PALMDALE — Faced with an angry crowd who accused them of cowardice for not standing up to county, state and federal officials, the City Council, on Wednesday, dropped consideration of a resolution stating its opposition to vaccine mandates in favor of taking up an ordinance proposed by activists banning such mandates in Palmdale.
The Council, on a 4-0 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Laura Bettencourt having left the meeting, instructed City Attorney Christopher Beck to provide his analysis of the proposed ordinance as presented by the Palmdale Freedom Coalition for consideration by the Council at its January meeting.
“I agree with the public that the resolution does nothing. We should just get rid of it,” said Councilmember Richard Loa, who made the motion. “How could we adopt a resolution like that when we, the city, require our employees to test (for COVID) if they’re not vaccinated?”
That proposed ordinance states that no City entity may issue any kind of documentation proving or otherwise share an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status; businesses in Palmdale are prohibited from requiring any proof of vaccination or “post-transmission recovery” to gain access or service; the city and Palmdale businesses are prohibited from requiring COVID-19 vaccination or regular screening as a condition of employment; and all businesses must comply with the ordinance in order to be eligible for “permits, grants or contracts issued or funded through the City of Palmdale.”
The Council had discussed and voiced opposition to vaccine mandates and other restrictions at previous meetings, but had not taken any formal action.
Protesters were gathered outside the Council Chambers before and during the meeting, and at times could be heard inside; discussion on the vaccine-related resolution did not begin until nearly 10 p.m. Because a large group of speakers was lined up for an earlier agenda item, the Council limited public speakers to one minute each, a limit that was also applied to those speaking on the resolution for consistency.
All of the nearly 20 people who addressed the Council spoke against vaccine mandates, and most urged adoption of the Palmdale Freedom Coalition’s ordinance, arguing that the Council’s proposed resolution only offered their opinion on the matter and did not take strong action.
“That resolution is not what we need. That’s not a solution, and that’s not what we asked for,” Mickey Martinez said. “We need you guys to stand up for us and protect us.”
David Ross called the resolution “a public show of cowardice that damages the public’s faith in our city’s governance.”
“If you’re pro-mandate, you’re pro-legalized discrimination,” one speaker said.
Some of the speakers demanded the Council vote on the ordinance, stating their future elections depended on its passage.
Following the public comment period, the Council discussion was frequently interrupted by shouting and arguments from the audience.
Mayor Steve Hofbauer said he had repeatedly asked the ordinance proponents to speak to their legal advisors, as the city’s legal team came to different conclusions about what the city can and can’t do in regards to the various mandates. However, those legal advisors have never been named or made available, he said.
“Without that and being able to adequately be able to research the information you’ve given us, (that) makes it difficult for us,” he said.
Additionally, while the city’s charter provides certain authority, it is not all-empowering, Hofbauer said.
The city’s own policy, which requires weekly testing for unvaccinated employees, is attempting “to strike a balance with our employees,” City Manager J.J. Murphy said.
Loa requested the city attorney review the proposed ordinance to see if it complies with the city’s authority and can pass legal muster.
“I think there’s substantial numbers of residents in the city concerned about this issue,” he said. “We may be able to do it, we may not be able to do it, but we have to pass it in a legal manner that is protective of our city and our residents.”
“I think we should consider it,” he said.
The resolution up for discussion, on Wednesday, cited provisions in the city’s charter for authority over municipal matters, stating “the City of Palmdale denounces vaccine mandates that are applied unevenly, discriminately, and without proper justification or basis” and “directs staff to monitor existing litigation throughout the nation concerning the legality of mandates issued at the federal, state and local level.”
It also instructed staff to “monitor the effect of newly proposed legislation nationwide and within Los Angeles County regarding vaccine mandates, including legal challenges to such and the results.”
It also included a section seeking to ensure Palmdale businesses “are not disproportionately impacted, inspected, investigated by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.”
The matter came before the Council as another variant of the COVID virus, Omicron, was declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading to increased international travel restrictions and a renewed push from government and health officials for testing, vaccination and vaccine boosters.
First reported in southern Africa, the variant has been identified in California, Minnesota and New York.