Just when I thought the Temecula City Council’s debate about abortion couldn’t get any stranger, its proponent whipped out a prop.
Jessica Alexander was telling her colleagues on the dais Tuesday that even though the state Attorney General had said that her request that Temecula become “a sanctuary city for the unborn” was illegal, that didn’t mean council members don’t have “the right to stand on truth.”
Alexander continued, “We have the right to stand for these babies,” as she reached below desk level and suddenly held, in her left hand, a plastic fetus.
Laughter bubbled up from the audience.
“You think that’s funny?” Alexander asked, stone-faced. Still brandishing the doll, she swiveled to again address her colleagues: “These are children. This is what they look like at 21 weeks old.”
Um, will this be on the final exam?
In 35 years of covering government meetings, I’ve witnessed some over-the-top moments, but it’s impossible to become jaded. The Inland Empire keeps surprising me.
Temecula is a perfectly nice community, but it sure has a penchant for drama, much of it generated by Alexander. In two years in elected office, she’s compared her opposition to wearing masks to the second-class status of Rosa Parks, called COVID-19 “the China virus” and opposed creation of a diversity and inclusion committee.
In June, she spoke against declaring June as Pride Month.
“These types of conversations are first completely out of scope of our job, and they do nothing but divide us as we sit here on the dais,” Alexander said then.
Flash forward to Sept. 13, when she proposed a resolution that would appear to be completely out of the scope of her job and do nothing but divide. She wanted Temecula to consider declaring the city to be “a sanctuary city for protecting Temecula’s unborn.”
That was how she described her idea. What exactly would the resolution have said? Was it an abortion ban of some sort? Unknown. I’ll come back to that.
The first step was to schedule the Sept. 27 discussion. Media attention was paid. Rob Bonta, the attorney general, warned by letter that he was prepared to sue if Temecula tried to go against state law by banning abortion. That got even more attention.
The masses turned out Tuesday. Nearly 300 watched the council meeting in the packed chambers, the lobby or an overflow room. Public comments pro or con were often spiky. The audience cheered, applauded, laughed, interrupted. The mayor asked multiple times for civility.
200 people in the Temecula council chamber or watching in the lobby. Many protested pro or con in the plaza earlier. pic.twitter.com/JDIiNif7xn
— David Allen (@DavidAllen909) September 28, 2022
In the public plaza beforehand, a crowd argued and waved competing signs, all under the watchful eyes of sheriff’s deputies.
I approached a woman who stood silently while holding a sign reading “Pro-Life, Voice for the Voiceless.” What was her impression of what Alexander was asking for?
“It would make abortion not legal in the city of Temecula,” Robyn Schock told me, “and hopefully close down the FPA Health Facility, where abortions happen in our city.”
Did she think Temecula could take away a legal right? Schock admitted she didn’t know for sure, but added reasonably: “The City Council, if they can make ordinances about not selling marijuana, they can make abortions not legal.”
In her opening remarks, Alexander spoke as a pro-life video played silently on an enormous screen behind the dais. At one point a fetus, floating in profile view, filled the screen. It was like the Star Child at the climax of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
If Alexander had a suggested resolution, she didn’t read it aloud. Instead, she spoke in generalities about her disgust with California’s moves to expand abortion access and how it might reflect on Temecula. She asked her colleagues: “Do we stand for death here in our city?”
If the Temecula City Council is now expected to solve the world’s problems, like retirees at a diner, they should convene over morning coffee at the Swing Inn.
Wherever Alexander was going with this, council members didn’t want to go along, especially after Bonta’s letter.
“Our job is to fix the roads, make sure there’s enough cops on the street,” James “Stew” Stewart said.
“You continually misunderstand your role,” Zak Schwank told Alexander with exasperation. “Stop wasting our time.”
“Don’t ask us to break the law,” Maryann Edwards said. “It’s not going to solve the problem.”
By the way, Alexander is director of an anti-abortion counseling center — presumably the source of her fetus prop. Still, perhaps she only wanted a symbolic resolution against abortion. Yet who’s to say that, emboldened, she wouldn’t have returned with an ordinance to implement the city’s stance and ban abortions within city limits?
Mayor Matt Rahn said he watched the Sept. 13 meeting video three times and still struggled to understand what Alexander wanted. A typical resolution would go through the city manager and city attorney first, Rahn said, but in this case, “we have no clarity on what we’re talking about.”
Edwards made a motion to forget the whole thing. Schwank seconded it. The motion was read aloud and repeated. An electronic vote was taken.
“At this point I have a unanimous vote not to place this on an agenda,” the clerk said.
Alexander asked twice to have the motion explained again, then changed her vote. Officially, then, Edwards’ motion passed 4-1. The issue is dead, at least for now.
The council took a five-minute break. Rahn jokingly encouraged the audience to stay for the “pretty exciting” regular business of the city. Of course, virtually everyone left. Alexander used part of the break time to talk to supporters.
I got in line and introduced myself. She was friendly but declined to comment. (She said she’d get back to me the next day. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t.) I told her I had one question: Did she have a sample resolution, one that would explain what she had in mind?
“I do,” she said brightly. “I don’t have it with me.”
Well, why should she prepare for a big meeting by bringing a piece of paper? The important thing is to bring a doll.
Speaking of dolls, David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.