Overview

Citing concerns over the lack of clarity surrounding a proposed resolution that would declare Temecula a "sanctuary city for the unborn," the council voted against moving the proposal forward at this time.

It was a packed house Tuesday night at Temecula City Hall as the council voted 4-1 against putting a proposed resolution declaring the city a “sanctuary city for the unborn” on a future agenda for further discussion at this time.

“There is no winning answer,” Councilmember Maryann Edwards said during the meeting. “I told you I am pro-life, but when I have this hat on, I am not going to take the chance of the city being sued by the state of California. It couldn’t have been more clear.”

The decision came after hours of comment from both the public and the council both in favor of and against the proposed resolution, but the council ultimately decided there were too many unanswered questions to move the item forward.

Why was this proposal up for discussion?

Councilmember Jessica Alexander asked the rest of the council to consider putting the item on the agenda at the council’s Sept. 13 meeting.

“Are we willing to stand up and fight for every resident including the unborn babies who are voiceless,” she said. “Let us be the first city in California to make a stand. 

“Let’s mark our city as a sanctuary city for Temecula’s unborn,” she continued. “This fight has been brought to our doors because of Sacramento’s overreach. Let’s stand up for righteousness and justice.”

Alexander noted that pregnant people in Temecula are able to seek abortion care both in-person at a local women’s health clinic and in the privacy of their own homes through medication abortion by mail.

“Is that what we want in Temecula,” she said. “I say let Temecula be known as a safe haven, not as an abortion sancturary. Let the world know that Temecula stands for life from womb to tomb and that we stand against bills such as AB 1666 and AB 2223. These types of bills will not only destroy our city, but will also destroy mankind.”

Since the item was not on the agenda for that meeting, the only thing the council could do was put it on Tuesday’s agenda to discuss whether to place it on a future agenda.

“Councilmember Alexander’s request will be placed on the next agenda under the items to be discussed for future agendas,” City Attorney Peter Thorson said.

On Tuesday, Alexander said that this proposed resolution, for which no draft has been released, was not a law banning abortion, but rather the city “taking a stand.”

“I am asking this body today to create a resolution that affirms Temecula stands for life from conception to natural death,” she said. “Contrary to the misinformation that has been created, I am not here to make a law. 

“I am here asking for a resolution to be made to let everyone know where we stand,” she continued. “As we know the basic definition of a resolution is to state what we stand firm on. It is our duty as city council members to set the standard for what our city stands for.”

What was the public’s response?

There were a number of people who spoke both in favor of and against further consideration of the proposed resolution during the council’s two 30-minute public comment sessions.

Their comments included calls for Alexander to step down from her seat on the council, multiple references to possible litigation from the state of California and impassioned pleas to “not bring the whole city down,” and to “keep [her] personal opinions and beliefs out of other people’s lives.”

“Here we are once again mired in a needless controversy, a public embarrassment being bashed on media sites, a pariah on the brink of being sued by the state of California because Ms. Alexander continues to use her position to further her own tabloid ambitions and push her personal ideology on the citizens of Temecula,” Jennifer Scharf said. “In doing so, she has shown that she is a hypocrite and cannot heed her own advice regarding the role of city council.”

Those who spoke in favor of Alexander and her proposal said that she was providing a “voice for the voiceless,” predicted that the city would “thrive like never before,” if a resolution like this was passed, and urged the councilmember to “tune out the noise.”

“For some reason, the lives of the unborn have been under serious attack by those who dismiss them in the name of women’s rights,” Pastor Simon Cooper said. “What about the rights of the unborn? What about the rights of unborn women? I ask you with all my heart and sincerity to show support for the unborn by approving a resolution for Temecula being a sanctuary city for life.”

The city also received 122 emails about the issue, 84% of which were against the proposed resolution being put on a future agenda. Alexander said she had collected more than 300 signatures of Temecula residents in support of her proposal.

What was the council’s response?

Mayor Pro Tem Zak Schwank, who was the first member of council to speak on the issue following public comment, said he was frustrated and believed Alexander was “playing politics with people’s lives and emotions.”

“It’s clear to me that you think your role in the council is to serve yourself, your career, your church, your pastor, and your political party before you serve the constituents and the city of Temecula,” he said.

