BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council voted last night to postpone renewing a $323,244 contract with Downtown Streets Team, which hires homeless people to clean city streets, until the nonprofit provides more information about a sexual harassment investigation.
The city has asked twice for information about an attorney’s investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and heavy drinking at the San Jose-based organization. Both times the streets team declined to provide the attorney’s report or any details about the investigation.
“You should not take action on the contract tonight, and instead should direct staff to tell Downtown Streets that the contract will be tabled until they provide a redacted copy of the report on the organization’s handling of serious and substantiated allegations of sexual harassment,” said Michele Dauber, a Stanford Law professor. Dauber was the leader of the successful recall of Judge Aaron Persky over the six-month sentence he gave former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner for sexual assault.
Dauber reminded the council they asked in June for the Downtown Streets Team to provide a redacted report on allegations, but CEO Eileen Richardson did not provide the report or any information about specifics of the case.
The city has contracted with the organization to provide services and employment for the homeless since 2006 and was expected to renew a three-year, $323,244 contract until the allegations against the organization arose in 2019.
A report from City Manager Ed Shikada asked council to extend the Downtown Streets Team contract, but Dauber said the contract shouldn’t be immediately extended because the organization has effectively “stiff-armed” council’s request for more information.
“You are now at a fork in the road,” Dauber said. “Are you going to capitulate and approve this contract without getting the information that council asked for? Or are you going to demonstrate that you really meant it and that it’s not acceptable to refuse to be transparent when public dollars are involved?”
Dauber said her request for a delay on the contract isn’t specifically about the Downtown Streets Team or about sexual harassment, but that the council’s vote on the contract “will tell any future contractor that the council can be safely ignored, whether on the subject of sexual harassment or anything else.”
Aram James, a retired public defender, also encouraged the council to withhold funding until the city gets the attorney’s report.
“Let’s do our job. Let’s get the report in our hands,” James said. “Let’s review it and then see what our conclusion is as to whether or not they are the appropriate vendor to do this for another three years.”
And former Palo Alto mayor and incoming Councilman Pat Burt told the council he wanted to see the contract discussion tabled too. He asked the council for “reasonable clarity” into the allegations against the streets team. He said an alternative could be that the council extends the contract for a shorter period of time, say three months or six months, so that the organization’s services aren’t interrupted while council gives itself more time to make a decision
Council unanimously voted to table the contract extension to a date uncertain.