Among the items scheduled for debate at tonight's Sacramento City Council meeting are a contract for tree pruning services and a deal to buy 20 garbage trucks.
After that, it's on to Israeli-Palestinian relations.
One of the world's most polarizing feuds will enter the City Council chambers as the council considers whether to add Ashkelon, Israel, as Sacramento's 10th sister city. The choice has sparked a prickly debate among local peace groups and Jewish organizations, a marked shift for a normally benign sister city program that usually involves officials from other countries exchanging trinkets and ideas with their counterparts here.
Sacramento's foray into Middle Eastern politics started in 2009, when the City Council agreed to make the West Bank city of Bethlehem a sister city. Some local Jewish groups opposed the choice, but went along after Sacramento officials agreed to work on finding a sister city in Israel.
Ashkelon surfaced as a candidate last year, proposed by the Jewish Federation of Sacramento and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
An ancient coastal city once surrounded by massive ramparts and ruled by a dozen civilizations over the course of history, Ashkelon was a key battleground in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. It sits 8 miles north of Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, an area populated mainly by Palestinian refugees. In recent years, rockets fired from Gaza landed in the city, injuring scores of residents.
While they aren't surprised the idea has sparked a heated response, those behind the plan to connect Sacramento and Ashkelon said they are saddened that the choice has politicized an otherwise harmonious program.
"We're not going to solve the Middle East conflict in Sacramento," said Barry Broad, chair of the local Jewish Federation's sister city program. "And we certainly have no reason to join into it."
A large turnout is expected at tonight's council meeting, following months of sharply worded letters and emails sent to council members, many from groups opposing the measure. That vocal opposition surfaced soon after Ashkelon was chosen as a sister city candidate.
Those against the idea charge that the city is endorsing discrimination by partnering with Ashkelon, site of a prison holding Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. They said Palestinians were violently driven from the area in 1948, after the Israeli army took control of the region.
Challengers also contend that Palestinian Americans living in Sacramento and holding identification issued by the Israeli government would face strict travel restrictions if they tried to go to Ashkelon.
"We don't think the city should align itself with discriminatory practices," said Adeeb Alzanoon, a local delegate of the Palestinian American Congress whose family fled Ashkelon after Israel was formed.
"We are all human beings, and we want to instill values of humanity," he added. "This is not a political issue about Palestinians vs. Israel."
Since Alzanoon began his protest in March with a series of letters and meetings with council members, he has been joined by several groups active in local protests, including Sacramento Area Peace Action, Veterans for Peace and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Some of those groups were involved in an unsuccessful movement last year to force the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op to ban Israeli products on the grounds that the country's treatment of Palestinians is inhumane.
Abby Okrent, a board member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said opposition to the Ashkelon item is also grounded in human rights.
"I think that for most people involved, their concerns are heartfelt," Okrent said.
Most current council members were in office when the city agreed to link with Bethlehem and find an Israeli sister city. For that reason, it seems likely the council will support the Ashkelon plan.
Councilman Jay Schenirer, a former president of Congregation B'nai Israel, one of the oldest congregations in the West, is among those who support the proposal.
"This is an opportunity for Sacramento to really walk the talk of its own diversity," Schenirer said.
"We pride ourselves on being one of the most diverse cities in the nation, and here we have a chance to say, 'This is what it's all about.' I had hoped we could come together around this rather than have it be a wedge issue."