January 24, 2021
Systemic Racism in Our Community
December 30, 2020
Times of Crisis Demand Transparency and Action
As our community continues to deal with an unprecedented public health crisis, this time of disinformation and division presents a unique challenge for local leaders as they seek to communicate crucial details to the public they serve. The national political climate has resulted in the obligation of ensuring that factual and truthful information is communicated to our communities falling to the local leaders that you see every day at school drop offs, in the grocery store, and with whom you communicate directly online.
It is within this context that I carefully viewed the many statements and coverage about recent unsafe gatherings and entries into businesses on social media and in local papers (https://www.toacorn.com/articles/high-profile-acts-of-defiance-shine-spotlight-on-sheriffs-hands-off-policy/). I find myself incredibly disappointed in the inaccurate representations and claims shared by a number of local leaders, particularly those who have been generally respected and trusted in our community. As we collectively face severe threats to public health, it is imperative that local leaders take a stand against those who have demonstrated that they care little for the fellow community members they put at risk with their actions. This starts by ensuring our local leaders avoid giving weight to the false and unsupportable talking points used by such individuals as it otherwise empowers their efforts and further jeopardizes public health. I appreciate the local leaders who have stepped up to the challenge, but we need all our local leaders to commit to fact-based communication in these challenging times, even when it is difficult or perhaps politically controversial to do so.
So in short, as it relates to the recent unsafe events referenced above, our public needs to know that the right to “peacefully” protest is not absolute, the relevant and permissible regulations of free speech have failed to be explained or addressed, the Governor’s orders are enforceable under the law, and our city and county have the means to take action to protect our community. These are the facts, and as discussed below, it is disheartening to see some work so hard to avoid them.
The Right to “Peacefully” Protest is Not Absolute
References to recent events as “peaceful” completely disregard the danger to others’ lives caused by those intentionally participating in potential super spreader events. Let’s be clear, there is nothing “peaceful” about mass mask-less gatherings and coordinated swarming of businesses, and we need our local leaders to immediately stop implying otherwise.
While alternatives are strongly encouraged, state public health directives do not prohibit in-person outdoor protests and rallies as long as social distancing is maintained and a mask/face covering is worn. Additionally, “local Health Officers are advised to consider appropriate limitations on outdoor attendance capacities, factoring their jurisdiction’s key COVID-19 health indicators. Failure to follow these requirements may result in an order to disperse or other enforcement action.” https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/
Recent statements made online by Thousand Oaks’ Mayor include the following (a similar quote was included in the Acorn article): “When it comes to free speech, assembly is legally permitted at shopping malls, per the CA Supreme Court. Since [not] wearing a mask is not breaking a law, and the first amendment right to protest is of course protected, law enforcement would be walking a slippery slope arresting people. Their action would not hold up in any court.”
The location of speech demonstrations is not the only consideration in determining whether government regulation is appropriate. The government may enforce general regulations on the time, place and manner of expression when the regulations are content neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interests (e.g. public health during a pandemic) and leave open ample alternatives to communication. For example, protesters cannot block access to sidewalks or buildings, or engage in speech likely to incite an immediate disruptive or dangerous disturbance, such as shouting “fire!” in a crowded room that causes a stampede of persons to head for the exit doors Local governments may also require permits for certain types of free speech activities. And as a side note, malls can also adopt reasonable free speech regulations. https://www.aclusocal.org/en/know-your-rights/protesters; https://www.aclusocal.org/en/news/why-freedom-expression-and-public-health-must-coexist
The Governor’s Order Can Be Enforced
One widely circulated explanation for the lack of enforcement is that deputies “cannot enforce a law that doesn’t exist” and that personal responsibility is the strategy because “there is no law that says you must wear a mask.” https://www.toacorn.com/articles/high-profile-acts-of-defiance-shine-spotlight-on-sheriffs-hands-off-policy/
In reality, the Governor has broad authority under the California Emergency Services Act to issue health mandates during a pandemic as long as a declared state of emergency is in place. The law does not have to originate through a bill passed by the legislature under these circumstances. https://www.capradio.org/articles/2020/06/24/yes-gov-newsom-has-the-authority-to-make-masks-mandatory-in-california-legal-experts-say/ Further, the Governor’s orders are enforceable under California Government Code, section 8665. http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=GOV§ionNum=8665; https://www.sdsheriff.net/newsroom/links/le-response-coronavirus.pdf
