Healdsburg City Council member Skylaer Palacios resigns, citing ‘hostile treatment’ and ‘housing instability’

Just under a year and a half after she was elected to the Healdsburg City Council, Skylaer Palacios has resigned.|

Just under a year and a half after she was elected to the Healdsburg City Council, Skylaer Palacios has abruptly resigned.

Palacios announced her resignation at the end of a council meeting Monday and said it was effective immediately.

In a prepared statement, she said her primary reason for giving up her seat was “housing instability” and her struggle to afford living in Healdsburg.

Palacios also cited concerns about her safety and mental health, saying she has “been on the receiving end of a plethora of hostile treatment” during her time on the council.

Palacios said she has been harassed online, her mail has been opened and her car tampered with.

Palacios’ time in office became shrouded by controversy when she emerged as a lightning rod in the debate over COVID-19 mandates last year.

She announced during a council meeting in November that she had not been vaccinated against the disease.

She was a staunch opponent of Healdsburg’s vaccination mandate for people attending council meetings, saying her decision to not get vaccinated was tied to health and spiritual reasons. She was a featured speaker in January at a protest against COVID-19 health mandates in Sonoma.

“People should be able to ask questions” of coronavirus-related restrictions, she said through a microphone in front of the crowd of about 250 protesters. “But instead, people have been silenced.”

Palacios, whose resignation came one day shy of the 18-month mark since she was elected, is the latest elected official in Sonoma County to step down before the end of a term in a wave of early departures.

She said the death of retired Healdsburg Police Chief Kevin Burke last month, which officials said was an apparent suicide, “made me take serious pause and reflect on whether I was ensuring a healthy environment for myself.”

“When I put it in perspective, I could either continue in my position knowing that my basic needs of housing and safety may not be met, or I can choose to advocate for myself and focus on meeting these needs,” Palacios said. “I am choosing to advocate for myself.”

“I’m sorry that it came to this,” Council Member Evelyn Mitchell told Palacios during the meeting Monday, saying that Palacios should be proud of her accomplishments.

“I know it’s a hard decision,” Mitchell said. “There are moments that I think we all go through when we’re on the council and things get pretty tough. But not like you had to endure.”

In the coming weeks, the council will consider how it will respond to the vacancy left by Palacios, whose term was set to expire in November 2024, Vice Mayor Ariel Kelley said in a Facebook post Tuesday morning.

The council’s options include appointing a new member for the remainder of Palacios’ term or appointing a temporary replacement until the November election and allowing voters to select a new member for a two-year term.

Kelley said the council could also consider leaving Palacios’ seat vacant before asking voters to select a replacement in November, but she said she was “not yet clear if this is legally allowed.”

Palacios noted in her announcement that her resignation “might come as a surprise to some.” But she said she had “always been fairly open about” her struggle with housing in the city.

“During my campaign I knew it was uncertain that I would be able to afford to live in Healdsburg for the duration of the four-year term,” she said. “It was the main reason I considered not running.”

Palacios was elected to the council in November 2020 at the age of 25. She was the city’s first Latina council member.

She decided to run for office amid national and local protests over the May 2020 death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.

Palacios, who grew up in Healdsburg and is of Latino, Black and Indigenous descent, was vocal about her opposition to the way Healdsburg’s then-Mayor Leah Gold handled calls for police reform following Floyd’s death.

Gold resigned as mayor in June 2020 amid backlash from community members over her dismissal of demonstrators’ calls for a formal discussion about the Healdsburg Police Department’s use-of-force policies.

Mayor Ozzy Jimenez said he respected Palacios’ decision to resign. Jimenez, who is Latino, said in a statement, “It is such a unique experience to serve as a young woman of color.”

Palacios’ resignation was “a difficult decision to be made,” Jimenez said, “and the reasons she raised are valid and is telling of the many reasons why young people find difficulty in serving.”

All but one of the seven elected officials who have resigned since last year in Sonoma County were under the age of 40, including Palacios. Most of them cited economic strain and the needs of family as their reasons for quitting early.

Before Palacios, the most recent person to step down from office in the county was Willy Linares, who resigned from the Rohnert Park City Council last month.

In 2021, Cloverdale Mayor Jason Turner, Santa Rosa Council Member Jack Tibbetts and three members of the Sonoma City Council quit before the end of their terms.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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