Council trims contract of Downtown Streets Team after nonprofit refuses to release harassment report

Owen Byrd, chairman of the Downtown Streets Team board of directors, addresses City Council via Zoom.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council last night cut the funding contract it has with the Downtown Streets Team from three years to just one year after the homeless program refused to provide more information about a sexual harassment investigation.

The council, in a 6-0 vote, agreed to give the streets team $107,748 for one year street cleaning instead of the $360,000, three-year contract the San Jose-based nonprofit was expecting.

Palo Alto resident Owen Byrd, chairman of the streets team board, told council last night that two former employees of the nonprofit previously asked the board to fire two employees, Executive Director Eileen Richardson and her son, Chris.

The board hired an attorney, Amy Oppenheimer of Berkeley, to conduct an investigation that cost “almost $100,000,” Byrd said. The investigation involved allegations by five women.

“Long story short, we found absolutely no evidence of harassment,” Byrd told the council.

Byrd emphasized that no lawsuit was filed and there were never any criminal charges. The allegations were only made in the press, he said, but still the board decided to have an outside investigation.

“I am not worried about what downtown streets does in our city. They do a good job,” Councilwoman Liz Kniss said. “But what I’m concerned about is an overall reputation of downtown streets that was altered as a result of the allegations. … and even though I hear you saying you don’t want to release the report, even with redaction, that makes me uneasy.”

Byrd responded, “I don’t know why that makes anyone uneasy because the report …”

Kniss interrupted, “Because they haven’t seen it.”

When Byrd told Kniss that the investigation was done by a third-party who wasn’t involved in the streets team, she replied, “There shouldn’t be any trouble releasing what they did.”

“No,” Byrd said, “there’s absolutely trouble with it because even with the redactions it would be impossible to not have those reports reveal who was being discussed.”

Byrd did acknowledge between 2013 and 14, there were two staff parties “where there was too much alcohol. And the agency’s culture has since corrected itself.”

Palo Alto resident Rebecca Eisenberg, an attorney, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that Byrd was lying when he said he couldn’t release the report to the city.

“You know that you have the right to share this information,” she said.

Aram James, a retired public defender, also felt the streets team should release the report to the city.

“I think this is all a cover-up and you all need to do a separate investigation that can be released so we can all see where the truth lies,” James told council.

He asked the council to reconsider renewing a contract with the organization before such an investigation occurs.

Byrd told council that the streets team is involved in a separate legal dispute about record keeping for wages. He said that dispute is headed for mediation.

The harassment allegations from former streets team employees came to light in news reports late last year.

In an article published by San Jose Inside, sources described a culture of heavy drinking at the nonprofit. Chief Executive Richardson often got drunk and behaved inappropriately at office parties, sources alleged, and managers drank during staff meetings.

One former employee, whom the publication did not name, described a 2014 holiday party at the nonprofit’s headquarters. Richardson allegedly asked her if she was a lesbian, and then confessed that the worker was her “type.” The worker later fell asleep on the floor of an office, awakening to find Richardson allegedly next to her, gazing at her dreamily.

During an outing to Wine Country in 2016, Richardson’s son, Chris, also a streets team employee, allegedly detailed his sexual relationship with a former coworker to other employees.


  1. Maybe the Downtown Streets Team should refuse the city money on principle. They can’t say they’re accepting public funds but their records are private. It’s either one or the other. The city should find another nonprofit to do this work.

  2. If the city renewed DST’s contract, I think the city’s standards when it comes to protecting women from sexual harassment are pretty low. This decision sends a green light to other sexual harassers who have a city contract or who work at the city. I expected more from our council.

  3. Good luck finding another nonprofit that works as effectively with the homeless population as DST. Mistakes were made, let them move on from it.

  4. “let them move on from it” shouldn’t mean that they aren’t held accountable. Sexual harassers always say “move on”. I think the phrase became popular when Clinton got caught and his wife started to attack Republicans. Let’s not move on. Let’s get the answers now. A judge thinks there was sexual harassment even if Byrd doesn’t think so. Too bad nobody on council challenged Byrd about this.

  5. This is so obvious it’s sad council didn’t pick up on it. A judge finds there’s sexual harassment at DST, yet Byrd pretends otherwise. Council shouldn’t trust these guys based on that alone. Hold the money until they come clean. We don’t have very smart people on council.

  6. “Byrd emphasized that no lawsuit was filed and there were never any criminal charges. The allegations were only made in the press, he said, but still the board decided to have an outside investigation.”

    Does Mr. Byrd think the homeless have the money to hire lawyers or that they keep lawyers on retainer?? How lame!

  7. 1. The Oppenheimer Report contains the detailed account of a sexual assault by Chris Richardson. I witnessed it, I detailed it, I gave a timeline, I live with that to this day.
    2.”The allegations were only made in the press, he said, but still the board decided to have an outside investigation.” is another lie. We went to the press BECAUSE the investigation was insufficient and no remediation was offered beyond an empty promise to remove alcohol from the company culture.
    3. There is plenty of evidence, we provided it to the press, to city council members, we put our names out there for the public and the city council has spit in our face with this decision.

  8. Hi Friends, May I suggest we could use a time out, meditation, deep breaths– some kind of pause between the rounds in this slugfest?
    I’m a friend and grateful graduate of the Downtown Streets Team. They were very instrumental in getting my life– mentally and materially– to much better places. They did more than expected. I support their continued relationship with the City of Palo Alto, for which many Palo Altans are grateful.
    As a friend of DST I suggest more sunshine, fresh air, and revelation. I know and love all the people on both sides, but if I were advising them, I would give them the best public relations advice I’ve ever come across: tell the truth, start making it better, and move on. You can never be too honest or too early in making amends.
    Those women who complained went through something. They must be heard and their issues taken seriously.
    Continuing to NOT reveal (and be open to further facts, as well) says loudly and clearly– “We are afraid of the truth. We have to hide what we did.”

  9. Byrd is a creep. He was buddies with East Palo Alto creep Patrick Brock so his stance on this isn’t a surprise. He’s a bad representative for the organization.

Comments are closed.