Additionally, the claim shared by Capt. Buschow in the Acorn that the Americans With Disabilities Act creates a loophole for enforcement ignores that the ADA applies only to “covered entities,” and does not include most law enforcement agencies. Spreading the notion that enforcing mask requirements infringes on disability rights perpetuates the myth that everyone has protections under the ADA and serves to dilute the protections for those qualified individuals who need them. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/07/15/fact-check-ada-disability-rights-and-face-mask-requirements/5391830002/
Our City Council Has the Power to Act
There are a couple things to note about the assertion that the city simply does not have jurisdiction over this issue because public health orders come from Ventura County Public Health and jurisdiction therefore lies with the county. First, the city contracts with the VCSO for law enforcement services, including to “enforce laws”, “safeguard lives” and “respond to public concerns.” https://www.toaks.org/departments/police. Additionally, many other cities in CA have taken proactive steps to ensure they have the ability to enforce COVID-19 health and safety mandates. Specifically, these cities have enacted local emergency declarations reflecting the statewide order (including mask and social distancing requirements) and providing local penalties for failure to comply (including administrative citations, infractions, or misdemeanors). Some cities’ orders clarify that the penalties are a measure of last resort after education and voluntary efforts have failed. See for example, https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=4904
Cities that have enacted such orders recognize that the failure to wear a face mask in current conditions results in extreme peril to the safety and health of persons within the city. https://www.santa-ana.org/sites/default/files/covid19/documents/eo14_20201204.pdf; https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/76636
The information on the City’s website includes a Declaration of Local Health Emergency from March, which was used to address a moratorium on evictions and to address the timing of commercial delivery operations. https://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/trending-topics/public-health. Noticeably missing is the need for mask use in public.
Reliance on personal responsibility and false “jurisdictional” claims wholly ignores the realities of the current public health crisis. While wearing a mask and socially distancing to protect others seems like an easy concept, we know that a sense of personal responsibility does not stop all individuals from engaging in acts that are harmful/deadly to others…we would otherwise have no crime in our communities. This is exactly why enforcement mechanisms exist. We do not expect our officers to walk up to a group of folks engaging in a fist fight with innocent bystanders and allow them to continue if the officers’ requests to stop fail. We shouldn’t rely on a hands-off strategy with a potentially deadly form of violence either.
What is the Cost of Non-Enforcement?
In response to inquiries regarding some of the broad inaccurate legal statements, I was also informed that the DA will not bother with people who do not wear masks because they are too busy with serious criminals given the lower capacity of jails due to COVID (here is some information on those criminals – https://www.toacorn.com/articles/outbreak-at-county-jail-prompts-inmate-release/). Additionally, I was advised that the small fines judges have imposed on businesses are not a deterrent, which results in a lot of county expenses for very little in return.
Look, some of the most difficult conversations I have had with business clients is explaining that even though a lawsuit brough against them is without merit/ill intentioned, it will cost them much more to litigate than to settle the case. Settlements can avoid having to let employees go or cutting a program because funds went to litigation costs. There are times, however, when the cost of not litigating a case is too high.
Putting aside that the DA’s office and our courts generally have limited involvement with simple infractions, if the decision to not enforce mandates is really due to a cost-benefit analysis, we need the data. Specifically, we need the data regarding the deterrent on individuals participating in potential super spreader events (not just businesses) and the cost to our community of not enforcing. In addition to the obvious moral considerations of the actual lives of community members that may be lost, what are the economic impacts to our community from further spread of the virus…how many more local businesses will not survive, what will the ultimate financial impact be to our local schools and the programs offered, how much will tax revenue, which funds essential services and projects in our city, decrease? Do more resources need to be devoted to enforcement in the short term to prevent long term devastating financial consequences?
