The mayor of Imperial Beach has retracted the Welcoming City proclamation that the city council issued in mid-August after protests at council meetings.
"I am retracting the Welcoming City proclamation due to its policy directive that should have been subject to city council, city staff and public review through a city council resolution," Mayor Serge Dedina said in a formal statement on September 23, five weeks after issuing the proclamation.
Dedina added that he made the retraction "after carefully listening to residents, city councilmembers, city staff, and the city attorney at the recent city council meeting and Open Air Open House City Forum, and to underscore my commitment to open and transparent government."
City manager Andy Hall had no comment about how the proclamation, which had been acknowledged as only a gesture and did not carry the force of law, was a "policy directive" that now needed a "city council resolution."
The Welcoming City proclamation, presented during a council meeting in mid-August, was intended to officially welcome immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Imperial Beach. At the time, Dedina pointed out that immigrants already account for one-fifth of Imperial Beach.
One local resident, an active supporter of the mayor and the proclamation, said the retraction makes her fear living in Imperial Beach.
"Now I am afraid of my own city," said Victoria Mejia Fallon. "Even though the mayor still believes this city should be a welcome city, he retracted from that and us, the immigrants that make this city."
Tim O'Neal, a current candidate for Imperial Beach city council who has been called out on the issue by conservative activists on social media, speculated that the language in the proclamation saying the mayor would "direct city departments" might have been a reason that it had to be retracted, even though in Imperial Beach the mayor doesn't have the authority to do that anyway.
"What most IB residents don't know is the mayor and city council cannot 'direct' staff to do anything," O'Neal said. "Only the city manager can 'direct' city staff. The mayor and council are strictly policymakers."
Despite that, the reaction has been intense, including an anonymous "Recall Mayor Serge Dedina" Facebook page, articles in national media outlets, Youtube videos saying that the city council members "welcome ISIS" and irate protesters at a city council meeting.
The protesters at the Sept. 21 meeting booed the mayor's father as he spoke about being a refugee from Nazi Germany and said the U.S. should let in more refugees. Many of the anti-proclamation crowd held up printed "No ISIS" signs.
According to one witness at the council meeting, there was a "riot" outside the council room.
"The riot could be heard from inside city hall meeting building. Yelling and screaming. The sheriffs had to go outside and disperse the crowd," Cheryl Quinones, a candidate for the board of the South Bay Union Elementary School District, said on social media.
A former Missouri Tea Party celebrity that now lives in Imperial Beach, Gina Loudon, wrote a mid-September article on the website World News Daily in which she called out the Imperial Beach mayor for "a scheme to flood communities in the United States with as many immigrants as possible, legal and illegal, without regard to resist [sic] public safety and public health," and called the proclamation "worse" than Sanctuary City legislation. (Her husband, John Loudon, said at a council meeting that the proclamation was part of a "hidden political agenda" to bring refugees "from Africa" into Imperial Beach.)
Many of the protesters also held "No Sanctuary City" signs at the Sept. 21 council meeting.
("Sanctuary Cities," which have legal policies to not prosecute people solely for their nonlegal residency status and are designed to encourage them to be able to report crimes and otherwise participate in society, have been targeted by talk shows and other conservative outlets.)
“It’s not a resolution, it’s not an ordinance and it’s not binding on the city,” said city attorney Jennifer Lyon, according to published reports. “The effect of it is that it didn’t create any new laws, it didn’t create any obligations on behalf of the city.”
When Dedina issued the proclamation during an emotional city council presentation in mid-August, he said, "This means a lot to me.... My dad came to this country in 1939 as a refugee. He escaped the Nazi occupation of Europe. My mom was bombed by the Germans and ended up coming to America.... Our beach has become the Ellis Island and town square of America."