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Congresswoman Speier, Menlo Park council talk gun violence

Mayor reveals new plan to support youth

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, whose congressional district includes a portion of Menlo Park and parts of Woodside, met with the Menlo Park City Council the morning of Aug. 9.

While they didn't make any decisions during their conversation, council members, with the exception of Catherine Carlton, who was absent, shared their concerns, ideas and advice about key issues of federal and local importance.

Among the topics they discussed was gun violence. Speier said she takes the issue very seriously: She is a victim of gun violence herself, having been shot in the 1978 Jonestown massacre when she was an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan, who was killed in the slaughter.

Following the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton, Speier issued a separate statement on Aug. 5, saying, "This is the time for the President to lead by words and deeds, not cower behind false claims, point the finger, and deflect blame. If he is indeed serious that 'open wounds cannot heal if we are divided' and wants to 'seek real bipartisan solutions' he should immediately convene an emergency meeting at the White House and craft a package of bipartisan bills that he will sign."

Two gun control laws that passed the House of Representatives in February, H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, have not yet been brought before the U.S. Senate. On Aug. 7, a letter bearing Speier's and Rep. Anna Eshoo's signatures was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging that the Senate be called back into session to pass those bills.

H.R. 8 would require background checks for guns sold in person during gun shows, over the internet or from private dealers. H.R. 1112 would extend the amount of time federal authorities would have to complete a background check for gun sales to 10 days.

McConnell, in an Aug. 8 radio interview, said he has talked about working on tightening U.S. gun laws after the August recess, according to the Washington Post.

Mayor Ray Mueller announced he has signed a letter to McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for immediate action on gun violence legislation. The letter received signatures from 249 mayors across the U.S.

Other topics Speier and the council discussed were:

Youth. Mueller announced to Speier and fellow council members that he plans to help the city launch a youth commission.

Funding would come from the money set aside for the annual "State of the City" and scaling that event back dramatically, he said. By hosting the event at City Hall and offering basic snacks instead of hosting it with a third-party venue and having the event catered as it has been in the past, he said, he hopes to have sufficient funds to cover either the staff costs of starting such a commission, or a stipend for a high school faculty member to lead the initiative.

The commission would likely be made up of local high school students, but the details of how it would be led and governed, he said, he wants to leave to the students to figure out.

"We've had some high schoolers really interested in starting this youth commission," he later told The Almanac. "Local government is an excellent way to get youth engaged as citizens at a young age."

The USGS property. The federal government owns the U.S. Geological Survey offices on Middlefield Road, and is working to consolidate the agency's local workers at Moffett Field.

Speier said she hasn't heard of any federal plans for the site, but asked the council members to come up with some recommendations of what they'd like to see. City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson said that she'd like to see the site dedicated to housing. "There's interest in (the federal government) shedding surplus property that could be used for other purposes that would be more productive," Speier said.

The census. San Mateo County has put together a list of which census tracts are likely to be the hardest to get a full count for during the upcoming census. Speier urged the council to start public outreach, since California currently gives the federal government more money than it gets, and having an accurate count of the population will affect how funds are distributed. "California has a lot to lose if we don't participate," she added.

Housing. Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor asked Speier what policies might help to keep the existing communities of color those that might be considered "hard to count" in the census in the community without being displaced.

Speier responded that the community should look at how to keep housing affordable. That could work by building more housing designated as affordable, and by keeping people in the homes they have using methods like rent stabilization, and more effectively encouraging landlords to accept tenants who hold Section 8 vouchers, she said.

It can also include policies that promote higher-earning job opportunities for people already in the community. Facebook is a big local employer, she pointed out. Perhaps in the next round of negotiations, the city could look into ways to pressure the company to hire more local residents, she suggested.

Districts. Speier also asked how the council was balancing the city's transition to its new district system. Councilman Combs said he felt that residents in his district now have a specific person to contact to help with problems in their neighborhood.

Councilwoman Betsy Nash said that, perhaps because of her prior experience on the Complete Streets Commission, she has been fielding calls from all over the city from residents concerned about transportation issues. Both said they're so far managing to balance the needs of their district with the responsibility of serving the entire city.

Speier acknowledged that while her colleague, Rep. Eshoo, represents the majority of Menlo Park, they work together on the city's behalf.

"People may live in District 1 and work somewhere else," she said. "These issues are still relevant. ... We don't get too hung up on the (boundary) lines, so to speak. It's kind of counterproductive."

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