VALLEJO – The Vallejo City Council appointed the initial seven members of the city’s new Surveillance Advisory Board on Tuesday. The board will advise the council on best practices for protecting the privacy, safety, and civil rights of residents in the city’s use of surveillance technology.
The councilmembers elected in November 2020 got the opportunity to make their appointments first. Vice-Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga, District 1 - Hiddenbrooke/Northgate, selected Michael McMillan, while Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, District 3 - Glen Cove, appointed Phillip Balbuena. District 6 Councilmember Cristina Arriola, who represents South Vallejo, tapped Brooke Redelle.
Mayor Robert McConnell, who had the ability to pick any applicant regardless of district, appointed Andrea Sorce. The remaining councilmembers, who are considered at-large, also had the ability to pick any applicant.
Councilmember Hakeem Brown, who lives in District 5 - Central Vallejo, picked Naomi Yun from District 3, while Councilmember Pippin Dew, who lives in District 1, tapped Adam Bregenzer from District 5 - Central Vallejo. Finally, Councilmember Katy Miessner, who lives in District 4 - Mare Island/North Waterfront, named Lisa Chen from the same district.
Every district is represented on the board except District 2 - North Vallejo. Only one person from that district applied: Sabrina Enriquez.
The term for each board member will run concurrently with the term of the appointing councilmember. Dew and Miessner are termed out of office in January. Brown announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the council this November. Meanwhile, McConnell and Verder-Aliga will be termed out of office in January 2025. Arriola and Loera-Diaz, who were both elected in November 2020, are eligible to seek re-election in 2024.
The council approved the creation of the new board last September following pressure from the local ACLU chapter and Oakland Privacy. Both expressed concerns after the city purchased a cell-site simulator, otherwise known as a Stingray, before having a use policy in place as required by state law.
A cell simulator masquerades as a cell phone tower, confusing nearby cell phones, which then connect to the device instead of a cell phone tower. Law enforcement can then track the location of the phone. Some of the devices can intercept voice and text transmissions.
Oakland Privacy first raised the alarm and sued the city, arguing Vallejo had violated state law when the city council voted to acquire the cell site simulator without public input. A judge’s ruling in the suit forced Vallejo to change its Stingray policy.
Other surveillance technology the committee is reviewing includes automated license plate readers, drones, closed circuit TV cameras, gunshot detection technology, body cameras, biometric software, and DNA capture technology, among others.
City Clerk Dawn Abrahamson said she wasn't sure when the new board will meet.
"The SAB will not be meeting until there is something under their subject matter jurisdiction to bring forward to the board," she told the Vallejo Sun on Thursday. "At this time, we are not certain when that might be."
Council adopts final council district boundary map - again
The issue arose from the introduction of a new boundary map based on the 2020 census numbers. The initial map, known as Map A, kept most of the current council districts intact, however there was a need to move 293 residents from District 5 to District 6 to correct a non-contiguous issue with District 6. Following this revelation a second map, Map B, was presented to council which would lessen the impact and move only 267.
The council approved Map B during its Feb. 8 meeting. However, later in that meeting, Ken Chawkins, the city’s demographer, said that Map A would be the choice to lessen the impact. That was a mistake.
On Tuesday, Chawkins apologized stating that he had transposed the map numbers.
“I own that,” Chawkins told the council.
The council unanimously approved Map B - again. Districts 2, 4 and 5 will be on the November 2020 ballot.
Vallejo decided to adopt council districts after receiving a challenge letter from Southern California based-lawyer Kevin Shenkman in September 2018. Shenkman argued that the city’s at-large election format violated the California Voting Rights Act because there were no African American or Latino councilmembers on the council.
City moves forward with Advance Peace
The council also approved an agreement with Advance Peace for their Peacemaker Fellowship program in an effort to reduce gun violence in Vallejo.
The program identifies persons involved in firearm-related crimes, whether as a victim or perpetrator, and attempts to mentor them. They also receive case management and skills training in an effort to break a cycle of violence.
The program will only be partially funded at first as both Advance Peace and the city look for additional funding to fill the gap. The council will be asked to officially spend $700,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds which were given to municipalities hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council approved allocating ARPA funds to Advance Peace last September.
Councilmember Hakeem Brown, who brought the program to the council for approval, thanked city staff and his fellow councilmembers for signing off on the project.
“I think that will make a huge difference in people’s lives, and hopefully, save some lives in this community,” said Brown.
Editors note: This article was updated to include comments from Vallejo City Clerk Dawn Abrahamson.
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