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June 2, 2023
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Planning Commission discusses diversity plan

In August 2021, Councilmember Mary Badame, who is now Vice Mayor, made a motion to put $104,000 into justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) consulting work.

It was seconded by Councilmember Matthew Hudes and approved unanimously, splitting the pot between two vendors—with American Leadership Forum given $54,000 to focus on the Town’s partnerships with local organizations and the broader community, and ReadySet getting $50,000 to examine the Town’s internal structures.

And on March 22, the Planning Commission took a first look at the result of what ALF came up with.

Discovery Report cover
The JEDI analysis aka the “Discovery Report” cover. (Town LG)

The report was the result of 18 “discovery sessions” with 27 people from the ranks of nonprofits, business, faith communities and education, and it didn’t mince words about the challenges involved in putting the plan into place.

“The work of grappling with race and systemic inequities is hard and not quickly resolved,” it states. “It requires courageous and brave leadership, often in the face of strong opposition.”

After all, when the money was approved for the work plan, three community members spoke in opposition. That reticence was in plain view at Planning Commission as Ronald Meyer, in his blue National Rifle Association shirt, took to the microphone to express his bewilderment at why Los Gatos is devoting resources to tackling “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” issues.

“What is DEI going to do for the citizens of Los Gatos? The whole assumption and presumption is that we have a problem,” he said. “What is the problem? And quantify and qualify it for us. Because I see a lot of aspirational, utopian, socialist ideas in this plan.”

He said he worries that the staff time going into this initiative will take away from “rightful services” being delivered to Los Gatos residents.

Ronald Meyer
SPEAKING HIS MIND – Speaking during public comment, Ronald Meyer questioned the need to put Town resources into diversity work, which he worries could take away from service delivery for current residents. (Town LG / YouTube)

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Kathryn Janoff admitted finding metrics to monitor the progress of diversity work can be hard, but she said it’s not impossible.

For example, the Town can develop surveys, and the Chamber of Commerce can solicit perspectives from business owners, she said.

“There’s a lot of data that you can gather,” she said. “Whether or not it’s ‘success’ is another question. But you’ve gotta have measurements in place—not necessarily to measure success, but…are we moving the needle in the direction that we want to go.”

Commissioner Melanie Hanssen said, since she’s not a member of a marginalized group, she understands that it can be difficult to define what it means to feel “welcome” in Los Gatos.

“I don’t know what it feels like to not be welcome,” she said. “And so, for me, I know that we need to have safe spaces for people, for visitors, and for the workers that are here…I would hope that if we do go the route of having a Unity Commission, that that would be the first task that they would take on.”

The report urges the formation of a facilitated, community working group to build relationships and develop a “deeper understanding of JEDI concepts,” a plan it notes is already moving forward.

And it recommends using art and outreach to create “safe spaces for learning and expression.”

ALF is also pushing the Town to expand access to records and information to improve transparency, and it encourages the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department to strengthen its relationship with Santa Clara County’s Behavioral Health department.

Melanie Hanssen
Melanie Hanssen said having a commission to roll out the Town’s diversity plan could be helpful in addressing problems that exist but aren’t visible to everyone. (Town LG / YouTube)

Janoff said the diversity challenge isn’t directly visible to her, either.

“But I know it’s there,” she said. “I’m white, I don’t get told to leave town. Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. I know personally from my own family’s experience that my family members who aren’t white don’t feel comfortable in Los Gatos. So, I know that there’s a problem. And I know that there are meaningful ways that we can go about solving—or working—on it.”

She suggested New Museum Los Gatos and other arts organizations could be part of this effort.

“An area we should tap into…is the history of the town,” she said. “We have history of racial discrimination. We have history of lynchings off the Main Street bridge. We have history of deed covenants that are restrictive. And, I’ve shared this before, but the property that I own has such a covenant in it, where it specifically prohibits persons of other races or colors from owning the property that I live in. That covenant was written after it was determined to be illegal by the Supreme Court of America—by 10 years. So, that’s a history that we have throughout town…But we also have a rich history of the town being inclusive. Look at all the work that was done to build Los Gatos. There’s so many trades and skills that came in to build. And even after the war there was a huge GI influx after the 1940s to build this town. It was an inclusive place to be in a lot of different dimensions.”

Commissioner Susan Burnett said while she supports diversity initiatives, she said she felt like the report was ideologically one-sided.

“Looking at the names, and the people involved, I didn’t see a good mix of other voices, maybe from the community…people who have lived here all of their life,” she said, suggesting that Los Gatos has already been doing a lot and that the report might go too far. “I think it’s almost overkill. I think we first need to use, and follow through, with what Los Gatos has already started to institute.”

She pointed out that the 2040 General Plan was recently passed not with the mandated “Environmental Justice” element, but with one that went further—a “Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice” element.

“We’re already making so many strides in this direction,” she said. “I’m just saying, that when it comes to wanting funding—and a new, maybe, commission for this—I think it’s going a little too far.”

No action was taken during the meeting.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].

1 COMMENT

  1. Drew,

    What was the purpose of mentioning my NRA shirt? Bias, prejudice, bigotry and hypocrisy are evident in your Article’s Propaganda Piece!

    The correct definitions of DEI are Division, Entitlement, and Intolerance. Your Propaganda Article exemplifies these correct definitions!

    Being Canadian, it appears you do not understand the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the 1st and 2nd Amendments. The ignorance disqualifies you from any comment regarding my exercise of those rights.

    You are a perfect example because the American People have lost trust in America’s Left Wing Media Propaganda. Your Propaganda poisons the Town of Los Gatos discourse via your bias, prejudice, bigotry, and hypocrisy.

    You might want to get a copy of the USA’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution. The Cato Institute has a free 3 1/2″ X 5″ 60-page booklet that can read in about 30 to 40 Minutes! Get one and read it!

    The arrogance and ignorance exhibited in your Propaganda Article is loud and clear!

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