The Temecula City Council decided Tuesday night, Jan. 10, that it won’t declare citywide proclamations — including federally-recognized heritage months that celebrate cultural diversity, women’s history and the LGBTQ community.
Instead, the designating of such commemorative months would be determined by the city’s diversity commission.
The 3-2 vote was led by Councilmember Jessica Alexander and supported by Councilmember James “Stew” Stewart and newly-elected Councilmember Brenden Kalfus. Mayor Zak Schwank and newly-elected Councilmember Curtis Brown voted no.
In the past, Temecula’s council — like that of many cities and like the federal government — issued a proclamation identifying a certain month to ceremonially recognize diverse groups. Now, such declarations in Temecula would come from its Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commission, City Clerk Randi Johl said by email Wednesday, Jan. 11.
For more than a year, city officials have been discussing several “inclusionary proclamations” — such as Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, Native American Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and others — and whether they should be issued by the city council.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Stewart argued that the council making these “inclusionary” proclamations would actually “exclude people.”
“When we bring one group up above the entire city, we basically exclude everyone else,” Stewart said. “I have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with any of those proclamations that are inclusionary. I do have a problem at this level of government using this platform to promote another group over another.”
Stewart instead suggested that the city’s diversity panel, which is made up of seven appointed Temecula residents, should discuss such proclamations.
The city’s panel, Stewart said, would be the “perfect venue” for the discussions because “that’s what they do.”
The advisory group was formed in 2020 to address issues and make recommendations to the council on the topics of diversity and inclusion, according to Temecula’s website.
Alexander said the council was also asked to include Arab American and Jewish American heritage months on its proclamations list for 2023.
“Why, again, are we elevating one (group) over the other?” she asked. “Maybe these type of cultural proclamations would be a wonderful place for the REDI Commission. That way we don’t get somebody saying, ‘Well you’re elevating this group, and not this group.’”
Brown argued that the proclamations are about “awareness and education. It’s about the struggles that each one of these individuals or groups have had to get where they are.”
“Bumping (the proclamations) down to the REDI Commission, that represents the city. What’s the difference?” Brown asked.
Schwank agreed and said it was “meaningful” that these recognitions come from the city council.
“We are acknowledging subsets of our community,” he said. “I don’t see it as an elevation above one person. It’s important that we not send a message to all the proclamation recipients that they are somehow less than.”
According to the 2020 census, roughly half of residents in Temecula are non-Hispanic whites, compared to 32% for Riverside County as a whole.
The vote follows comments in June from Alexander, who opposed the city’s declaration of Pride Month to recognize the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
In a video shown at the June 14, council meeting, Alexander said “conversations about an individual’s sexual orientation has no place on the dais.” She said supporting Pride Month would be “dishonoring” her God and said such proclamations “do nothing to contribute to the running of our city” and serve to sow more division.
In a later interview, Alexander said she held “nothing against anybody in particular” but the proclamation had nothing to do with city business.
Some at that meeting spoke in support of Alexander’s views, while members of the LGBTQ community and allies — some with signs — expressing the opposing view.
The vote is the latest discussion of race, equity and inclusion in Temecula’s city council chambers.
In 2021, Alexander supported a name change for the diversity commission, saying the word “race” encouraged racism and division in the city. But after hours of debate and input from residents, the council voted to keep the name.
Alexander’s 2021 comments about civil rights icon Rosa Parks drew national attention when she compared her defiance of coronavirus mask rules to Parks’ struggle. Also that year, some of Alexander’s council colleagues scolded her for an email in which she called COVID-19 the “China Virus.”
In September, Alexander proposed making the municipality a “sanctuary city for Temecula’s unborn,” but the council voted not to pursue that effort.
Residents spoke Tuesday for and against the council’s decision on proclamations.
Jessica Christopher questioned the city’s purpose in declaring June as Pride Month.
“Declaring Gay Pride Month is a waste of time, energy and money, and it’s causing division — and entertainment, clearly,” Christopher said. “When does this end? Temecula has always been family-friendly. Let’s keep it that way. Pride Month already exists. Let those who want to celebrate it do so. If you’re going to have an LGBTQ+ Month, then I, too, want a heterosexual month.”
Mick Sobczak, wearing a “Proud Boys” shirt as he spoke, agreed.
“The residents of Temecula aren’t woke, we’re awake,” he said. “Be inclusive — go ahead and keep your June Pride Month, but give us our July Straight Pride Month.”
Dr. Sandra Cox, a psychiatrist in Temecula and a member of Defense of Democracy, said Wednesday she is concerned that Alexander continues to bring her religious beliefs to the dais.
Cox called it a “thinly-veiled attempt” to exclude groups who don’t represent similar religious beliefs from the city’s official list of proclamations. She said that removing recognitions such as Pride Month “makes a statement that our city specifically rejects the LGBTQ population.”
“It could certainly create an environment wherein people don’t feel they are included and welcomed in this community,” Cox said. “And that could have an effect on a family making a decision not to move here because they have a family member who is of that community, or a business could say (Temecula) doesn’t look like a place we could grow into.”
Several new monthly proclamations honoring first responders, older residents and adoptions were also approved Tuesday and can be issued by the council, following the city’s usual process for public recognitions. A full list of annual proclamations in Temecula is on the city’s website.
Jeff Pack, an organizer from the One Temecula Valley PAC, called the vote “bad governance.”
Subsets of Temecula’s diverse communities, from LGBTQ groups to Indigenous residents from the Temecula Valley area’s Pechanga tribe, are being deemed “not worthy of being recognized at the city council level,” the “highest level” of local government, he said.
“The change was made to pacify the personal and religious feelings of one council member,” Pack said, referring to Alexander.
“It is an insult and a demotion to valuable members of the community by relegating them to a less visible and prestigious venue,” Pack said, referring to the diversity commission taking up such proclamations. “It had nothing to do with form or function, nor did they take the community’s input into account.”