The Palo Alto City Council has aligned itself with an effort to abolish the state's death penalty, reasoning that the considerable funds spent on executions would be better directed toward cash-strapped municipalities.
Council members voted 8-0 late Monday night to pass a resolution endorsing Proposition 34. The measure, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, would trade the death penalty for a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole as the maximum punishment for murder. Council Member Gail Price was absent.
"The question always comes up, 'Well, does this measure have anything to do with local governance?'" said Council Member Karen Holman, who along with Mayor Yiaway Yeh raised the idea of supporting the proposition in a colleagues' memo released last week.
Holman pointed out that local infrastructure and public safety grants have all but dried up since 2009. Meanwhile, the financially troubled state continues to spend $130 million annually on the death penalty system.
"Can we say that $130 million is going to be rerouted back to the local communities? We can't absolutely say that's going to be an outcome, but what we can say if we keep the death penalty it most assuredly will not be," she said.
Proposition 34 would establish a $100 million fund for the first three years subsequent to its passage to be distributed to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of solving homicide and rape cases.
Council Member Pat Burt put aside moral arguments for abolishing the death penalty and said his support for the resolution was based solely on an understanding that the state has spent nearly $400 million on each of the 13 prisoners it has executed over the past 36 years.
"That sort of ineffective public policy is wrong and it hurts the state and it hurts local government," Burt said.
Council Member Larry Klein acknowledged that he usually votes against resolutions that don't directly impact the city, but not in this case.
"In this situation I do find a sufficient connection," Klein said. "This is the state of California we're talking about. The state of California's finances (has) a very direct impact on our finances."
Before voting on the resolution, the city council heard from several Proposition 34 supporters. Former council member and retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge LaDoris Cordell was among them.
"Demographically, Palo Alto is a small city. It is the case, though, that when this city speaks, people throughout the state and country listen," Cordell said. "This council and your predecessor councils have a long history of promoting fiscal responsibility. Thus your support of Proposition 34 will send an important message to cities around the state that the death penalty system is bad public policy and that replacing it with life without the possibility of parole is the fiscally responsible thing to do."