Friday, August 9, 2019

Essential California

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Aug. 9, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

The mayor of San Rafael certainly doesn’t seem like a California radical.

We’re talking a bespectacled 74-year-old with an MBA and a CPA. This is a guy who has served as the chair of the local chamber of commerce, been the president of his homeowners association and boasted to reporters about having a single-digit handicap golf game at one of San Francisco’s most exclusive athletic clubs.

Suffice it to say, Gary Phillips is not the type of elected official who usually makes national news at city council meetings.

But 12 days ago, a gunman opened fire, with a military-style semiautomatic rifle that is illegal to own in California, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, killing three people 100 miles southwest of his city. And then came El Paso. And then Dayton.

Like many Americans, Phillips felt frustrated and hamstrung to make change. “I see Congress right now doing nothing,” he said over the phone. “So finally, I just got fed up with it.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Phillips declared that the Marin County city would be keeping its flags at half-staff until Congress takes significant action on gun control.

The dictum will apply to all flags on city property, of which there are about 10, according to Phillips.

“I’ve been requested a number of times, through our fire chief and oftentimes initiated by our president, to lower the flags for a period of time, usually two, three or five days,” Phillips recalled. “Which we have done, like I presume every other city in the country. Each time it’s bothered me, because my comment to myself has always been, is that all we’re going to do?”

Phillips told me that he didn’t have a specific threshold or policy checklist for what would constitute sufficient action. “They need to figure out what’s the most appropriate thing or things to do, so I’m not going to specify,” he said. “But I’m not satisfied with them doing nothing.”

California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but, as the Gilroy shooting made clear, stringent state laws don’t necessarily protect Californians from guns purchased in other states.

“I suspect, like most mayors, I feel an obligation to our residents and those that are visiting San Rafael, for their safety,” he said. 

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