VALLEJO – Following two months of hybrid-meetings, the Vallejo City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to return to online-only meetings amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant.
Interim City Manager Mike Malone said the recommendation was due, in part, to the number of city employees infected with COVID. He said that at least 29 city employees have already tested positive this year with almost the same number out awaiting results of COVID tests.
Malone said that the city just had 56 employees test positive all of 2021. He couldn’t be immediately reached when asked to provide a breakdown of which departments the sick employees work for.
“Staff that was reporting to city hall was concerned about their own personal safety and health and (the health) of the people from the community they were interacting with, too,” Malone said.
Councilmember Pippin Dew, at-large, said it wasn’t worth taking the risk of holding in-person meetings as more people are getting infected with COVID and access to tests is becoming more difficult.
“All of these things cause problems in terms of people not knowing whether they’re safe or not,” Dew said. “Do they go back to work? They feel fine, they may have been exposed, but they feel fine so they are going to go in and they’re carrying it. They’re asymptomatic, they didn’t have the ability to get a test, and they take the risk, and then they transmit it to somebody who 's not vaccinated and that person gets very sick.”
District 6 councilmember Cristina Arriola expressed frustration that some employees are not the city’s mask mandate. She said that just before Tuesday's meeting she saw a janitor not wearing a mask as they vacuumed in city hall. She said it was “really alarming.”
“That was like saying ‘come on in, you know, I got the cooties,’” Arriola said of the employee.
Part of the return to holding in-person meetings included a mask mandate requiring people 4 years and older to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth while inside any buildings open to the public. Those spaces include grocery stories, office buildings, laundromats, and restaurants. State officials last week extended the statewide indoor mask mandate through Feb. 15.
Tuesday’s action comes days after Malone ordered city hall closed to the public as COVID cases surge. City hall, along with the Vallejo Police Department lobby, will be closed at least through the end of February.
The decision to close comes as the Solano County Public Health Department reported 2,708 active COVID cases last week with a seven-day test positivity rate of 30%.
Malone also rejected a suggestion from Mayor Robert McConnell that the city continue to provide in-person appointments between staff and community.
“Given how contagious this variant is and the risk of exposure, we are saying ‘no,’” Malone said. “We don’t think that is a good option that we should explore at this time.”
The move to teleconference meetings takes effect immediately and includes the meetings of other city commissions and boards.
District 3 councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz was absent from the meeting.
Verder-Aliga named vice mayor again
The council also again named District 1 councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga as vice mayor. It will be her third time serving in the mostly ceremonial role since being first elected to the council in 2013. Verder-Aliga first served as vice mayor in 2016 and again in 2021.
The vice mayor leads council meetings when the mayor is absent or has to recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest. The person is usually tasked with offering the motion of approval on each item before the council.
Arriola nominated Loera-Diaz for the position. That was followed by a nomination from Councilmember Katy Miessner, at large, who suggested Verder-Aliga continue in the position.
Loera-Diaz received support from Arriola and McConnell, while the rest of the council backed Verder-Aliga. The council then voted 6-0 naming Verder-Aliga to the post for the 2022 calendar year.
Councilemember Hakeem Brown will not serve as vice mayor before his time on the council ends. First elected to the council in 2018, Brown was defeated by McConnell when both men ran for mayor in November 2020. Brown’s defeat came after news reports highlighted his history of domestic violence with several partners. Brown confirmed recently that he will not be seeking another term on the council this year.
It’s unusual for a councilmember not to serve as vice mayor at least once during their time on the council. Miessner served in the position in 2018, while Dew was vice mayor in 2019. McConnell was tapped to serve as vice mayor in 2017 after he was re-elected as a councilmember in November 2016. Loera-Diaz and Arriola have yet to serve after being elected to the council in 2020.
Council gets update on redistricting efforts
The council got its first chance to review a draft map showing what the six council districts will look like following the recent census. The map, provided by the city’s demography consultant, National Demographics Corporation, is virtually the same as the map adopted by the city council in 2019.
Most of Tuesday’s brief discussion centered on about 293 residents who will be moved out of District 5, which covers central Vallejo to nearby District 6, south Vallejo. The move corrects a non-contiguous issue with District 6 around sections of unincorporated parts of the city.
“That would be an unfortunate thing to deprive them of their voting privilege,” District 6’s Arriola said.
Miessner, at-large, agreed, stressing that “those voters are going to lose their ability to vote so they waited and they won’t be able to vote.”
District 6 residents voted in 2020 while District 5 residents are scheduled to vote this year.
Another minor change included moving a sliver of District 1 - Hiddenbrooke/Northgate from District 3 - Glen Cove.
The current district boundaries were adopted by the council in July 2019 after the city received 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/a councilmembers on the council. The city would go on to elect Brown, who is Black, two months later in November 2018.
“African American and Latino residents that each make up nearly a quarter of the city have no one to speak to and for their struggles at the city government level,” Shenkman wrote in his Sept. 17, 2018 letter. “And their struggles are unique, and are exacerbated by the fact that they have no voice on the council.”
The council is scheduled to hold another public hearing on the redistricting on Feb. 8. The city must complete the current redistricting process by April 17.
Can you pitch in for independent news owned and operated by journalists?
Our reporting takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. There are two great ways to support it: