The Napa City Council could make a symbolic statement about firearms at its Tuesday meeting.
On an agenda that includes approving a budget, considering the disposition of the Borreo building and determining the fate of a contested affordable housing project, the City Council will consider whether to change its investment policy to take a stand against gun manufacturers.
During the afternoon portion of the meeting, city staff is scheduled to recommend the council amend its investment policy to state Napa will not invest in companies that manufacturer firearms that are illegal for sale under California’s assault weapons ban.
“Our current policy is pretty generic,” Assistant City Manager Nancy Weiss said of the city’s investment standards that have never before touched on ethical issues. “It’s not uncommon right now for cities to be doing what we are doing,” she said of the proposed change.
The proposed policy comes several months after a petition, started by Napa resident Lowell Downey, surfaced online calling on the city and county to adopt policies stating they would not invest in companies that manufacture and/or sell guns and ammunition. As of Monday afternoon, it had received 116 signatures.
“It’s not exactly what we were asking for — we were hoping for a divestment from any weapon manufacturing — but at this stage, I’m grateful the city has opened the doors for responsible investing,” Downey said Monday. “I’m just grateful that they have made this statement. “
After the council discussed the matter in February and directed its staff to look into the idea, Interim Finance Director Bill Zenoni did some research and found other cities and agencies have recently taken similar stances, Weiss said. Both Berkeley and Oakland recently acted to prohibit investment in companies that manufacture firearms.
The language of Napa’s policy, if enacted, would be modeled after policy set earlier this year by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s board of directors, according to the city staff report.
“The CalPERS investment restriction appears to be well thought out, would not be difficult to implement and administer, and makes a clear statement regarding the manufacturing of illegal assault weapons,” the report says.
If the council were to follow the recommendation of staff, the move would be a symbolic one. According to city officials, Napa does not currently invest in any manufacturers of firearms banned under California law.
The closest investment the city has is a $300,000 corporate note with Walmart, which sells firearms and ammunition. When Downey approached the council in February, he had urged the city to remove its money from Walmart for this reason.
Mayor Jill Techel, who in February said she’d rather not spend much time on the issue, said she believes the city found a way to make its statement without consuming too much time.
“I feel like (staff’s recommendation is) probably an addition we can make that won’t be terribly cumbersome,” Techel said. “Some of the suggestions (in February) might have been cumbersome on the people who were making our investments.”
The item is scheduled on the council’s consent calendar, meaning it could be approved with no discussion. Councilman Peter Mott said he plans to bring the matter up for public review because there was so much discussion about the idea in February.
At the time, Mott said he did not want the city to send the wrong message to law-abiding gun owners. On Monday, he said staff’s proposal, which is more refined and specific than the one raised by Downey and supporters, is one he can get behind.
“It’s about a reasonableness, that’s what I’m looking for,” Mott said. “I’m a gun owner and a hunter so I don’t think that necessarily divesting from companies that manufacture all guns falls into what I think is particularly important in our investment policy.”
Mott said he doesn’t want the city to go as far as Berkeley, which has a large numbers of areas in which it refuses to invest the community’s money because of the council’s political beliefs. He is against illegal assault rifles, he said.
“I think the language in the CalPERS policy is good,” Mott said. “I think our investment policies and strategies are good ones.”
The current investment policy, which is updated every two years when the city adopts a budget, only touches on financial investing standards. The policy focuses on making investments that are safe, adequately liquid and provide the best yield.
Downey said if the council moves forward on staff’s recommendation, he sees room in the future for other opinions to make their way into the policy.
“I hope that now that this is out, it will continue to grow and be part of our consciousness of where we invest in the future,” Downey said.
The council meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 955 School St.