Following a member’s resignation in April citing “reverse racism” on the city of Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable and criticism that Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda found himself addressing from the dais at City Hall Tuesday, questions have arisen regarding the purpose, role and intent of the recently rebooted roundtable.
City and school officials maintain its purpose remains to empower the elimination of discrimination and racism in the city, while its detractors have questioned why the group’s discussions aren’t being held publicly, with a more inclusive approach. Meanwhile, Miranda contends the roundtable is not “an official arm” of the city, despite the city’s provision of staff support, a website, multiple press releases and other resources for the group.
Rumblings about the private discussions began last month, after a member resigned from the group citing “reverse racism” in a letter addressed to the Santa Clarita City Council and City Manager Ken Striplin.
The former member said the group, formed last December to promote “inclusiveness” and “harmony,” focused on two narratives during their virtual meetings over the past few months.
Those narratives, the former member said, were:
- “That ‘systematic racism,’ ‘white supremacy,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘white fragility’ are an unquestionable fact, and they are very present in Santa Clarita.”
- “That the LGBTQ+ agenda should be celebrated, amplified and applauded at all opportunities.”
The full text of the resignation letter can be found here: bit.ly/3tRtstU
The former member continued that he found “that if you dare question the narrative that there is indeed extensive racism within the SCV, you were considered out-of-step with reality.”
The letter, dated April 9, said the group’s mission had evolved to a form of “exclusive inclusion.”
“I attempted to share that being accused as a white man of ‘systematic racism,’ ‘white supremacy,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘white fragility’ is indeed reverse racism and very offensive, but it landed on deaf ears,” said the former member, who also contended that his beliefs as a Christian were met with disregard by the group. “Sadly, after four meetings… it became apparent that if you didn’t wholeheartedly accept these narratives (which were to form our activities and efforts), the only contribution you could make was to be silent, listen and learn more about the two narratives.”
Following his resignation, 15 of the original 16 members selected by a five-person selection committee remain in the roundtable, which has a total of 21 members.
City Councilman Cameron Smyth said it was “very concerning” that the former member, who resigned last month, felt uncomfortable.
“We want anybody that’s part of the roundtable to feel that their voice is given equal weight,” Smyth said.
Miranda said the roundtable has “done a good job” of being inclusive.
“If you try to include every single demographic within the city, you’d have a 100- or 200-person roundtable, but we aim to include all the major demographics within the city,” he said. “Is it perfect? No. Are there some demographics that might be better if we add them to the roundtable? I think the answer is yes.”
Miranda said the roundtable will “look in the near future to add two or three new members to the roundtable to include some demographics we should have included from the very beginning.”
“Some people may push back against us being focusing on this particular problem,” said Miranda, who currently co-chairs the roundtable with Cherise Moore, president of the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board. “The only thing I would say to them is we are a better community, we are a better city and society when we all work together, when we all understand one another, when we all respect one another, when we all respect our differences.”
Building the roundtable
The national social unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer over Memorial Day weekend last year, reached Santa Clarita last May.
Local protests held during summer 2020 featured signs demanding an end to police violence and declaring Black lives matter. And residents were calling, texting and emailing their local elected officials in hopes they would listen.
That was when Moore reached out to then-Mayor Cameron Smyth.
“We started talking about ways of how to bring the community back together (and) how to continue discussions and education and doing it in a very non-confrontational, proactive setting,” said Smyth, who is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council.
Moore recalled her conversation with Smyth in an interview with The Signal.
“I know we are better than the things that we are seeing happening across the world and across the country, and we need an opportunity to show that through being able to have people feel comfortable about talking about challenging and difficult conversations around race and discrimination,” Moore, a mother of four children, told Smyth.
It was through those conversations that Smyth remembered the city’s Human Relations Forum, which in 1994 was formed to organize educational enrichment activities, such as in music, art and dance, for the community to better understand diversity among community members.
He recommended reviving the group and rebranded it as the City of Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable. The Hart district’s participation made sense for the present moment, Smyth said.
