Those attending Foster City’s Council meeting last week were met with an increased police presence and metal detectors. The security measures, which will likely continue at future council meetings, were implemented because a resident was arrested in June for possessing a cache of illegal weapons, including a machine gun and grenade launcher.
“As you can see we have security measures due to the recent incident that happened in Foster City,” Mayor Sam Hindi said during the July 1 meeting. “For me as a mayor, the safety of my community is my utmost responsibility and I don’t take that lightly at all so we had the security measures to make sure the public, staff and the elected are protected.”
Joseph Holmes, 41, was arrested after crews with the Contra Costa Anti-Violence Support Effort found the illegal firearms, some of which had been modified, in his home. Earlier in the year, CASE was tipped off that a person had obtained Glock conversion switches, which allow pistols to fire in automatic mode, according to the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office. CASE’s investigation led them to Holmes’ residence, where they found Glock switches, assault pistols and rifles, large capacity magazines, incendiary rounds and a machine gun with a silencer and grenade launcher attached, sheriff’s officials said.
The heightened security was celebrated by some as a necessary safety precaution while others described it as “political theater” and a misuse of police resources.
“I want to appreciate what the police and City Council are doing, it’s great” said resident Shaun Lenihan. “There’s no reason to have all that ammunition and all that illegal stuff.”
Resident Vy Vo, who said she knows Holmes personally, resented the suggestion that Holmes might be dangerous and felt the security measures at the council meeting were unnecessary.
“Painting a picture of this individual in Foster City as dangerous, as a possible terrorist cell in Foster City I take offense to,” she said. “I do have a concern about the resources used to have [the police] here when it’s unnecessary. … I enjoy my interaction with the police at all times, but I hope it’s not wasting city funds to do so.”
During the meeting, Vo and others claimed Holmes was not in fact arrested, but Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the Contra Cost Sheriff’s Office, which is currently handling the case, last week confirmed that the arrest occurred. Neither Holmes nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Resident Phyllis McArthur felt metal detectors are appropriate for council meetings regardless of the weapons seizure.
“Thank you for having those police officers out there. I always thought even prior to this incident that happened there should be metal detectors in City Council meetings,” she said. “They have them in Boston where I grew up for years and I just think it’s a good idea so thank you for doing that.”
Nancy, who declined to give her last name and who represents the San Mateo County chapter of Brady United Against Gun Violence, said the weapons the resident had in his possession are only used for killing.
“That someone could compile a stockpile of weapons that have no use but to kill people — these were not hunting weapons or for personal protection — that someone on a landing pattern for the San Francisco airport had a grenade launcher, it’s horrific that this happened in our own yard,” she said. “This is not acceptable in a civilized society. We are not here for terrorists to do what they may. We don’t know why he had these weapons, but we would like to see that people are unable to easily obtain so many weapons.”
Resident Jeff Regan, who also said he knows Holmes personally, described the man as an avid collector and claimed the type of grenade launcher he owned is legal in California and is actually used for smoke grenades and flares.
“This man needs to be given a chance to clear his name, but it’s innocent until proven guilty so he shouldn’t have to clear his name,” Regan said. “It doesn’t make what he had in his house right, but there are potentially extenuating circumstances.”
Leading up to the July 1 meeting, Hindi described online comments made by Holmes as “hostile,” which is part of why he and other officials opted for increased security at the meeting. Regan felt the descriptor was unfair and didn’t like the inference that his group was somehow involved.
“I resent how the mayor represented [Holmes], how he’s represented our private [online] group and how he justified the misuse of police resources,” Regan said. “Meanwhile, 20,000 people congregated at Leo Ryan Park on the Fourth of July and I want to know what police precautions were taken then.”
Regan is also part of a group that is attempting to recall Vice Mayor Herb Perez and he believes the security measures at the council meeting are an attempt to distract from that effort.
“This all starts and stops at Perez and the recall movement,” he said.
During the meeting, resident Barb Regan, no relation to Jeff Regan, offered a similar perspective and described the security measures as “political theater.”
“I totally respect what [police officers] do, but what they are doing tonight is merely participating in an act of political theater and I resent that they have to do that and we as an audience have to participate in that. … I’m more concerned about the civility and level of hostility that I see in front of me than what I find behind me,” she said, while addressing the dais.
Needless to say, Perez rejects those perspectives.
“They want to make this about me. This wasn’t me. This was all of us [on the council]. Do you think any one of us by ourselves could get the city to do anything?” Perez asked rhetorically. “This is about prudent policing.
“In America today, there are people who miss warning signs in their community and for us as elected officials and staff not to take measures that we deem appropriate would be irresponsible,” Perez continued. “There was an event that would cause alarm and the mayor, city manager and police chief have an affirmative obligation to take the same security precautions that you have at a concert, 49ers game or an airport. Why would we do any less?”
Councilwoman Richa Awasthi also felt the security measures were necessary and not political.
“I don’t think this is overkill or an overreaction or political,” she said. “It’s purely a safety measure, it’s precautionary and it’s doing something now to prevent something bad from happening later that we’d regret.”
Councilman Sanjay Gehani acknowledged the differing viewpoints on the increased security and maintains that the measures are warranted.
“Everyone has an opinion on it. I think it’s something we needed to do because certain councilmembers felt it was appropriate,” he said. “If councilmembers felt threatened then we need to take whatever measures we need to take. I agree with what staff did. I’d like to give it more time and see how the community feels. … To me it’s an ongoing investigation and I’d like to have the facts first and then we can say ‘what do we do from here.’”
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