For what was at least the third time, a group of adults and kids sat in on the Menlo Park Council meeting, many of them supporters of two ordinances and a resolution laying out policies on how people who have immigrated illegally to the U.S. should be treated in Menlo Park.
When the council on May 23 voted 3-1, with Councilman Peter Ohtaki opposed and Councilwoman Catherine Carlton absent, to give preliminary approval to a "Safe City" ordinance setting limits on police cooperation with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), applause erupted from most of the attendees.
The "Safe City" ordinance essentially codifies current police practice with regard to cooperating with ICE and creates a punishment for violating the law. It also prohibits police from participating in immigration sweeps conducted by ICE.
Under the ordinance, which is scheduled to return to the council for final approval on June 20, Menlo Park police will not comply with ICE requests to hold someone beyond the time that person would otherwise be held. However, exceptions could be made for persons already convicted of a felony that is serious, violent or punishable by a year in state prison, or who have been convicted of a crime that is listed in the California Government Code 7282.5, such as a felony DUI.
The California Trust Act in 2014 established that local law enforcement agencies should not cooperate with ICE to honor civil detainer requests, or requests ICE makes of law enforcement agencies to hold onto someone up to 48 hours beyond their release date.
But the Trust Act includes a set of exceptions that permit police to honor such ICE requests, and exceptions included in the Menlo Park ordinance align for the most part with those in the Trust Act. Menlo Park, however, will not cooperate with ICE on the grounds of probable-cause suspicion, which is an exception included in the Trust Act.
The council also gave preliminary approval to an ordinance prohibiting the use of city resources to gather "sensitive information" about people (such as their race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin) for a national registry. The ordinance, originally proposed by Councilman Ray Mueller and adopted on a 4-0 vote, relates to concerns that President Trump might order the creation a Muslim registry, which he discussed on the campaign trail.
The council also passed on a 4-0 vote a resolution proposed by Councilman Ohtaki that calls on Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.
Such reform, the resolution says, should lay out ways for people to earn legal residency, offer a clear path to citizenship, address the question of future immigration for families and workers, improve immigration enforcement and the border patrol in a way that "is consistent with our nation's values," and find a way to fund the costs such changes might create for city governments.
'Safe City' ordinance
"Safe City" rather than "Sanctuary City" or "City of Refuge" is the name the council chose to call the ordinance governing police cooperation with ICE.
According to Cmdr. Dave Bertini, the police department already has a policy that it does not ask people about their immigration status unless it relates to certain crimes for example, if someone is the victim of a hate crime because of his or her perceived undocumented status.
Council members discussed what exceptions should be made for police cooperation with federal immigration officials, and agreed that only those convicted, not just suspected, of serious felonies would be eligible for an exception. Police could still exercise discretion on whether to cooperate with ICE.
The ordinance may actually have little effect in Menlo Park because the police typically hold people for only a few hours before they are booked at the San Mateo County jail.
The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which administers the county jail, does not comply with civil detainer requests from ICE, but it does give federal immigration officials information about when detainees will be released from jail because that is considered a public record.
The police department may still work with federal immigration officials on some task forces unrelated to immigration enforcement, Cmdr. Bertini said.
Council members Rich Cline, Kirsten Keith and Ray Mueller supported the ordinance, but it was opposed by Peter Ohtaki. He read a statement from Councilwoman Carlton saying she opposes it, but she was absent and did not vote.
Councilman Ohtaki noted that the ordinance does not really change police practice, and expressed concern that more than just the expected $70,000 in federal funds the city currently receives from the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security could be at risk.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is run through the Department of Homeland Security, he said. He works in emergency management, and said he doesn't want to take the chance of antagonizing the purse-string holders for emergency response funding.
Some locals also opposed the ordinance, mostly in writing, before the council's discussion, saying they thought the action was illegal.
"There's an argument being made that what we're doing is somehow illegal," said Councilman Mueller. "State law gives us the power to do this."
The ordinance will be reviewed by the council in a year, and the Police Department will be expected to provide a report if there are any scenarios when the ordinance has affected police decisions, according to the council's direction.
Senate Bill 54, which would essentially make California a "sanctuary state," would likely supersede local policies, if it is passed. The Menlo Park council voted unanimously to submit a letter of support for the bill.
The council has taken other actions regarding treatment of people who have immigrated illegally.
On Jan. 24, the council unanimously passed a resolution saying Menlo Park is committed to a "diverse, supportive, inclusive and protective" community.
On April 18 it passed a "welcoming city" resolution, agreeing to make a plan to figure out what the goals, audience, work plan and resources for making the city more welcoming to immigrants should be.
The council also voted to file an amicus curiae brief in support of a Santa Clara County lawsuit against President Trump's executive order to withhold federal funds from so-called "sanctuary jurisdictions." On April 25, a federal judge granted a temporary injunction in the case halting the enforcement of the executive order.
In other business at the May 23 meeting, the council:
• Held a study session with the South Bay Waste Management Authority to talk about renewing a contract and studying customer rates for trash, recycling and compost.
• Reappointed Michael Meyer to the city's new Complete Streets Commission.
• Recognized the retirement of assistant public works director Ruben Nino.
• Approved the Housing Commission's work plan, set to last two years.
• January 24: Menlo Park council considers 'sanctuary city' proposal