Scenes of peaceful protests for racial justice in Mill Valley in early June.

Despite passing a resolution of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and echoing its previously stated intentions to create real change in the community – from auditing the police force and identifying affordable housing opportunities to forming a vast task force to dive deeply into issues around diversity, equity and inclusion – the Mill Valley City Council got a stark reminder this week about the strength, vigor and urgency local residents feel on issues of racial justice right now.

For instance, the Council passed $30.3 million and $32.5 million budgets for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fiscal years (ending June 30), respectively, including reductions in several departments, including in the police department budget of about $234,743 this coming year and $299,761 in 2021-22. But many of the 200 people virtually attending the meeting via various mediums made it clear that it wasn’t good enough.

There were two major pain points, it seemed: pace, and clarity of language. On the former, residents had hoped the council would dig deeply, and immediately, into the police department’s budget, exploring the 22 recommendations from the community, including transparency on instances of MVPD’s use of force and complaints against officers, as well as information on traffic stops and crime statistics and an analysis of how MVPD policies compare with that of the recommendations of #8cantwait, a data-driven campaign to bring change to police departments and reduce the number of deaths and injuries related to interaction with police. 

It also included exploring a council-added recommendation of seeing how Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a community-based diversion approach with the goal “reducing unnecessary justice system involvement of people who participate in the program. 

The Council wants to establish the City’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force to look at those issues and many more. Senior Management Analyst Linn Walsh told the Council that at least 35 people had expressed interest in being on the task force, that the City had allocated $30,000 towards its work and would be bringing on a facilitator to lead the group. The funding could be for a facilitator or venues at the direction of the council and task force.

Walsh said the City would be providing regular, frequent updates on the formation of the task force. The report drew concern that there weren’t more details about the task force available yet, including the timeline, membership and stipend for the task force. The City committed to hold a Town Hall Meeting and/or a series of community workshops/conversations on making Mill Valley inclusive, welcoming, anti-racist, as well as offer opportunities for people of color to share their stories with leadership.

“This is a serious effort that deserves our focus,” McCauley said. 

“We are trying to move this along but also leaving enough time for people to respond,” Piombo said. “We’ve already got 35 folks and we don’t know the size of this task force. We want to maximize transparency and do it in a deliberate, purposeful and successful way. It’s important for us to do things right than to just do things fast. We are going to figure out a facilitator and have them weigh on some of the other issues

But the council also showed agility on the fly regarding the resolution. They received a ton of public pushback on the language around two specific issues: 

  • First was in the opening section: “We are appalled by the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement and recognize our duty to take action locally.” That drew outrage for not calling Floyd’s death what many said they saw with their own eyes: murder. The council agreed to make that change.
  • Second was the language in section 6 of the resolution: “Mill Valley residents have historically supported working towards a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community for people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, including all those who live, work, attend school and visit Mill Valley.” The sentence drew ire from many, including Fairfax resident Elias Karkabi, who called it “a very performative piece of jargon” “that’s just nonsense. That’s just whitewashing.”

Mill Valley resident Todd Carney pointed to the city’s history of redlining and racist housing covenants that excluded non-whites from buying housing. “Discovering any sort of path forward is going to have to involve going through that ugly history and saying, this was something that happened 60-70 years ago, and we know we can’t let happen again and we’re going to be explicit about why it won’t.”

The council agreed to amend the section to the following, at Carmel’s suggestion: “Mill Valley has historically not fulfilled its stated intent to create a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community for people of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, including those who live, work and attend school and visit Mill Valley.”

“Everything is on the table and we should take the time to get things right,” McCauley said, noting that he looked forward to a report on how MVPD measures up . “But it is going to take some time to be thoughtful about our actions. 

“So much of this has happened in the last few weeks,” Carmel said. “We’re not going to reorganize a major part of our government without thoroughly analyzing this. We need a fundamental review to answer the question, ‘how would you organize the police in a better way?’”

For the council, it’s become clear that despite the fact it has already done more work on issues of racial injustice in the past five weeks since Mayor Sashi McEntee quickly moved past a resident’s question about the Black Lives Matter movement in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, failing to match the urgency of the moment, there’s plenty more to do – and fast.

“It’s going to take more than five of us,” Councilman Jim Wickham said. “It is going to take all of us, the whole community, to resolve all of these issues.”

How Can I Get Involved and Participate?
Send the City an email at equality.justice@cityofmillvalley.org with your name, address, phone number, email address. availability for meetings, and any experiences or background which you feel would contribute to the effectiveness of the Task Force. Sign up to receive updates and calls to action on this topic.

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