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Temecula City Council rejects anti-abortion resolution — but it could return

Although the Temecula City Council this week rejected consideration of a resolution to declare the city a sanctuary for the unborn, city leaders said it could come back before them someday.

Tuesday's 4-1 vote was against putting the proposal from council member Jessica Alexander onto a future agenda.

Mayor Matt Rahn said Alexander's proposal lacked clarity. He also said there’s a problem with how resolutions are presented in council meetings.

"I can propose anything I want to," Rahn said. "But it doesn’t mean we have the authority to work in that space and without having that information from a city attorney or some more rigorous review it’s hard to have a conversation about any of it."

Rahn said there was no such review of Alexander's proposal, which she originally brought up as a comment at the end of the Sept. 13 council meeting.

Council member Maryann Edwards agreed with Rahn.

"We are very, very thorough when we do things like this, when we we place things on the agenda, and that just hadn't been done, so I didn’t want to place it on the agenda," Edwards said. "It just had so many holes, and there were so many questions. I'm sure Jessica wasn't happy, but that's probably the best thing for the city."

Council members did vote to have city staff work on a more formal process for such resolutions. Edwards said the idea could come back before the council someday.

The votes came after hours of public comment, mostly against the proposal, and Alexander's own statements from the dais, made while holding the model of a fetus.

"Do we stand for death here in our city?" Alexander said. "Guess what — we’re going to have to at some point in time, whether or not you’re Christian or not and believe in Jesus Christ, we’re going to have to meet our maker and say that we either chose to stand with him or against him."

Someone in the packed council chambers shouted in response, "Not all of us believe that!"

The majority of public comment was against the proposal.

"You have to listen to the residents," Edwards said. "Clearly we had 84% of the emails that we received (that) were opposed to having it on the agenda."

The longest-serving member of the city council, Edwards said the city cares for their community through action that brings people together, not through divisive proposals meant to sow chaos, especially before an election.

"I didn’t want people to be in this divisive, churning mode in the community until whenever this would come back from the committee," she said.

Alexander, elected in 2020, refused an interview after the meeting.

Her proposal had drawn statewide attention, including from California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who sent the council a warning that any move to restrict reproductive choice would be a violation of state law and would be met with legal action.

But during Tuesday's meeting, Rahn said Alexander's verbal suggestion to declare the city a "sanctuary for the unborn" did not include any mention of banning abortions, and he criticized Bonta and the media for calling the idea an "abortion ban."

Dan Eaton, legal analyst and attorney with the law firm Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, told KPBS that without a written resolution, he can't determine if there's a conflict with any law.

"All we have are the comments of council member Alexander about the general desire to make Temecula a safe for the unborn," Eaton said. "What does it mean exactly to make Temecula safe for the unborn, particularly when you are presumably contrasting it with other jurisdictions that the council member thinks are unsafe for the unborn ... We really will have to look at the particular proposal if it ever gets to that point."   

And if it did get to that point, Rahn also had concerns about Alexander's position as director of Birth Choice, a crisis pregnancy center in Temecula.

"It's not that I see a conflict of interest," Rahn said. "It's that there may be a conflict of interest. I am not the authority (on) whether there is one."

Rahn said any questions of conflict would have to be referred to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

"It was a complete circus with a show. It does not represent our city at all."
Brandie Kekoa, Temecula resident

Eaton said there probably would not be a conflict with "a general proposal that could have some broad effect on the industry in which she works ... but if there's some financial benefit to her employer that raises a different issue."

For Temecula resident and business owner Brandie Kekoa, it’s less about the legalities and more about the city being turned into a spectacle.

"It was a complete circus with a show. It does not represent our city at all," she said.

Kekoa said she was disappointed that Rahn called out the media and the state attorney general about their response to the proposal, but didn’t call out the resolution itself.

"Nothing surprises me anymore, nothing surprises me," she said. "They dip and they dodge, they try to place blame, and I just, I hope best for our city, I hope we can do better than this."

Rahn, who is running for state assembly, also hopes for better.

"We have a lot of work to do a community. We have had a very challenging several years — in our city, in our state and in our nation and even globally — and we are being asked to deal with things that individually are challenging at best," he said. "What happens next is our community does need to heal."

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