“A lot of the concerns that had been raised in previous years and currently about issues of or incidences of racism were occurring on our high school campuses,” he said. “And a number of the voices we were hearing from were young people.”
Forming the consensus
The group’s mission would be to “encourage, assist and empower our community to eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination and to promote inclusion, understanding and appreciation of human differences,” according to a September 2020 news release issued by the city of Santa Clarita and the Hart district requesting applications from people interested in serving on the roundtable.
They received more than 80 applications, which were reviewed by a five-person selection committee, including Claudia Acosta of College of the Canyons; John Musella, president and chief strategist of The Musella Group; Peggy Stabile, who co-founded PFLAG Santa Clarita in response to a lack of information and support for the local LGBTQ community; Jim Ventress, who served as the CEO of the SCV Boys and Girls Club for more than 30 years; and Kieran Wong, a former city Parks and Recreation commissioner.
“It was important to me that the City Council was removed from the selection process because we didn’t want it to be seen as political in any way,” said Smyth, describing the selection committee as a “diverse group of community members who are very active and involved (in the community) but didn’t want to serve on the roundtable.”
After two rounds of review, in December the selection committee named the community members who would serve on the roundtable.
“We didn’t set out to say, ‘OK, we need, you know, three members of this community, two members of this community,’” Smyth said. “The most important thing to me was people that have a genuine desire to serve the community and to be a positive force of change in the community.”
Shortly after being selected, members of the new roundtable met to start working together toward their mission.
In January, the city hosted a virtual event celebrating MLK Day, a first for the city, according to Moore, who included locally marking the civil rights leader’s birthday as an ask in her initial conversation with Smyth last summer.
In February, the group collaborated with the city to present a program highlighting the contributions of Black Americans throughout history in honor of Black History Month in February.
On March 13, video of a former LAPD detective using racial slurs in an altercation following a traffic collision in Valencia prompted Miranda, now mayor, to respond and invoke the roundtable.
“As a community, we must unite against all forms of racism and stand in solidarity with those who have been victimized. We will continue our work through the Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable to eliminate all forms of racism and discrimination,” he said in a prepared statement from March 19 posted on the city’s Facebook page.
A week later, the roundtable released a statement “strongly (condemning) the racial intolerance and inexcusable conduct seen in a racially charged incident that occurred on March 13.”
In the statement, the roundtable was referred to as “an officially designated group of community ambassadors selected by the city.”
Miranda sought to clarify the roundtable’s status Tuesday night during a City Council meeting when two residents criticized the roundtable for its most recent statement supporting changing the Hart High School mascot.
“We will continue to make sure that it’s very clear to everyone that the roundtable is not an official arm of the city in any way, shape or form,” Miranda said during the public meeting.
In a follow-up interview with The Signal, Miranda affirmed that point.
“They’re an advisory group to the city, but they’re not part of the city. They’re not an official commission or committee of the city,” he said.
Smyth called the roundtable a “community-driven organization.”
“(The city) helped facilitate its creation and to help provide support and organization but again, ultimately this revolves around members of the community who are not in elected office,” he said, noting the group is aided by city staff.
A website for the roundtable, scvhumanrelations.com, is owned by the city and lists the roundtable’s address as the Recreation and Community Services office at Santa Clarita City Hall.
The meetings virtually held on the fourth Wednesday of each month are not required to be public since neither the City Council nor Hart district have more than one elected official present, according to Smyth.
“I don’t think there’s any intent by any members of the roundtable or anyone involved for this to be done in the shadows,” Smyth said.
Miranda said he has found the private setting beneficial for the roundtable’s discussions.
“This is a very personal thing to share your very personal experiences with a bunch of people. It’s not easy. You’re really opening yourself up and that’s not something that would happen if we were a public meeting,” Miranda said. “People would not be able to open themselves up as much. And believe me, we need to hear the real insides of a person and how they really feel inside.”
During meetings, members have cried and had “incredible revelations,” which has made the experience worthwhile, according to Miranda.
“That’s worth having the Human Relations Roundtable so that we could hear that and see that and feel that and know how serious many of our citizens feel when they feel that they’re being denied their human rights,” he said.