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.”

(6) comments

uffish thought

Under Councilmembers Jimenez and Rarback's proposal, if a single deputy witnesses a threat, he's not allowed to intervene because he's alone:

"require that officers wait for backup before initiating contact with a person who may be mentally ill or who may present a risk of harm to themselves and others."

In real life that translates to, if a large man is threatening a cop's own grandmother, he has to stand down waiting and let her take a punch before someone else arrives-- either a second deputy, or some unarmed "community service officer" with mystical people skills who talks the criminal into turning his life around on the spot.... assuming the thug's still there 20 minutes later when this extra help arrives. Can we say, unrealistic?

Defunding and eliminating deputy positions is also proposed by Jimenez and Rarback. With only eight current deputies, they want to reduce it to a paltry six and change.

Of course that would make it even harder to meet their requirement for a minimum of two deputies to stop a crime.

Furthermore, they want to prevent police from stopping unsafe drivers who, among other things, weave in their lane, don't signal, have headlights and taillights out, don't register their vehicles and presumably don't insure them either.

City Council Members, HMB will be known as a criminal's haven if you cut Sheriff's deputies, end traffic enforcement, and codify police non-response into the handbooks.

Please don't trade law enforcement for a big wasteful new department with wasteful new divisions, whose main function will be wringing their hands over the new crime created.

Wreaking more injury on the general public isn't the solution to the injustice done to Yanira and Sandra. As a start, ask for community-dedicated deputies and fund extra in-depth training for them. It's good for them and good for us.

Dan Stegink

City of Half Moon Bay is purchasing police services from the SMC Sheriff's Department. It's a cafeteria style contract where you can say "I want one community service officer, etc"

Half Moon Bay taxpayers are the customer. Sheriff's Department is the vendor. Whether it's called an Ombudsman, Police LIason, or Police Chief, many cities have a facilitator that makes certain police services are aligned/resolved to meet with the public's needs.

All local law enforcement 'policy' can be changed within existing state and local legislation.

I do understand it makes it more difficult for a huge department like Sheriff's to float employees around from city to city if they have different policing policies, but there are many cops in California that work for multiple departments, and most studies show most residents are best served by a smaller number of officers that are MORE embedded int he community vs occasional cops doing a "one day a month" stint in HMB.

Scott McVicker

While we wait for the next meeting, where exactly is this proposed system of policing currently functioning? For how long? We will also want to know if this is yet another "defund the police" initiative...as those have been a disaster. Lastly, something of this significance should be submitted to the voters...instead of being approved by the avid Zoomsters and a few local activists.

August West

SMCSO is not going to agree with any of this nonsense. It is just theater at this point. Theater with untrained actors with sinister motives.

John Charles Ullom

"...sinister motives..."

Childish.

August West

The irony of your comment when paired with your profile thumbmail is hilarious.

Yes, sinister. The "report" is complete and utter garbage. Long on rhetoric and short on any actual research or substantiation of any of its conclusions. So glad I am leaving. Have fun!!

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