Owens, who will be a senior at Palo Alto High School this fall, is president of Vote16 Palo Alto, a group that is championing a proposal to lower the voting age for local elections to 16.
The group's bid to give youth more representation ran into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle last week: an exhausted City Council ready for its summer break. Despite pleas from dozens of speakers in a series of meetings, the council declined to consider the proposed ballot measure on June 23, its final meeting before its summer vacation.
Councilman Greg Tanaka proposed at the June 22 meeting that the council schedule a full discussion of the upcoming election and, specifically, the Vote16 Palo Alto initiative. Mayor Adrian Fine immediately shut down the discussion, saying the item is not on the council's agenda.
Theoretically, the city can direct staff on Aug. 3 to craft a resolution and then approve it at a special meeting before the Aug. 7 deadline for submitting measures. But given the time it takes to prepare a resolution and perform all the necessary analysis and legal review, this course of action is highly unlikely.
The council's decision not to move ahead creates a setback for a movement that began last summer and that has attracted support from hundreds of students and from various former civic and education leaders, including Terry Godfrey and Dana Tom, past presidents of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education and member of the Vote16 Palo Alto advisory committee.
Federal lawsuit alleges police pattern of abuse
As Palo Alto explores reforms to its Police Department, city leaders are also responding to fresh accusations that two recent high-profile arrests in the Barron Park neighborhood are part of the agency's broader trend of deception and discrimination.
Over the past month, as demonstrators across the nation rallied to oppose police brutality and promote social justice, the City Council has heard dozens of comments from residents at meetings calling for the city to discipline officers involved in the 2018 arrest of Gustavo Alvarez at his home in Buena Vista Mobile Home Park and the 2019 arrest of Julio Arevalo in front of Happy Donuts.
The city has already paid $572,500 to settle the Alvarez suit, which also has sparked an FBI investigation, according to NBC Bay Area. On June 24, Arevalo's attorney Cody Salfen, who also represented Alvarez, filed a federal lawsuit against the city over the July 10, 2019, arrest of Arevalo. The suit alleges a "decades-long pattern and practice of tolerating, promoting and encouraging PAPD officers' thuggery, violence, dishonesty, barbarism and maiming of individuals like the plaintiff in the present matter."
Filed by Salfen and Samuel J. Gordon in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the suit pertains to an arrest of Arevalo by Agent Thomas DeStefano, who claimed he had seen Arevalo engage in what appeared to be a hand-to-hand drug transaction. The arrest was captured by the doughnut shop's surveillance camera and by DeStefano's body-worn camera, footage that the department released earlier this month. Neither footage shows the drug transaction that DeStefano references. It does show DeStefano asking Arevalo to stop and Arevalo attempting to walk away. DeStefano then attempts to detain him and which led to Arevalo sustaining a fractured orbital bone during the arrest.
The 199-page complaint details a series of incidents, some stretching back to nearly two decades, and policies that it alleges have contributed to the culture of discrimination.
East Palo Alto fire starts in homeless encampment
A rapidly spreading vegetation fire broke out in a homeless encampment Wednesday afternoon and caused the evacuation of homes in an East Palo Alto neighborhood.
Crews from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District responded shortly after 2 p.m. to the wind-driven fire, which was threatening residences on Shorebreeze Court and along Beech Street, fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said in a statement.
The fire broke out in recently cut dry grass and was moving into thicker vegetation and trees bordering Shorebreeze. Police evacuated the homes, according to the online safety-alert app Citizen.
Investigators found several encampments of homeless people and suspect that drug paraphernalia at the fire's origin point might have ignited the recently cut grass. It was the third fire of the day, with the two other much smaller fires attributed to a man setting small fires along the U.S. Highway 101 and University Avenue corridor in the morning, he said.
"We've seen a major increase in the number of encampment fires in the last couple of months as well as fireworks-related fires, especially here in East Palo Alto. We will be up-staffing with more units and personnel for the upcoming holiday," Schapelhouman said.
The fire destroyed some fences, but no homes ignited.
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