A composite photo with an image of Temecula City Hall in the background and portraits of Temecula Mayor Zak Schwank and Councilmember Jessica Alexander in front of it.
Tensions were high at last week’s Temecula City Council meeting as the council discussed the city’s Pride Proclamation, a potential flag policy and possible resolution supporting parents’ rights. During the meeting, Mayor Zak Schwank (left) said Councilwoman Jessica Alexander (right) was “creating issues that don’t need to be fixed.” (Portraits courtesy of the city of Temecula)

The Temecula City Council last week voted to change the city’s Pride Proclamation, taking out the plus from LGBTQ+ and removing language that made note of the city’s LGBTQ+ youth’s contributions to the wider community.

“I personally don’t feel comfortable with the plus category, only because I don’t understand it, and I have never gotten a clear answer and everybody has a different answer,” Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart said. “So that, and then presenting it to someone under the age of 18, to me, it’s wrong as a city leader, to represent to a minor this.”

Stewart and Councilmember Jessica Alexander workshopped the proclamation together after Alexander walked off the dais during the June 13 meeting where the proclamation, declared by the city’s Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Commission, was read.

“I look forward to bringing this to light in the future and having an honest, objective, true conversation without being the recipient of relentless ad [hominem] attacks,” she said at the time. “Today, I cannot be associated with this proclamation being given by the city because it is given to children.”

During the Sept. 26 meeting, Alexander again stated her opposition to including youth in the proclamation and including the plus at the end of LGBTQ+. She further sought to remove reference to Stonewall from the proclamation.

“As I found out and looked into the history of Stonewall, as a former police officer and especially having police officers in this city council room and protecting our entire city, I cannot sit here and promote activism against police officers while they tried to burn eight police officers in the building while trying to smash down the doors,” she said. “Who the heck does that? I’m not promoting it as a city council member, and I would hope and pray that my city staff and everybody else in this board does not either.”

According to historical accounts, the uprising began after police raided popular New York City gay bar Stonewall Inn without notice and attempted to arrest people at the bar for various alleged crimes. The six-day protest that followed was in response to ongoing police brutality against, harassment and entrapment of the LGBTQ+ community.

As the council’s conversation continued, Alexander admitted that, regardless of the changes made to the proclamation, she would still walk off the dais if it was read aloud during a council meeting.

“Is there anything we can put on this proclamation that would allow you to stay on the dais when we present it,” Councilmember Brenden Kalfus said, to which Alexander shook her head. “Then why are we continuously going through corrections if you still don’t approve of it?”

“My freedom as an American citizen is to walk off the dais because it’s my freedom of speech,” Alexander later said. “So yes, I will walk off because it is against my religion. … It is my right to not be here, and that goes against my religion, the First Amendment in the Constitution.”

At the end of the discussion, Councilmember Curtis Brown made a motion to keep the proclamation as presented by the REDI Commission. However, the motion failed with Brown and Schwank being the only members to vote in favor of keeping the original proclamation.

“I really think leaving it alone is the right thing to do, I think it sends a message as a community, especially the youth of our community, that we’re not taking things away from you, and we’re trying to include you,” Schwank said. “I think when we tried to assuage some of the fears of one person, we start removing things and trying to make everybody feel happy. Civil rights is a battle, these rights are a battle and will continue to be a battle, this will never be a comfortable place. That’s how our world is built.”

A second motion, made by Councilmember Brenden Kalfus, to send the proclamation back to the REDI Commission for consideration without the plus or mention of youth passed on a 3-2 vote with Shwank and Brown voting against. Changes made to the proclamation will be applicable going forward, but do not impact past proclamations.

Alexander also brought to the council for discussion a potential flag policy and a resolution of principle supporting parental rights, both of which drew ire from the audience.

“We have spent a lot of time in this room talking about something when one person is pushing an agenda from a pastor,” Temecula resident and housing advocate Laurel LaMont said. “We don’t have housing. When are we going to come back to that? When are we going to start bringing other things to the agenda instead of letting Jessica run the show and make theater.”

Alexander said she brought the flag policy up for discussion in an effort to protect the city from potential litigation, but Stewart said there was no reason to adopt the policy.

“There is no policy that really needs to be generated because, according to our city attorney, our non-use of any other flag is our policy, and any judicial system would support that, so to me, this is a moot point,” he said. “We don’t need a flag policy, because we fly no other flags.”

Schwank agreed, stating that the creation of a policy would just create more work for city staff without actually accomplishing anything.

“We could be, much like some of the speakers have mentioned, having staff work on more important things, rather than creating time and energy to work on a policy that, for the last 34 years, hasn’t been an issue,” he said. “Councilmember Alexander is creating issues that don’t need to be fixed.”

The council voted 3-2 against creating a flag policy for the city, with Alexander and Kalfus voting in favor of the policy.

“Would I have brought this flag policy forward, I didn’t necessarily think it was necessary because we fly the flags that I believe should be flown,” Kalfus said prior to the vote. “But now that it is brought forward, I can’t vote against something that I believe should be in policy.”

But it was Alexander’s proposed resolution of principle supporting the rights of parents that caused Schwank’s complete frustration with the situation at hand to come to a head.

“I’m asking this council to support this resolution, to go against what Sacramento is forcing upon our city, forcing our residents to make decisions that they are not comfortable with, and we have a decision, either you’re for the parents, or you’re against the parents,” she said. “And I have an entire list of things that I would put on a resolution, but … I just want to see really where my colleagues stand on parental rights, and then if you want to know what I think about it, and where I would go deeper into the resolution, I can talk about that.”

Schwank, who has three children of his own, said the council should not even be considering the resolution, since a policy adopted in January of this year states the council will not issue resolutions of principle and bristled at Alexander’s statement imploring the council to consider the item.

“How dare you insinuate that I don’t stand for families,” he said. “This is political theater. … This level of outrage, this reactionary sort of tactic that you always engage in is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable for staff, residents, businesses, nonprofits, it’s not sustainable for me and my family, your family. It has to stop.”

Schwank also pointed out that Alexander put the item on the agenda just days before the state’s legislative session was set to end, meaning the resolution wouldn’t have an impact on the bills she mentioned as the impetus for bringing the item before the council — something other council members mentioned in their remarks.

“You came to the wrong chambers if you were looking for change,” Kalfus said. “I agree that I stand for parents’ rights, I agree that having authority over your children is what is best for kids, but what we have to do as a city council is take the worst laws that California sends us and make the best of them — that’s the Temecula way — that’s all we can do.

“There is no opponent to be fought at this level,” he continued. “A resolution, in my mind, other than cause what it has caused tonight, does nothing. It holds no weight.”

Schwank made the motion to not move forward, with Brown seconding. The motion was approved 4-1, with Alexander voting against.

In other council action: The Temecula City Council voted 3-2 to increase the salary for council members to $1,900 per month — up from $600 per month — with Mayor Pro Tem James Stewart and Councilmember Jessica Alexander voting against. The pay increase will have to come back before the council for final approval and will not go into effect until after the November 2024 election.

The council also voted 4-1 to increase payment to $150 per meeting for those who serve on the city’s boards and commissions, with Alexander voting against.

A video of the meeting can be found here on the city’s YouTube page.

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