Temecula City Council gives go-ahead on potential diversity commission, other steps to address race, equity

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Valley News/Shane Gibson

The Temecula City Council last week gave approval to city staff to move forward with multiple proposals relating to discussions around race and equity that have erupted in the nearly two months since the death of George Floyd.

Some of the proposals include creating a new city commission on diversity, starting regular dialogue between the city manager’s office and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on community policing and other topics in the city of Temecula, and adding an “equity value” to the existing six values in the city’s Quality of Life Master Plan.

“This item tonight is a result of the city council’s discussion and request that took place at the city council meeting on June 9,” Temecula City Manager Aaron Adams said at the July 14 council meeting. “Since the horrific death of George Floyd on May 25, our country, our state, Riverside County and the city of Temecula have been stirred by organized peaceful protests and challenging conversations about systemic racism and equality, all of this under a national conversation calling for change.”

The proposals were created as a result of hours of conversations between councilmembers and city staff, Councilman Mike Naggar said, and were organized based on the core principles of the Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) program developed by the National League of Cities, which counts the city of Temecula among its members.

The three principles of the REAL program, which serve to divide the city’s proposals into three steps, are: “Normalize Conversations,” “Operationalize Actions,” and “Organize Sustainable Effort.”

“Tonight,” Adams said, “represents our first opportunity to allow the city council to engage in a meaningful dialogue, expand upon your previously shared ideas and provide direction to myself and the team on actionable items you want to see going forward.”

For the first step, “Normalize Conversations,” the city council gave its blessing to Adams and city staff to contract with professional firms to receive internal training on diversity and equity, as well as on media relations for staff and councilmembers.

The council also asked that city staff notify each individual councilmember of invitations to any community meetings and events that may be organized, in an effort to pay attention to community concerns about race and other issues. Councilmembers clarified, though, that they may not be able to attend each and every event.

“I don’t want any person who throws an event or decides to throw a community meeting or a talk session or what have you to feel disenfranchised if one or more council members don’t show up,” Councilman Mike Naggar said. “Many people do not know that in essence we all hold full time jobs, that being on the city council is — well it’s a paid position, but if you add up the hours, we probably pay to be on the city council. So a lot of it has to be meshed with our work obligations and other obligations that we do.

“I’d like to attend everything, Naggar said, “but that’s not possible and I think that goes for all of us.”

For the second step, “Operationalize Actions,” Temecula City Clerk Randi Johl told the council that many of the items before them would come back for approval at council meetings in the near future, but city staff was seeking consensus on how to move forward with planning each of them.

The first item in the second step was the formation of a board or commission with a focus on issues of race and equity. The council agreed that body should be a permanent commission on the same level as entities like the city’s planning commission.

Temecula Councilman Matt Rahn, addressing some views expressed in public comments, said he wanted to make clear that the goal of the commission would be to represent the entire community, and that it was not the council’s commission.

“We’re not appointing a commission for us, we’re appointing a commission to represent the community, the City of temecula and foster a community wide dialogue,” Rahn said.

He did say that he was unsure that a five-member commission in the style of existing city commissions would be a fair way to set up a body that focuses on diversity.

“I’ll tell you right now, I think a five member commission is not representative of the diversity of perspectives,” Rahn said.

Johl told the city council that as staff continues to work out how a diversity commission might be created, they will pull from the strategies other cities have used in the past.

“As much as we would like to think we are on the leading edge of this, we are not,” Johl said. “There are plenty of other cities out there that do have diversity and equity related positions.”

She said staff also expected to hear input from city residents who may have their own ideas.

“Additionally, our community that spoke tonight will also have ideas and suggestions,” Johl said. “And remember that every single one of our commissions is a Brown Act meeting. Every single meeting must be public.”.

As with all city commissions, the eventual members of the diversity commission will be selected through an application process, the council made clear.

Other actions to be taken in step two of the REAL program include ongoing communication with the community in the form of two-way dialogue through gatherings like coffee with councilmembers and meetings with homeowners’ associations; continued communication with law enforcement; contracting with a professional firm to facilitate conversations on race and equity in the community; the development of a city council protocol manual; and a review of citywide policies and programs like holiday recognitions, board and commission recruitments and community service “to determine opportunities for additional diversity and inclusion of the underrepresented and minority population of the community.”

In the final step, “Organize Sustainable Effort,” the council gave approval to staff to add an equity value that would “outwardly demonstrate the City’s commitment to overall equity for residents of all racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds” to the six existing values on the Quality of Life Master Plan, as well as create a refreshed budget process with the ability for additional public engagement to consider spending priorities on housing, public transportation and services based on the needs of underrepresented and minority populations.

According to city staff’s report on the items brought before the council, they are “not meant to be an exhaustive list of solutions to the challenge before us, but rather a starting point for discussion and consensus.” 

“As additional ideas and opportunities are brought forward, they too will be brought to Council for consideration and consensus,” the staff report said. “Temecula has a solid foundation upon which it was built as a City and community, and these efforts will only further strengthen its collective resolve to represent all of its residents.”

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.