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Palm Desert council meeting takes a heated turn over ‘privilege’

During Thursday's Palm Desert city council meeting, councilmember Karina Quintanilla discussed what she calls a desperate need for a new human-rights commission.

"After having some very impassioned conversations with residents and also with Mayor Kelly about some very unsettling experiences that were held by families of color in the city of Palm Desert," Quintanilla said.

Quintanilla also requested an anti-hate proclamation.

"A proclamation in support of our Asian American and Pacific Islander neighbors and residents," Quintanilla said. "We respect our brothers and sisters of all different communities, and I think when they are asking for recognition, they are asking to be seen in other lights than the way they are being dehumanized and targeted."

But councilmember Sabby Jonathan was not on board.

"I think we actually need to set guidelines for proclamations. I've had concerns. Our city's been so smart in just focusing on the business of the city and not getting political, and not getting unfocused by political, state and national issues," Jonathan said.

That led to a pretty heated exchange between the two councilmembers.

"I apologize if perhaps councilmember Jonathan's experiences in the city of Palm Desert are shaped by a form of privilege where he doesn't understand the value of a proclamation in support of people who don't feel as included or as visible. Or perhaps even not feel as safe as Councilmember Jonathan does in the city of Palm Desert," Quintanilla said.

"Well that was something. That really takes us to a new low," Jonathan said.

Mayor Kathleen Kelly then stepped in.

"Let's try to make as few assumptions about each other as possible," Kelly said.

Neither the human rights commission nor proclamation were approved. News Channel 3's Peter Daut spoke with councilmembers Quintanilla and Jonathan about what happened.

"What did you think when Councilmember Quintanilla said that your experiences are shaped by a form of privilege, and that you don't understand the value in that type of proclamation?," Peter asked Jonathan.

"I think she doesn't know me, and if she did she probably wouldn't have made that statement," Jonathan replied. "I'm a naturalized citizen. I'm a first generation American. First generation to go to college. I don't know, when you use the word 'privilege' I'm not sure that bio fits that word."

"I'm curious, what did you mean when you said that she took it to a new low?," Peter asked Jonathan.

"I was speaking of standards," Jonathan said. "It's important for councilmembers to work professionally as colleagues, and we all have the same goal which is to do what is best for our city."

"He says you don't know him, and that if you did you probably wouldn't have made that statement about privilege. Do you stand by your words?," Peter asked Quintanilla.

"I absolutely do," Quintanilla responded. "Whether an individual wants to acknowledge that privilege exists or not, that's on them. But you can't deny that a system exists that benefits certain individuals over others."

"Why do you not think there should be a human rights commission and anti-hate proclamation in Palm Desert?," Peter asked Jonathan.

"At the end of the day each city defines itself and defines what the business of that city is," Johnson answered. "In our case historically in the city of Palm Desert we've focused on the roads, and our parks and our aquatics center and our golf courses and our finances and the welfare of our residents and businesses."

"It should not be negotiable to have a proclamation where the city says 'We see you. We acknowledge you. We respect you. We welcome you. And we proclaim that we want you to be safe,'" Quintanilla said.

There are no written guidelines for proclamations, which are typically issued at the discretion of the mayor.

The human rights commission is on the agenda for the next council meeting. Despite their disagreement, both councilmembers say they look forward to a productive and respectful working relationship with each other.

Investigative / News / Video / Your Vote

Peter Daut

KESQ News Team

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