Salinas Budget Fallout Police salary increases spark community reactions

‘Tailgate’ outside Salinas City Hall


Story and photo by Claudia Meléndez Salinas


New City Council Faces Legal, Political Realities: Police Raises Prove Awkward

After voting to support a salary increase for the Salinas Police Department, newly elected Salinas Councilwoman Carla Viviana González urged residents to continue to apply pressure to elected officials: “Submit public comments … hold us accountable.”

And that’s what many are doing. On March 24, a coalition of Salinas organizations that included Agents of Change and Baktun 12 held a “Salinas Budget Tailgate Party” with music, food and spoken word to get residents inspired ahead of a community budget session. Between songs and poetry, organizers urged participants to join the meeting on Zoom and speak up about how they’d like to see the city spend its nearly $168 million in operating budget money.

The event was already in the works when González and Anthony Rocha, two of the four new members of the City Council, voted to support a $1.7 million contract with the Salinas Police Officers Association. The vote took their supporters by surprise, and reignited the activism that reached a high point after the George Floyd killing along with demands to shift public spending.

“We’re really upset that Carla and Anthony did not vote against it, and really happy that Tony Barrera and Orlando (Osornio) made a stand,” said Nick Musni, an organizer with Agents of Change. “It would have not passed if we had their two votes. It made sense for us to show up and show that we as a community our unity … They need to see us, when they make the decisions and not just the representatives of the police union, negotiating behind closed doors they make decisions on how they spend our money.”

The community meeting had about 150 participants who were sent into breakout rooms (ah, the beauty of Zoom) to tell administrators what the biggest problem they believe the city has (lack of affordable housing, few services for young residents) and what they’d like to see more of (funding for the Alisal Vibrancy Plan, more programs for youth and more housing programs).]

“The Alisal Vibrancy Plan, they had so much community input, it was very fleshed out, it’s a very comprehensive plan for community investment, and it’s just sitting there,” Musni said. “Why do we have input sessions and community-driven plans and projects if not funded or implemented. People in essence are not listened to, so we’re holding them accountable to us.”

Community organizers were not just upset about the vote: earlier in the day, Mayor Kimbley Craig promoted the community meeting with a Facebook post that read: “**Defund the Police** organizers are BACK IN TOWN and plan to attend the meeting. PLEASE make your opinion known TONIGHT on how you feel about the city’s budget priorities!”

For local activists, many of them born and raised in Salinas, the post felt like a slap in the face.

“It’s a way to discredit a movement to say we’re outsiders,” Musni said. “This is our town, she represents us, we’re all from here, that needs to be said. You can’t discount an entire community. To tell your constituency that we don’t come from here … that was really upsetting for us. The folks who brought his event, MILPA, Baktun 12, Agents of Change, are all from Salinas, and have a long history of community organizing. We want to see changes, not keep the same ways things have been doing, they are not working.”

Craig eventually deleted her post. “Social media can be an area where intent and interpretation can be misunderstood,” she told Voices of Monterey Bay. “I read some of the social media comments of people in other cities wanting to ‘weigh in’ on the Salinas budget and that frustrated me. I am overprotective of making sure Salinas residents get a voice at the table, and that their voices don’t’ get lost or diluted by outside influences, outside of Salinas.”

The next opportunity for Salinas residents to chime in the budget is Tuesday, March 30, when administrators will make a presentation to the City Council about the process. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. Participants may join through Zoom here.

“We plan to show up more, focus more on building our own systems,” Musni said. “Agents of Change will pressure the city council to really hear us.”

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Claudia Meléndez Salinas

About Claudia Meléndez Salinas

Claudia Meléndez Salinas is an author, journalist, open water swimmer, and cat lover. | Claudia Meléndez Salinas es autora, periodista, nadadora de aguas abiertas, y aficionada a los gatos.