And while Councilmember Maryann Edwards personally identified as “pro-life,” she said that though she felt the city was already a sanctuary city in this capacity, she could not support putting the proposed resolution on the agenda.

“To me, Temecula is a sanctuary city without using it in the legal sense, which will cause us to be sued by the state of California,” she said. “But here’s what Temecula does. We provide safe havens for people to get counseling and support and tangible materials, diapers, formula, counseling, blankets, furniture and pajamas for newborns and for mothers who are in trouble or who have been abandoned by their families.”

Edwards also noted that the city of Temecula helps fund Birth Choice and a number of other organizations like it and that local churches provide shelter and clothing for pregnant people in need of help.

“If that isn’t a sanctuary city, then I don’t know what it,” she said.

Councilmember James “Stew” Stewart said he identifies as “pro-choice,” but said that his decision to not support the resolution going forward was not due to his personal beliefs, but what he felt was best for the city as a whole.

“I think what you’re talking about is the wrong level of government for this,” he said. “That’s not our job to solve an issue much bigger than the city of Temecula. You’re talking, probably, the biggest issue on the planet, and what our job is, is to fix the roads, have enough cops on the streets to protect our citizens, and that’s the problem that I’m having with this whole thing is you need to be talking at a much higher level.”

Mayor Matt Rahn, who also self-identified as “pro-life,” started his comments by saying there was a lot to unpack about the proposed resolution.

“We were a little bit blindsighted by this at our last meeting with this, because we had no idea it was coming,” he said. “We had a bunch of speakers lined up to talk about an issue, and we didn’t have the opportunity to have a conversation with the city attorney or city manager’s office or anybody else to say, ‘Where are the guardrails in California? Where is our authority? What can we do as a community if we chose to do something to move this forward?”

One of the questions Rahn brought up included whether Alexander proposing this resolution presented a conflict of interest since she’s director of Temecula’s Birth Choice Center, a question he said would have to be referred to the city’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

“There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty around this,” he said. “I don’t want you to be put into a position, or any of my colleagues for that matter, and this is something we do is we make sure that we protect this councill from those types of accidents, those kinds of violations because of, you know, these issues.”

What about the state?

On Friday, the city received a letter from Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office in regards to Alexander’s Sept. 13 comments that made clear any local law conflicting with state law is “void.”

“The California Legislature and the California Supreme Court have declared time and again that California is a reproductive freedom state and that Californians have a right to access abortion,” the letter read. “In 1981, the California Supreme Court held that ‘all women in this state rich and poor alike possess a fundamental constitutional right to choose whether or not to bear a child.’”

The letter went on to state that “any attempt by the city of Temecula to limit an individual’s ability to exercise their right to reproductive choice and bodily autonomy would be a violation of state law.”

The letter stressed that Bonta “takes seriously his obligation to protect Californians’ right to reproductive freedom,” and that his office “will not hesitate to take legal action should a local regulation conflict with California state law.”

Hours before Tuesday’s meeting, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law 13 additional bills in an effort to “further protect people from legal retaliation and prohibit law enforcement and corporations from cooperating with out-of-state entities regarding lawful abortions in California, while also expanding access to contraception and abortion providers in California.”

“An alarming number of states continue to outlaw abortion and criminalize women, and it’s more important than ever to fight like hell for those who need these essential services,” Newsom said in a release. “We’re doing everything we can to protect people from any retaliation for accessing abortion care while also making it more affordable to get contraceptives.”

What happens now?

The city council voted on two motions regarding the proposed resolution. 

The first was to decide whether to place the proposed resolution on a future agenda for further discussion. Ultimately, Edwards made the motion to not place the item on a future agenda due to the number of questions surrounding the resolution, and the council approved the motion 4-1 with Alexander voting against.

The second was to decide next steps. Rahn made a motion that would provide council members an opportunity to place their legislative priorities onto the city’s legislative platform so city staff could track them and update the council as necessary, task city staff with exploring what other options are available to provide better communication to the public on issues of reproductive care, and have a council subcommittee determine a process for getting proclamations and resolutions on the agenda and in front of the council as a whole.

That motion was unanimously approved.

Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.