HEALDSBURG, Calif. - Protesters invading Healdsburg City Hall Monday night forced a city council meeting onto Zoom.
At the center of the turmoil: Councilwoman Skylaer Palacios, who is not allowed to attend in-person meetings because she is unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Dozens of anti-vax and anti-mandate activists flocked to Healdsburg to show support for Palacios and press for a reversal of city rules.
"I think it's kind of senseless that she's not allowed inside her council chambers," said Shelby Darby, who rented a charter bus to bring protesters to the rally.
Darby said he has met with Palacios several times, and was hopeful she would step out of the council proceedings to meet her fans.
That did not happen, and as the council was poised to begin its public session at 6pm, protesters overran the lobby
"No mandates, no vax, no mandates, no vax," they chanted, dashing any hope the elected officials would take their seats and tackle their agenda on time.
The city clerk promptly waded into the raucous crowd to tell everyone that the meeting had become exclusively virtual.
When it did start 45 minutes late, the mayor referenced the disruption.
"While we respect the right to protest this went beyond where we thought anybody could go or should go," said Healdsburg Mayor Evelyn Mitchell. "We were essentially in harm's way and we had to lock the door to the chamber because of the number of individuals."
By their own admission, the individuals were defiantly unvaccinated and challenging the proof-of-vaccination requirement.
"My questions about the vaccines have not been answered," said Palacios in a 30-minute YouTube statement, defending her position. "I question major media, the government, I question the pharmaceutical companies, and I believe asking questions about personal and public health is important and necessary."
While her four council colleagues are able to attend meetings in-person, Palacios participates remotely.
Often she is alone in a separate room at the city hall complex, as she was Monday night.
"I'm here to support the councilwoman who is locked out of her meetings because she refused to be injected with an experimental jab," explained a woman named Carrie who drove an hour south from Ukiah in Mendocino County.
Many longtime residents resent how Palacios has become a high-profile hero for vaccine resisters.
"I'm disappointed that she's taken this stance and I supported her candidacy," said Brian Geagan, a 40 years resident of Healdsburg.
"I think it's fringe, I think it's unwise and I don't think it's good for Healdsburg."
After banging on the glass walls clamoring to get in, protesters eventually found an unlocked entrance and flowed into the council foyer, unimpeded.
Healdsburg police sent two officers to guard the doors, only after the chamber lights were dimmed and the meeting moved online.
Palacios never came outside to meet protesters, as was anticipated.
Nor did she address the issue during the council meeting, while commenting on speed limits, road safety and parklets as they came up.
"I think everybody has the right to make rules, but they do not have the right to make rules that infringe upon people's freedoms," said organizer Pryor.