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‘Please, listen to us’: Community asks Healdsburg to adopt diversity, equity and inclusion recommendations


Aug 14, 2023

These recommendations come three years after Healdsburg City Council faced a public outcry that included accusations of racism and tone-deaf leadership.

A few years after Healdsburg’s City Council faced allegations of racism and tone-deaf leadership, the city conducted a series of listening events with the intent of better understanding members of the community.

Recommendations from those events presented to the council on Aug. 7 indicate residents significantly support the city’s planned diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that partnered with Healdsburg to help the city develop its DEI plan, presented 41 recommendations to Healdsburg City Council at an hourslong discussion earlier this month.

Some of the recommendations include establishing a director of equity and community outreach position to focus on the city’s internal work; revive labor celebration days to acknowledge agricultural workers; expand the city’s housing department with Spanish-speaking staff; create a youth-mentoring program; establish an arts and cultural center.

City Council agreed to host a follow-up workshop to look at the categories of the recommendations that will “flow into our goal-setting and budget process for next year,” said Mayor Ariel Kelley.

Vice Mayor David Hagele was the sole council member concerned the council would repeat ALLP’s work with an additional workshop, but he supported the initiatives’ forward movement.

The rest of the council underscored a need to parse through the list with further community feedback, identifying existing inroads to DEI initiatives and prioritizing future actions.

“I think there can be ways to tie in some of these longer term aspirational things with things that are already in motion,” Kelley said.

At the onset of the presentation, City Manager Jeff Kay reminded listeners that what they would hear about has been in the works from at least April 2021 with the formation of an ad hoc committee to support the city’s DEI efforts.

But concerns of systemic racism were well known before the committee was formed.

In June 2020, in the wake of a Minnesota police officer murder of George Floyd, a public outcry occurred and racist allegations were leveled against the then all-white Healdsburg City Council after then-Mayor Leah Gold declined a fellow council member’s request to hold a discussion on Healdsburg police officers’ use-of-force.

At that same meeting, Council member Evelyn Mitchell was skeptical of the urgency of such a conversation and council never decided to hold the conversation.

The public, though, responded with hundreds of angry Facebook comments and online petitions seeking Gold’s resignation, which ultimately happened at the end of June 2020.

The scope of ALLP’s work included city staff interviews and surveys, a Spanish-language listening session and nine encuentros, or community meetings on topics such as housing, labor, and Indigenous, Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander identities.

Recommendations are grouped by youth, labor and community, housing, and city staff and divided into short-term, mid-term and long-term time frames in the 53-page report presented during council’s Aug. 7 session.

Recommendations focus on various “issues affecting the everyday lives of Healdsburgers. They include low wages, housing affordability, youth engagement, and city staff and employee buy-in, among others,” the report states.

Facilitators from ALLP, which included founder Curtis Acosta, Orlando Carreón and Deyanira Nevarez Martínez, presented the scope of the work.

They likened their approach for establishing the recommendations to that of a tree’s structure. The soil and roots are the fundamental, urgent work. The trunk and lower branches represent structural, mid-term work and the higher branches represent long-term aspirations, Carreón said.

“Our recommendations really come directly from what we heard in the community,” Martínez said, with major community members’ concerns highlighting alienation, erasure, discrimination and segregation.

A notable unifying topic was found in the community’s values: Healdsburg’s safety, intimacy and friendly populace, Acosta said.

At the presentation’s conclusion, 10 people supported ALLP’s recommendations and asked the city to consider the voices within the report.

Longtime Healdsburg resident and retired teacher, Valerie White said the “heart of the issue” was City staff’s commitment to putting the recommendations to action.

The “one most important action” was to create a position for the director of equity and community outreach, she said.

“Unless there’s one lead person responsible, I don’t see much happening in a meaningful way. I don’t really see any change,” she said. “If you establish this position, it will tell me you are sincere in wanting things to change. The ball’s in your court now. So take that and run with it.”

Her sentiments were echoed by other residents and leadership from Corazón Healdsburg, Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma and the Healthcare Foundation Northern Sonoma County.

Cristal López Pardo, Healdsburg resident, an employee at Corazón Healdsburg and Healdsburg Unified School District trustee, asked council to establish the position and also create a multicultural center and do cluster hiring.

“We spent many, many hours sharing our trauma and it’s time for the city to enact some of the recommendations,” she said.

Dora Ortega and Paola Rincón, promotoras from Corazón Healdsburg, who volunteer as community liasions for the Healdsburg-based nonprofit, said they regularly invite members of the Spanish-speaking community to city meetings. Many choose not to attend because they don’t feel heard – underscoring the sense of alienation described in the report.

Rincón was “not surprised” by the report’s material.

“When speaking with each one of our community members, one feels that pain,” Rincón said. “One feels the resentment. If there’s an event and we invite them, their answer is ‘No. What for?’”

The pleas to City Council on the adoption of such actions were straightforward:

“Please, listen to us. It’s all that I ask,” Ortega said.

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