Giving Legal Advice/Guidance
Because I am an attorney, I make sure to indicate that I am not the school district’s attorney (so I can’t give legal advice/guidance to or on behalf of the district) when I make statements about legal issues. I can, however, use my knowledge and background in evaluating all issues. When I pressed for the source of the broad legal conclusions communicated, I was referred to the Sheriff’s recent video on the issue of enforcement. While the Sheriff explains that the enforcement mechanism in the Governor’s orders is not something he wants to use, he does in fact recognize the existence of the enforcement tool and does not rule out using it at some undefined point. https://news.yahoo.com/consistent-inconsistency-newsom-coronavirus-lockdown-143056308.html In any event, local leaders must do their due diligence to confirm the accuracy of information, including legal analysis and conclusions, prior to repeating it as fact. Spreading falsities during a pandemic can literally cost lives.
If Not Now, When?
I was admittedly taken aback and disappointed in the reasoning provided in the Sheriff’s recent interview. While state guidelines are constantly changing, often inconsistent, and more information/direction is needed, this is true about the guidance for all sectors. This explanation does not sit well at a time when small businesses, schools, and families also have to constantly adjust detailed plans, implement new health and safety measures, and spend additional funds to meet new/changing requirements. The Sheriff explained that there may be a scenario, unforeseen at this time, when the enforcement mechanism in the order is a good tool to use and everyone will be in agreement. What exactly is that time, if not now, and when do we honestly foresee a time when everyone will agree as to enforcement? Those who are providing in-person services – such as grocery workers, health professionals, school personnel, and law enforcement following health and safety mandates – deserve better. There is simply no room right now for an approach of not taking action because it is hard.
Where is the public statement that things are incredibly difficult to implement and certain areas of the guidance are unclear, but we are working to get specifics from the state and will implement orders to the very best we can until then because of the significant threat to our public’s health? Where is the statement that we encourage legal expressions of speech and will work to both ensure such expressions of speech are protected and not permit illegal/unprotected forms of free speech? Where is the statement that violence takes different forms and knowingly participating in a potential super spreader event at a time when cases in our community are surging and we have 0% ICU bed availability is in no way peaceful? Where is the statement that we will use whatever means available to facilitate enforcement of these laws?
The attempt to appear diplomatic by blaming inaction on the inability to enforce executive orders due to misconstrued “constitutional rights” is in reality glaringly political. Now is the time to be crystal clear about what we stand for and the message being received is not only disappointing…it is dangerous.
October 10, 2018
Signs of a Bigger Problem
You know what really gets me? Trying to explain to our kids why some people break the rules. It goes against everything we teach them. Yes, I know they are just signs and the jury is out regarding their effectiveness. Clearly though, those abusing the rules think they need to place their signs in illegal places to win, and are willing to do so.
I reached out to Amy Chen, Mike Dunn, and Angie Simpson on Twitter and by email (twice) asking them to commit to removing these signs. It seemed like a reasonable request. Ms. Chen and Mr. Dunn have not responded. Ms. Simpson informed me during a conversation that she did not have time due to work and family. This is something I can personally relate to, especially in these many months of campaigning. Yet as candidates and, if elected, as board members, we will have a great deal of responsibilities and choosing not to follow certain rules because they hinder personal goals shouldn’t enter the equation.
Additionally, we aren’t talking about the occasional sign inadvertently misplaced by a well-meaning supporter. That happens in every campaign and it’s understandable. No - we are talking about the clearly organized and coordinated effort to place signs illegally in the areas most visible to the public - parks, the sides of busy streets, the entrances to popular shopping destinations, etc. Have you noticed that the numbers drastically increase on Saturday mornings when the city office is closed and unable to address reports?
I hear from many supporters frustrated at the blatant violation of sign regulations and who think we should just put our signs out there too at this point. I get it. Trust me - I really, really get it. This is how politics gets dirty. Rules are broken and values are ignored in the name of winning. The problem for me is that it’s just not who I am at my core. This isn’t leading by example. This isn’t the person that will credibly teach my kids about respecting the rules.
