Emotions rise as Healdsburg councilmember Skylaer Palacios gains prominence in local anti-vaccination campaign
Skylaer Palacios was busy the night of Thursday, Nov. 18.
At 5 p.m. that evening was a Healdsburg City Council work session on commercial cannabis policy, a meeting that would last more than two hours. Also on Palacios’ agenda was a 6:30 p.m. event organized by a group called Make Americans Free Again at Heartwood Church in Rohnert Park.
She was the featured speaker. The topic was her opposition to Healdsburg’s vaccine mandate for city council meetings.
In a twist of irony, her unvaccinated status allowed her to participate in both events.
Her four fellow council members, all vaccinated, have been attending council meetings in person, while Palacios must log on remotely. Several observers have pointed out that her background setting looked different during the council session that night. Presumably, she was beaming in from Heartwood Church.
Her decision not to get vaccinated as a defense against the coronavirus — which she first acknowledged publicly during a Nov. 1 council meeting — and her criticism of the council’s mandate for in-chambers gatherings had already emerged as a divisive issue for the city and its political decision makers.
But the rancor has grown over the past month, with Palacios becoming a figurehead in an anti-mandate movement that ranges beyond the small city limits of Healdsburg.
Her rift with the rest of the council will be on display Monday night. Her supporters have advertised a “Freedom Rally” protest at Healdsburg City Hall.
“We are bringing thousands of folks from Oakland, Vallejo, etc. to Healdsburg to explain it clearly to you,” one of the organizers, Adina Flores, wrote in the comments section during a YouTube feed of the last Healdsburg City Council meeting on Nov. 15.
Palacios is supposed to participate in a closed council session for an annual job review of the city attorney from 5 to 6 p.m., followed by a regular council meeting at 6 p.m. She said she doesn’t know whether she’ll be able to participate in the anti-mandate demonstration, which is scheduled for 5:30.
“My priority is being fully present during the council meeting,” Palacios added.
The Sonoma County Republican Party is among those who have amplified the protest on social media.
The engagement at Heartwood Church was arranged by a local chapter of Make Americans Free Again, an Ohio-based organization that agitates nationwide for legal challenges to government health restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A church representative emphasized that the worship center opened its door for Palacios, but has no ties to Make Americans Free Again.
Palacios is discovering what other before her have — that taking a public stance in defiance of public health mandates brings immediate attention from the like-minded.
“There are people from every side of the political spectrum who believe the mandates are unjust, as well as both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals,” Palacios said in an emailed response to Press Democrat questions. “If anything, in a time of such political division, I see it as extremely positive that people with political differences can unite for a common cause, the belief in the basic human right of autonomy over one’s body.”
Flores and her partner, Shelby Pryor (who went by Shelby Dodson when interviewed for a Press Democrat story on vaccination tensions last summer), live in Santa Rosa, and their beef with mandates apparently goes beyond city limits.
“Do you need extra money in your pocket?!” they recently posted on multiple Instagram accounts. “Join our lawsuit against the Sonoma County Public Health Department for providing misinformation to our community regarding the COVID-19 vaccination.”
Pryor did not accept an interview request, but said in a text they have gathered 900 signatures “to remove the county health advisor” and the four Healdsburg City Council members who voted for the vaccination requirement.
Meanwhile, Cory O’Gorman, who has emerged as a consistent supporter of Palacios on Facebook and at Healdsburg council meetings, has listed addresses in Monte Rio and Santa Rosa. Amy Martensen, who also has been vocally anti-vaccine on the feeds of recent Healdsburg city sessions, is well-known as a political gadfly in Napa.