‘Sanctuary City’ Status Polarizes Populace

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Last month’s city council decision proclaiming Malibu a “sanctuary city” has drawn polarized responses from the community, and ire from livid residents in the greater LA area and beyond, according to accounts from council members, but that hasn’t shaken the resolve of those who voted in favor of the declaration.

“I stand by the vote — I believe it was the best and right thing to do,” Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times.  “Also, based on the feedback I’ve gotten from people who live in our community. I think it was the right thing to do.”

Peak and Laura Rosenthal — the council member who first suggested the council should considering declaring sanctuary city status — both claimed they’ve received plenty of local support for their decision, despite vocal opposition. 

“I know it’s an emotional subject,” Rosenthal said. “I didn’t expect some of the vitriol that’s been handed out, but I also know that there are a number of people that it really made them feel much more secure and safe in our city.”

That vitriol has taken the form of emails and phone calls to council members, Rosenthal described, as well as “handwritten letters unsigned sent to city hall …. Some very ugly letters,” letters to the editor of this newspaper, comments made on public forums on Facebook, NextDoor and other social media sites, and even a petition drive aimed at pressuring council to withdraw its declaration.

“Public service at the local level means using leadership, respect for the law and good stewardship to serve members of one’s community. It does not mean making irrelevant federal party-line issues a part of local law at the expense of wasting time on more pressing local issues,” part of the petition, ostensibly sponsored by Steve and Cece Woods of “The Local Malibu,” states. “As voting citizens and members of the community, we have the right to take alarm at the fact that some of our city council members have chosen to make a decision that is not in the best interest of our citizens.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the online drive garnered 49 signatures.

Comments posted on The Malibu Times social media accounts referencing the policy took a decidedly more vicious tone, with calls to target the Malibu Community Labor Exchange, threats of violence, race-baiting from troll accounts and other issues. Many of the most incendiary comments were later removed, whether by Facebook or the posters it is impossible to tell.

Comments by some, such as one claiming federal backlash could hurt Malibu “in the millions,” were troublesome to Rosenthal, who said people need to educate themselves on what the policy means.

“We don’t need more illegals here to cause trouble and there is nowhere they can afford to live in Malibu. The people who live here and pay taxes should be able to vote for or against it!!!!” one resident, Patricia Coutts, commented on a recent story posted by The Malibu Times.

“What dismays me is that a lot of the information people have is incorrect,” Rosenthal explained. “When people talk about ‘Now we’re a safe haven for criminals,’ and that we’re encouraging undocumented criminals to come to Malibu and all that, it’s just obviously not true at all.”

As to the issue of residents having a direct vote on the policy, Rosenthal said in a representative democracy, elected officials have the right to make decisions.

“We have a representative democracy for people to elect us to enact policy for the city,” she said. “If we had a direct democracy where we had to go to the people [for everything], we wouldn’t get anything done.”

Rosenthal then addressed claims the council “pulled a fast one.”

“People, I believe, need to take some civic responsibility so they know what is on their city council’s agenda if they are interested,” she said. “It takes around five minutes to read through the general agenda twice a month…

“I get frustrated. It’s hard,” Rosenthal continued. “I don’t know what to say to people when they say, ‘You didn’t tell me.’ It’s your responsibility to know what’s going on in the city. The city cannot spoon feed everybody, and force them to know what’s going on in the city. But we can offer and help them if they sign up for alerts. We’re already here to help them with that.”

Peak said the backlash was not unexpected. 

“People are aware, when there’s a split vote — a 2-3 vote — that you’re going to get a mixed response from the community, and that’s what we got,” he said. “I’d say more of the negative response has come from people who do not live in our community. It’s come from the outside. People are more than entitled to express their opinion.”

Rosenthal also pointed to a countywide poll recently released by Loyola Marymount University. According to the poll, 40 percent of those surveyed in Los Angeles County “strongly support” a sanctuary city where they live, while 28 percent “somewhat support” the idea and 17 percent “strongly oppose” having their city become a “sanctuary.”

The survey was conducted by telephone and online earlier this year, among 2,400 residents — half in LA County and half in the City of Los Angeles.