And let’s be clear, this issue is bigger than just sign regulations. Setting aside that some candidates have also struggled with candidate forum requirements and ballot designations, the blatant disregard for our community norms goes to a much more troublesome and disappointing issue. The willingness to intentionally and repeatedly break clear sign regulations in our city is indicative of the type of board members these individuals will be. Board policies and by-laws, state laws (Brown Act anyone?)…these rules will not be followed when they do not work to the advantage of these individuals. It’s a sense of entitlement and “above the rules” thinking that bothers me deeply and that we try extremely hard to teach our kids is wrong and unjust. So no, I won’t be placing my signs illegally and I will continue to set a good example for our kids. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I will make a good board member - you may disagree with me on certain topics but integrity and honesty happen to be really important to me. And, yes, I know there will be a handful of individuals who post negative comments in response to that statement. I knew that going into this. I’m also very secure in the person that I am and I act accordingly.
Your personal support of my candidacy and vision for our school district and our community is extremely meaningful and important. If you would like to help me get on the board, let’s show that this can be done the right way. Here’s how you can help with signs: Get out there and ask those in high traffic areas (homes and businesses) if they are willing to display a sign for a candidate who wants to restore our community’s trust in our board and lead by example. If you have kids, bring them with you when you ask and show them how it’s done! Let’s get these true representations of support out there for our community to see.
April 30, 2018
National Autism Awareness Month
As Ed and I sat on the couch filling out one of the bazillion forms for Johnny’s assessment, we looked over at each other. Without saying a word, we knew the results from the pattern of our answers.
Call it mother’s intuition, but I had known since Johnny was a toddler. He didn’t exhibit all the typical signs of autism spectrum disorder - heck, at that time, I didn’t even know there was something called “autism spectrum disorder”. He wasn’t lining up toys, he was very social, and he loved to cuddle. When I asked one of his pediatrician’s about my concerns, he looked at me like I was a crazy mom. We heard from many - “he’s just a boy” or “he’ll grow out of it”. I questioned myself and my abilities as a mother as a result, yet still…I knew.
I knew in the moments we had to race home before the fireworks started because he would scream in utter pain, in the moments when I would sit and watch a movie with him in a quiet room during holiday family gatherings that overstimulated him, in the horrible moments when he couldn’t have dental work done because of his intense anxiety, in the moments where I had to buy 7 pairs of the exact same pants because they were the only kind he could stand having on his skin, and in the moments when I noticed he got along better with younger kids…I knew.
As he entered elementary school, there were more signs. That’s what happens with “high-functioning” kids - the differences among peers become more pronounced as they get older. Among other things, he began what we now know is called stimming, which is often used as a way to calm oneself. Turns out that everyone stims - ever bitten your nails or tapped your pencil repeatedly on a table? Those on the spectrum just have more pronounced versions of this type of behavior. Our Johnny boy scratched his face/flapped his hands, made animal/baby noises…or super cool sound effect noises.
The biggest thing I have learned is that if you’ve met one kid on the spectrum, you’ve met one kid on the spectrum. No two kids on the spectrum are alike, which is why they now classify many things (such as Aspergers) as “autism spectrum disorder”.
“High-functioning” is honestly an odd place to be. Johnny isn’t in special education classes as he does not yet need academic assistance in that sense, but he definitely has to work harder in certain areas of general ed and he has specific social and emotional needs. We learned that people often have overlapping diagnoses - for Johnny, it includes ASD, ADHD, and anxiety. His anxiety causes him to have to work much harder and prepare much longer than most kiddos at things he loves and wants to do, but frankly can’t get to a place where he can do it. As a result, Ed and I have cried (like ugly cried) at what are seemingly little moments in life…the first time Johnny stood on stage with the rest of his class in a school performance, when he decided to give the rock wall a chance at his school’s fall festival and climbed up all of about four feet, and when he put his head in the water of our pool after intense work with his amazing instructor.
When we received the official diagnosis, we decided it was not something we would try to hide. We didn’t ever want it to be seen as something negative, because we firmly believe that it’s simply a part of who Johnny is as a person. This was the best decision we could have made. Those who do not have experience with someone on the spectrum cannot be expected to get it. By being open, we are able to educate others who can then understand him and other kids with struggles/needs better…and also see past some of the things that appear different to all of his amazingness.
