Brentwood City Councilmember Jovita Mendoza should issue a very public apology after rhetoric she used at the October 24 city council meeting.
Her commentary came while discussing a 19.73-acre housing development on Hansen Lane where she essentially accused staff of either “elitism or racism” while also deliberately discriminating against a population within the City of Brentwood.
Her comments didn’t sit well with Director of Community Development, Alexis Morris, who issued a 3-page response to the Brentwood city council — this letter was obtained in a public records request. Morris also did not come to work the next day after stating she was “not okay” with what happened at the meeting.
No one should blame her, Mendoza clearly crossed a line.
While Mendoza has had many outbursts in the past, caught in lies and exaggerations, she defended her outbursts by claiming its who she was because she is “passionate”. I say enough already with that justification and instead its time to take some responsibility while acknowledging you have now gone to far. My hope is she realizes how she treats city staff is not okay. Just as its hypocritical that she assumes she is the only one who apparently is allowed to have outbursts in the name of passion while quickly referencing a code of conduct or ethics to others who may speak on topics.
Going a step further, what happened at the October 24 meeting may even put the city on the hook for a lawsuit given it came from the dais and in a public forum while all on video.
With everything going on in this world, its disgusting that Mendoza somehow thinks its okay to turn a project of 94-homes into a race and socioeconomic issue because she doesn’t like the plans. Even worse, using disgusting language in an effort to bully others into getting the outcomes she wants. It needs to stop. Defend undeserved populations all you want, she should just like we all should, but stop with the insane rhetoric or crazy accusations of redlining–a new low, even for her.
If Mendoza would ask the right questions, she would know that development on Hansen Lane didn’t have a park because according to staff it was built by Habitat for Humanity decades ago and essentially opted for three additional homes for low-income housing versus building a park.
Furthermore, this whole outburst came over a lack of pack access and accused the city of ignoring that area when it came to parks by claiming the “haves vs. half not” argument. This is nonsense, if Mendoza did her homework, she would know Brentwood has 105 parks and using Minnesota as the dividing line, its split 51-to-49 in terms of number of parks. However, West of Minnesota has 117.36 park acres, while east of Minnesota has 148.37 park acres—so her logic when degrading staff was flawed to begin with.
Even worse, maybe ironic, Mendoza’s commentary comes after the city has spent over a year working on Code of Conduct and Ethics policies which she has called for reviews a number of times. This is the same person who was quick to attack former vice mayor Johnny Rodriquez and newly elected Tony Oerlemans for behavior she did not agree with–even erroneously claiming she feared for her safety after an outburst by Oerlemans. Knowing Oerlmans for years, the rhetoric used that night by Mendoza and her supporters was quite comical and clear exaggerations of the truth about his character.
While Mendoza is quick to use the the ethics and conduct policy against others, she does not apparently apply it to herself. This needs to change and needs to equally be applied to all members of the city council.
Passion is no excuse for over the topic commentary and exaggerated statements while at the dais of a business meeting at the City of Brentwood. Given the potential damage you have created by ones actions, the least Mendoza can do is apologize and hopefully staff can put it past them as opposed to looking for other jobs.
Here is the letter from Morris to the City Council in image and text form:
Subject: Comments and allegations made at Tuesday’s Council meeting
Council Member Mendoza,
I am writing to share with you how concerned and upset I am with the inaccurate, hostile and discrediting comments you made about myself and my staff at Tuesday night’s (10/24/24) City Council meeting. I am also copying the rest of the Council members on this email because, although they did not make these comments, they did not get an opportunity to hear my response to the serious allegations you made in the meeting.
The rough transcript of some of your comments is below. Among other things, you raised your voice, looked me in the eye and accused me of elitism or racism, and deliberately discriminating against a population in the City of Brentwood. You brought up a history of the planning profession and stated that “planning people” have historically separated the “haves and have nots”; implying that myself and my staff were deliberately doing the same thing with the Hanson Lane project. These allegations are factually incorrect and incredibly inflammatory. These statements weren’t just derogatory and untrue, they were serious allegations that could damage my professional reputation and make it very difficult for me and the Planning Division to effectively do our jobs.
It is hard for me to convey in writing just how much your comments on Tuesday upset me. My personal integrity and ethics are of the utmost important to me. As a planner, I do not have a badge and gun or a “license” to practice planning that could instantly make people respect me and my professional expertise. What I do have is a Master’s Degree in Community Development, 25+ years’ public and private experience in the planning field, a dedication to maintaining my professional knowledge and expertise, and a commitment to behaving professionally and with integrity in every situation. Community Development is an amazing, dynamic field in which I am always learning and improving my skills and knowledge. I am not perfect, and there’s always room for improvement. However, nobody is perfect and that’s not a reasonable expectation for anyone on this earth.
On Tuesday you made direct allegations of racism and inappropriate conduct by me and City staff and did not allow us to further explain why we made the recommendations we did and clarify that they follow specific policies, and rules, etc., which didn’t allow the public to hear that these allegations were unfounded. As you know, the 2014 General Plan and the Park Master Plan’s methods of estimating population were not created by me; the Parks and Recreation Department’s consistent practice in implementing the Parks Master Plan is not my responsibility; and concerns about introducing new traffic trips to residential streets when it can possibly be avoided is a concern that is regularly brought up by residents of the City. Despite this, your comments related to parks and emergency vehicle access discredited me and made it seem to the public that I personally was creating policies in order to discriminate against the existing “poor” neighborhood and “screwing” them out of a park.
