Why has the city of Palo Alto not recognized those two holidays?" Vice Chair Adriane Eberle asked during the hearing. "Personally, I believe they should be paid city holidays."
Her colleagues on the Human Relations Commission agreed and unanimously recommended having Palo Alto add both days to its list of paid holidays. All the other potential holidays on the city's list would feature ceremonies, proclamations and other recognition events but without an actual day off for city workers.
The movement to add holidays was spurred by a memo that Mayor Lydia Kou and Council member Pat Burt wrote in spring 2022. The goal, they wrote, is to "promote equality, honor diversity and oppose racism."
"Unfortunately, we are too frequently reminded that significant challenges remain in our society, and some of the recent national political environment has undermined our mission of inclusion," the memo stated.
While the memo did not propose creating any paid holidays, Burt and Kou recommended recognizing Juneteenth, combining Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Day into one holiday that would be celebrated on March 31, celebrating Oct. 11 as Indigenous People's Day and proclaiming May as "Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month."
Some of these changes have already been implemented, at least in part. Last summer, as the city was approving new contracts with its various labor groups, it included a provision allowing all workers to take time off for a "day of reflection" or "historical significance" at any point in the year. The City Council also recognized May as the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month and hosted various events to mark the occasion.
If the council approves the commission's recommendation, Palo Alto would designate Juneteenth as a holiday and reach out to East Palo Alto to collaborate on a celebration event. The commission also agreed with Burt and Kou's suggestion to celebrate both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta on March 31. Under the new proposal, Holocaust Remembrance Day would be marked with activities involving local Jewish groups while the Armenian Remembrance Day would be recognized with an official proclamation.
The new holiday schedule would raise Palo Alto's total number of paid holidays to 12 (or 13 if you count the floating holiday). According to staff analysis, this would put the city in the middle range among comparable cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties which, according to staff, generally have between 10 and 15 designated holidays. The state of California and the federal government each have 11 designated holidays, according to a report from the Community Services Department.
The celebrations would come at a cost. A report from the Community Services Department estimated that total payroll on holidays at the current compensation structure and staffing levels is about $635,000. If the city were fully staffed, the payroll would be $735,000.
"However, the actual impact of an additional holiday is the loss of a municipal business day plus the incremental financial cost of approximately $100,000 to $120,000 for holiday-specific compensation," the report approved by Community Services Director Kristen O'Kane states.
While two new holidays are being added, one will be renamed. The Human Relations Commission reaffirmed the council's decision to rename the October holiday formerly known as Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day. However, in a nod to those who view the second Monday in October as the time to celebrate their Italian pride, the council also agreed to concurrently recognize it as Italian Heritage Day.
Vice Mayor Greer Stone was among those who led the push to rename the holiday last year, citing Columbus' "appalling" treatment of the Indigenous residents.
"In no world does it make sense to name a holiday after both, victims and perpetrators of some of the worst atrocities in our nation's history," Stone said at the council's September 2022 discussion.