The Half Moon Bay City Council last week agreed to address a controversial police reform proposal, but even the decision to discuss it at the next meeting was earnestly debated.
The council voted 4-1 to take up the proposal at its June 15 meeting. It is outlined in a report co-written by Councilmembers Harvey Rarback and Joaquin Jimenez that seeks to change law enforcement policies and responsibilities within the city.
The report, titled “The Jimenez-Rarback Report on Policing and Public Safety in Half Moon Bay,” proposes the city invest more resources into de-escalation, conflict mediation, and mental health services. It calls for a new Public Safety Department, which would work with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office through a restructured contract.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, a dozen people urged the council to formally examine police reform options and directly referenced the report from Jimenez and Rarback. That immediately prompted the city to vote on examining the report at the following meeting, an unusual move as future agenda items are typically the last topic at city council meetings.
Though Councilmembers Deborah Penrose and Debbie Ruddock both agreed to look at the proposal, both stated their opposition to any quick decisions on police reform. They noted the difficulties of implementing changes without approval from the Sheriff’s Office and a desire to focus on getting feedback from focus groups and communitywide surveys.
“I’m not going to act without a thorough investigation of the issues and consideration of broad public input,” Ruddock said. “I would agree to discuss this at a meeting out of courtesy, but I’m not committing to any course of action.”
Mayor Robert Brownstone voted against the motion, his first dissent in 2 ½ years on the City Council, he said. Brownstone stated he was in favor of police reform but that there wasn’t enough community input yet to make the kinds of changes proposed. Like Ruddock and Penrose, he pointed to a need for the existing Public Safety Subcommittee and focus groups to address public input.
“I think we should have a conversation and input from the community. What I disagree on is the process,” Brownstone said.
The proposal designated subdivisions for a Public Safety Department, including an Emergency Services Division, which would be split between mental health, domestic violence and homeless outreach emergencies. A Community Services Division would be responsible for traffic enforcement, crime reports, beach safety, and run a citizen complaint hotline.
The report also outlines the new role of a police chief, who would be appointed by the City Council. The chief would be the director of a new Public Safety Department and be responsible for all aspects of public safety in Half Moon Bay, except for fire and emergency services provided by Coastside Fire Protection District.
There is some legal ambiguity about the authority of the police chief, as City Attorney Catherine Engberg noted in a previous meeting. She said Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is effectively the city’s police chief under the current contract. But Jimenez and Rarback argue that state law mandates the city must have a police chief who is held accountable to the City Council.
The report noted the importance of a timeline, given the city’s contract with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office expires in June 2022, and it must notify the Sheriff’s Office if it intends to modify or terminate the current agreement by Sept. 30, 2021.
The report also details the cost of the proposed changes. It states that the average annual cost of a Coastside deputy is $264,000, including salary and benefits, while the city pays $2.4 million for eight full-time deputies. The report suggests hiring more unarmed community services officers and that one way to get those funds would be to cut one deputy and reduce the workload for another by 40 percent. The report states that “would free up at least $1.6 million for alternative response personnel, many of whom would be on an on-call basis.”
“To best address the needs of the community, there are a lot of options on the table,” Jimenez said. “Together, we can pick and choose what we want and what our community needs.”