Speaking of which - Johnny is the MOST imaginative person I have ever met in my entire life. He is able to create worlds that the minds of others simply aren’t capable of creating. He is kind and loving - he truly cares about other people, even if he doesn’t always express it. He cracks us up on a regular basis with his amazing sense of humor and his now infamous dance moves. He gets really excited about little things, which in turn makes us remember to stop and enjoy the little things in life. And he tries really, really hard to accomplish things he wants to do.
He has also changed us as parents and people. As a type A personality who likes to have order and control in my life, I have had to learn to be much more understanding, flexible, and to pick my battles. It has unquestionably made me a better person and I am thankful that Johnny has changed me in these ways. Ed and I were suddenly dealing with things that parents aren’t just equipped to handle and we had to learn the best ways to support each other because we quickly realized that we deal with struggles as parents in much different ways and that in the midst of caring for your child, other relationships often fall by the wayside. And our amazing daughter Abbie is growing up to be someone who is able to see things in people that others do not see, is able to explain differences in her brother to others who comment/ask questions, and defends and stands up for those seen as “different”.
It is often not apparent to others that Johnny has special challenges, so we have had to quickly get over feeling the stares and judgment of those who think he’s just acting out or lacking in parental guidance. That judgment in moments when he struggles with his emotions or when it appears we are forcing him to do something he doesn’t want to do…that was admittedly REALLY hard at first, but I rarely pay any mind to it now because I know that those who judge simply don’t have a basis for understanding. But if I can ask one thing in honor of autism awareness month, it’s this - take a moment to learn about the kids around you and talk to your own kids. I can tell when parents have done so. Johnny has friends at school that get him. They know his little quirks (he still likes to give his buddies bear hugs and regularly talks a mile a minute at a high volume) and they also know his amazing strengths (he often invents the games he and his friends play and can make his buddies crack up). Still, there are many kids that do not understand him and I will be super straight with you…that is extremely difficult. It’s the hardest part as a parent - it’s what keeps us up at night. As parents, we all want to know our children are included and accepted. So, talk with your kids- read them books about kids that have differences, point out that diversity is a positive thing, explain that people’s brains work differently and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, teach kindness, and most importantly - set an example by your own actions and words. I promise you - your life will be positively affected by these amazing kids, too.
February 19, 2018
“Be bold, be respectful, be a leader”
I recently had the opportunity to attend a program with the Ventura County Women’s Political Council. It was an appreciated dose of inspiration. During the program, I had the privilege of listening to the Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California (the first Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice).
Much of what she spoke about was relevant to issues that our community is facing at this time. She talked about how our strength is in our diversity and that we should surround ourselves with diverse points of view, while remaining respectful to one another. I strongly believe in this viewpoint and see this approach to political discourse as more important now than ever. We live in a varied and dynamic society and must learn to live together and communicate on issues of concern without the anger and resentment that has recently become the hallmark of both our national and local politics. Opposing views and respect should not be mutually exclusive concepts. It is important that we learn to listen to and talk with one another without contempt, and keep in mind that, despite our differences, we are all in this together and should all have an opportunity to be heard.
Her parting words have lingered with me and I am going to let them guide me during my campaign - “be bold, be respectful, be a leader”.
A chance to say thank you
As an added bonus to the morning, I had the much-appreciated opportunity to personally thank current State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. I interned for Senator Jackson when she was a California State Assemblymember in the Capitol while I was in college. Very early on, I observed that she thought about issues in a way many other representatives did not. She was able to identify gaps and anticipated unintended consequences with proposed legislation, and she asked thoughtful and probing questions.
Senator Jackson made a point of speaking one-on-one with her interns, something I was surprised to learn that other representatives did not do. During our discussions, she explained that her legal education taught her to think in this way. I wanted to learn these unique critical thinking skills and use those to benefit and advocate for others; My experience in her office solidified my decision to attend law school.
In each of our lives, there are moments and people that have a lasting impact on us. After so many years, it was great to thank her in person for being one of these people and providing me with this experience. It also reminds me what a big impact we can have on the lives of young people, when we treat them as worthy of our time and recognize what they have to offer to the world.
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Jenny Fitzgerald at the Ventura County Women's Political Council
Paid for by Jenny Fitzgerald for CVUSD School Board 2018