The Clovis City Council voted Monday, May 4, to repeal its emergency orders that mandated the closure of non-essential businesses, essentially leaving the state and county to enforce emergency protocols.
The yes vote means Clovis police officers will not enforce Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order that mandates certain sectors remain closed. The council noted that the city would only enforce the order in the circumstance of an “egregious violation.”
“In effect, what this new order does, via this resolution, is to make sure that the stay-at-home order that has been issued by the governor is the only one that would be in effect in the city of Clovis,” councilmember Bob Whalen said. “When it comes to the enforcement of the governor’s order, that enforcement is going to be the function of state officials and county officials.”
Businesses or religious organizations that choose to reopen could still face potential consequences from the county and state, however. The penalties could come in the form of losing your business license.
The city would only get involved if a violation was considered egregious, or if the county refused to abide by the order, Whalen said.
“The only reason the City of Clovis would intervene is if there were a couple of things that happened. One is that the actual violation of the stay-at-home order of the governor’s order would be egregious,” Whalen said. “Two, the state or the county is refusing, declining or ignoring the request for enforcement.”
The vote was cast after more than a dozen people addressed the council in person, almost all pleading for their businesses or churches to reopen.
Brad Mills, a pastor at Grace Clovis Presbyterian Church, asked the council to quickly reopen churches and businesses before waiting on Newsom’s four stage plan. Under the plan, churches would not open until stage three, which Newsom recently said is likely months away.
“We all define essential differently, this kind of unjust and equal treatment will not stand up in the courtroom,” he said. “We can follow the lead of a growing number of counties that have decided to reopen early… we can agree to adhere to reasonable social distancing, but these draconian measures must end.”
Cora Shipley, president of the Business Organization of Old Town and owner of three Clovis businesses, said local businesses would not be able to survive another month without opening. She added that she has cut down staff in order to stay open.
“There are so many businesses out there that are teetering. They have gone through it, they had to cut everything that they have cut,” Shipley said. “We are fully prepared to open up under all your guidelines, but we do need to open up, all of us really do, so many of us are just really in dire situations.”
The effects of the shelter-in-place order is felt up and down the state. According to a league of California Cities analysis, Golden State cities are projecting a $7 billion in revenue loss over the next two fiscal years.
Larry Baumeister, owner of Old Town Saloon, said he could not afford to stay closed any longer, and expressed worry over the possibility of a future Old Town without bars.
“I don’t know how long I can pay my bills, my employees are already not paying their bills,” Baumeister said. “We need a light at the end of the tunnel, we need to know what is going to happen to us. Because right now, we are all confused.”
Police Chief Curt Fleming said the decision puts the police department in an awkward position.
“This whole ordinance really puts us at a disadvantage,” he said. “I just don’t want people to get the wrong idea that we’re telling you to violate a law that is out there on the books and then we are just going to turn a blind eye. That puts us in a bad position.”
The vote arrived the same day that Newsom announced the state would enter the early stage two phase of California’s reopening plan, beginning Thursday, May 7. Stage Two sees the reopening of the retail sector, including bookstores, clothing stores, music shops and florists.
The state order still restricts the reopening of several businesses, however. Office spaces and dine-in restaurants may have to wait a few more weeks to get the governor’s approval.
Newsom also said he would allow individual counties to speed up or slow down their approach to reopening businesses. He said more rural counties with low COVID-19 case counts can open their businesses more quickly, if they attest that they can meet the state’s readiness criteria.
That criteria includes proving they have low numbers of COVID-19 cases, meet testing and contact tracing criteria, that their health care symptoms can handle a potential spike in cases and that they have plans in place to protect vulnerable populations.
But Clovis’ announcement that it will not enforce the order opens up a potential path for businesses to reopen, though they may still face backlash from the county or state.
The council also approved sending two letters to Newsom. One asks the governor to officially reopen the city for business.
“As the elected body of the City of Clovis, we are requesting that you pursue an aggressive strategy for reopening our city for business,” the letter reads. “One size does not fit all. A reopening process that may fit, and make sense, for the Los Angeles and Bay Area regions does not work for our city.”
The second letter asks Newsom to establish at least a $7 billion city revenue stabilization fund for direct aid to all California cities. The letter also asks the state to allocate $8.4 billion in CARES Act funding for cities with populations under 500,000.