Fairfax’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Committee is facing an uncertain future after ongoing backlash pushed more members to resign.
The committee’s last three non-White members resigned at a meeting on Aug. 5. They said they will form a new group called “Ross Valley Unite” to operate independently from the town.
Tayu Neogy said her decision to leave was difficult but had been on her mind since February. She said she thought the committee was not set up to succeed.
“Our meetings were so toxic and filled with ego and silencing of Black and brown voices that we could not get past that and on to the work,” she said.
Neogy said members were “barraged by hate from the public” during subcommittee sessions. She said she realized the panel would not be able to continue after the Town Council meeting on July 7, when the public comments were “the worst that I’d heard yet.”
”The silence of the councilmembers was what solidified my decision,” Neogy said. “If the Town Council cannot interrupt and disrupt racially charged comments, then they’re perpetuating a narrative.”
Sophia Martin and Serena Campbell also resigned. Campbell said the goal of being inclusive and creating solutions for systemic issues could not be reached, and she felt ignored or turned away when asking for help.
“I have been putting myself in danger for a performative cause that has not been able to make any real or lasting change,” she said.
“I’ve been held up by the town of Fairfax as a token to show progress that does not exist,” she said. “It ignores the real causes for the inequity that exists in Marin County and the rest of the world, and believes that small changes being made in the town will ‘solve racism.’”
Committee members Veronica Geretz and Lisel Blash, who are White residents, said they supported those who resigned.
“The (committee) did not create division in Fairfax, that division pre-existed before the creation of the RESJ and has been apparent at just about every Town Council meeting for the last several years,” Blash said at the committee meeting this month. “Simply pointing out that there’s an issue that needs to be addressed isn’t creating division.”
Mayor Bruce Ackerman, who serves on the committee with Councilmember Chance Cutrano, said he supports their decision to exit.
“All I can say is that I apologize, I’m a total amateur at this,” Ackerman said. He also said he was sorry that the committee “put your bodies on the line to have this conversation.”
Cutrano also apologized.
“The silence of a committee that had such great intentions … might be not existing any longer, that’ll be another silence I think our town will feel,” he said.
He added that the conduct of commenters shows the work has “a long way to go,” and that he is disappointed in himself for participating in “leisurely activism” — what he called the privilege of participating in activism that does not affect a person directly. He said the council might revisit guidelines and step up conduct enforcement in public comment sessions.
The council will meet in September to discuss the committee’s future.
“We’re not sure what the next step will be,” Ackerman said.
Amid uncertainty about the panel’s fate, some community members said they were concerned about the town’s transparency in other matters, such as policing.
Joe McGarry, an activist who created the group Rethink Police Fairfax, said he was concerned after filing public records requests for race-specific arrest records in all Marin jurisdictions. All compiled except Fairfax, he said.
Town Attorney Janet Coleson told McGarry in a letter that such data are not kept by the department, and therefore not subject to the request.
“The California Public Records Act requires the town to provide you with records responsive to your request,” Coleson wrote. “There is no requirement under the Act to create records that do not currently exist.”
Police Chief Rico Tabaranza said the department does not have records pertaining to McGarry’s request between 2015-2019, saying the town does not normally keep such records.
“As requested, the town provided Joe McGarry data for 2020 because those records were available for the council before his PRA request,” he said.
The town is collecting stop data in compliance with the Racial Identity Profiling Act and is “scheduled way ahead of our legal requirement to send reports to DOJ based on agency size,” Tabaranza said, referring to the California Department of Justice.
He said the town is working to extract arrest data and he hopes to release the information within 30 days.
“At the appropriate time, when previous arrest data is ready for public release, combined with stop data information, I believe the Fairfax Police Department will have improved on how we deliver services by providing transparency and relative resources for all community members to access,” he said.