By Santa Clara Law students Osvaldo Hidalgo Otamendi and Antonia Ruck

On April 3, 2018, the City of Mountain View voted to approve a pilot program to conduct a human rights impact assessment of city projects, based on materials and support provided by Santa Clara Law’s International Human Rights Clinic. Law students Osvaldo Hidalgo Otamendi and Antonia Ruck, as well as Clinic Director Francisco Rivera, spoke at a public meeting of the City Council of Mountain View in support of this human rights pilot program.

The pilot program identifies three specific city projects that would be well-suited for a human rights impact assessment. According to the City Council staff report, the projects identified as “Short-Term Rental Regulations”, the “East Whisman Precise Plan” and “Vision Zero” align well with the following four issues of concern highlighted by the city’s Human Relations Commission: (1) housing displacement; (2) housing affordability; (3) social equity, and (4) economic prosperity.

This initiative is based on a resolution that was passed by the Council in 2016, which adopted the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding principles and declared the City of Mountain View to be a Human Rights City. The International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law was actively engaged in the process that led to this resolution, providing technical expertise and support.

At the public meeting on April 3, the City Council requested feedback from the community. Jule Solomon, who is a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission, was the first to speak in favor of the project. Santa Clara Law student Osvaldo Hidalgo Otamendi addressed the Council next and stressed the importance of this pilot program as a way to protect human rights. Highlighting Mountain View’s proactive attitude towards human rights, which the Council had shown by declaring Mountain View a Human Rights City, Osvaldo encouraged the city to take this next step and apply a human rights impact assessment through a pilot program.

Santa Clara Law student Antonia Ruck speaks at Mountain View City Council meeting

SCU Law student Antonia Ruck spoke about the importance of assessment tools to ensure support for human rights. As an international exchange student, she also emphasized the global influence of Silicon Valley as a leader in the world economy and in the promotion of progressive ideas. Lastly, Professor Francisco Rivera presented potential alternatives for the successful implementation of the pilot project and offered further support from the Clinic. He also highlighted the goal of human rights impact assessments, which is for the City Council to make more informed and considered decisions. As a human rights expert, Prof. Rivera also answered further questions from Council members.

In the discussion that ensued, Council members debated about the need for such a pilot project, with passionate speeches in support of the proposals from former mayor Ken Rosenberg and current mayor Lenny Siegel, among others. Councilmember John McAlister questioned the benefit of assessing the human rights impact of the city’s projects, while Concilmember and Vice Mayor Lisa Matichak expressed discomfort with the proposal based on her reading of the broad set of rights recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Councilmember Abe-Koga opined that the proposed projects should address other or addtional human rights issues than those recommended by the Human Relations Commission. Ultimately, most members expressed their support for the pilot project and voted 6-1 in favor of the proposal, with Vice Mayor Lisa Matchak being the only vote against it.

The Clinic enthusiastically welcomes this outcome and congratulates the City Council for its decision. The Clinic will continue to work with the city to provide technical assistance and support on the implementation of this novel human rights impact assessment program.

Santa Clara Law students Osvaldo Hidalgo Otamendi and Antonia Ruck, and Prof. Francisco Rivera