These types of unfounded allegations and statements questioning the motives of myself and other staff have been made by you multiple times before on other topics. For example, during one of my first City Council meetings you accused me of “sandbagging” or overinflating a budget, which is an attack on my professional ethics; you called my staff’s professional conduct into question by questioning which of my staff were “insubordinate” in approving the Amber Lane project, when they were simply doing their jobs as they are meant to be done; you accused staff of “slow walking” an item rather than respecting the heavy workload and time constraints that staff was working under; you accused staff of “lying” about the results of the water rate study, which is a serious allegation of wrongdoing not supported by actual events.
According to Attachment 1 of the City of Brentwood Ethics and Conduct Policy (Council/Administrative Policy No. 110-5), City Council members signed a pledge to abide by this policy in the conduct of their duties, including the following:
RESPECT – to feel and show esteem and consideration for others
- I treat my fellow officials, staff and the public with patience, courtesy and civility, even when we disagree on what is best for the community.
- I conduct myself in a courteous and respectful manner at all times during the performance of my official City duties.
- If I have a concern about the performance of a City employee, I will not express it in public, to the employee directly or to the employee’s manager. Instead, my comments will be made to either City Manager or City Attorney, as appropriate.
- I engage in effective two way communication, by listening carefully, asking questions, and determining an appropriate response which adds value to conversations.
- I value and recognize my colleagues, staff and the public for their unique skills, talents and perspectives.
I feel your treatment of me and my staff on Tuesday and in past meetings falls short of this standard and that the damaging statements have escalated in recent months. I am frankly deeply concerned about how my staff and I may be treated in future meetings. This (redacted) has created distractions that make it difficult to do my job effectively. I have also noticed a negative effect on the morale of others in the organization. For example, people regularly come up to me and other Planning staff after Council meetings, particularly recent meetings, and ask if we are “OK” and say how concerned they were about how staff were treated in the meeting. People have expressed shock and anger about the comments made in meetings and asked “can’t you do something?” On many Wednesdays after Council meetings, a significant amount of my time is spent discussing concerns about the events of the night before with staff, allaying their concerns and trying to improve their mood. As a City employee, I just want to do my job as it is meant to be done, without fear of abuse, fear of my professional integrity being called into question, or fear of retaliation. As a manager, I just want to provide a productive and healthy work environment for my staff.
I don’t know you personally, but I believe you care deeply about the City and its residents and want the best for the City. I believe that it is possible to be passionate and care about the residents of Brentwood and what happens in their neighborhoods without being insulting and discrediting City staff in the process – these things are not mutually exclusive. My goal with sending this message is not to criticize and complain, but to make you aware of the effect that your accusations and discrediting comments have had on me and my ability to do my job effectively. I hope you can see a path forward to addressing the issues you care most about while also being respectful of staff as both people and professionals. I also hope that someday you will come to appreciate staff’s professionalism and expertise and see us as a potential partner in your efforts.
Thank you for your consideration.
10/24/23 COMMENTS Parks: 3:17:00 mark
JM: “Be scheduled to have 3.2 for single family, dwelling, 3.2. Um, population per single family homes and detached dwelling units for park fees, okay? I think that’s convenient for the developer. It’s not convenient for the residents. Again, why don’t we ever look at projects specific like our municipal code wants us to that benefits the residents because they’re the ones living there. You know, someone talked about the number of kids at parks. Why don’t we do this? Because this isn’t just one number, right? You’re just you’re just paint brushing one number. What keeps you from looking at the census tracks like I did and going through each one and determining 3.5 versus 3.2. Is there a legal reason you cannot do that?”
AM: “So I think we’ll defer to parks on the history of this. We follow the General Plan and that is the General Plan standard. And that’s what we’ve used to do the park master plan, the General Plan, EIR and calculate fees. If Council wants to change that going forward…”
JM: “I’m not changing it Alexis. I’m looking at this, that has a different schedule. You’re using one number for everything which does not match our municipal code.”
AM: “So I will let Parks answer that. I’m not using any number. We’re following a formula that’s been well established for years. So Bruce, if you want to weigh in here…”
Elitist or racist: 3:21:57 mark
JM: “How do I say this? Because it’s not going to come out well. District 2 and around this area of these houses, is 40 percent Latino I looked at all the census tracks, it’s 40 percent, I found it absolutely deplorable that we would say we would take money from the west side to fund something on the east side. Again, they don’t got sidewalks, they don’t have underground wires, they don’t have parks. It to me, it’s either elitist or it’s racist. It’s one or the two or maybe a combination of both, but that is how I feel when I see something like this. Why do people of color continually have to live with less than other people? And I live on the, I mean, I live on the nice side of town. I’m very blessed and I know it and I look at the other side of town and I’m like, why do we keep screwing them on parks? So there’s something going on with that.”
History of Planning: 3:23:32 mark
JM: “Okay, so let’s go back to the history. Planning history. Planning people have put bridges. People have put roads, people have put um highways, walls to separate the haves and the have-nots. Or the people of color and then not people of color. I feel like this EVA on Bonita is a way of creating some redlining. To separate a poor neighborhood from what’s not going to be a poor neighborhood and it feels gross. Um, and I don’t think you, I’m praying to the Lord Jesus it’s not intentional, but I need staff to start looking at things through the lens of equality, of inclusion and why you don’t think this is that this is a big deal. I mean, you, I’m assuming you went to planning school. There is classes about redlining. There is class that you take courses on dividing towns to put people on different sides. And to not have Bonita Way come through so that these people can easily access a park someday just feels dirty. It really does. Um so I would like that EVA to be a street all the way through. I would like there to be a 1.5 acre park. And I think we can do it.”
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