There are five counties that can’t seek a variance and get out from under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s thumb when it comes to reopening. San Joaquin County is one of them.
Frustrated Manteca council members were told Tuesday by city officials that Newsom’s office won’t allow San Joaquin County to get ahead of the state’s reopening decisions due to a fact not enough of the county’s at-risk homeless population is not being sheltered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, the county lacks adequate contact tracing capability for COVID-19 patients to meet Newsom’s basic requirements.
Newsom’s stance on an adequate number of homeless being sheltered within the county is in spite of a report the Board of Supervisors received Tuesday that there are no known cases of COVID-19 among the homeless in San Joaquin County.
Manteca as part of San Joaquin County is being lumped in with Los Angeles and other counties with severe COVID-19 issues. That means it is unlikely in-store shopping at non-essential businesses or even restricted dining at restaurants will be allowed in the near future let alone “phase three” openings that run the gamut from nail salons, barber shops, stylists, and fitness clubs. The same goes for businesses in Tracy, Ripon, Lathrop, and Escalon.
That prompted Mayor Ben Cantu to declare he wanted to tell the state Manteca would open all businesses June 1 and at the same time require anyone venturing outside their homes to wear face masks if they were not allowed to open.
Cantu, as well as the council, backed off that stance after City Manager Miranda Lutzow advocated that the city would best be served by not issuing Newsom an ultimatum and instead try to work with the state first. In agreeing, council members made it clear they intended to call a special meeting to consider acting to reopen Manteca on June 1 if the state did not respond.
Lutzow said the state could easily withhold a variety of grants from recycling to targeted police enforcement if the city defies Sacramento. City Attorney John Brinton also pointed out if the city did not comply with the state rules, Newsom’s office could unleash Alcoholic Beverage Control and other regulatory agencies that license everything from cosmetologists and barbers to nail salons and have licenses yanked or other forms of retribution take place if they opened under a city initiative instead of waiting for the state.
The council ultimately approved a detailed reopening plan for opening all businesses and directed it be sent to the county and state along with an outline of why Manteca is prepared to reopen ahead. If staff doesn’t get a response back from the state, Cantu promised to call a special meeting to “reopen” Manteca.
“Hopefully we get some good news from the governor or we have our special meeting and open the city back up because there is a lot of pain out there,” Councilman Gary Singh said
All of the cities in the county with the exception of Stockton have been pushing for a quicker reopening. Stockton is hamstrung by having disproportionately more serious cases than other cities on a per capita basis.
At the same time the state has said San Joaquin County hasn’t met a directive to house the vulnerable among the homeless during the pandemic.
That despite San Joaquin County spending $798,000 to rent a 76-room Stockton motel for 56 days for the vulnerable homeless as ordered by the governor. That cost doesn’t include any damage the guests might cause.
The last point-in-time count put the number of unsheltered homeless in San Joaquin County at 1,558. At best, the motel solution gets a tenth of the homeless off the street for about $2,625 a month per homeless individual. That assumes two people per morel room. You could rent the most expensive three bedroom apartment in Manteca in the Tesoro complex for that price, house six people (two to a bedroom) and have $300 left over each month.
Councilman Jose Nuño said Manteca had a solution to help shelter the homeless but Newsom himself vetoed the plan when he stopped the city’s initial attempt to buy the Qualex building for $1 to convert it into a navigation center and homeless shelter. In a rarity, the legislation to allow that to happen that was authored by Assemblyman Heath Flora of Ripon was not opposed by a single state legislator.
Earlier in the meeting when the council was considering the resolution to keep the local emergency in place, Councilman Dave Breitenbucher took exception to wording that described the COVID-19 situation locally as a “dire emergency”. He based his position on Manteca-specific COVID-19 data regarding hospitalization and deaths that city staff has pointed out repeatedly is significantly lower than the county statistics.
“We’re not in peril,” Breitenbucher said.
Breitenbucher made a pitch to open all businesses with social distancing protocols in place.
“Most of us are still getting paychecks and they’re not,” Breitenbucher said of small businesses.
He added that the longer they are not allowed to reopen, the more likely people won’t only lose their businesses but their homes as well.
“Newsom doesn’t live here,” Breitenbucher said. “Newsom doesn’t work here. Newsom doesn’t vote here. We represent 85,000 people (in Manteca).”
Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon noted the resolution was a boilerplate required for adoption if Manteca is to have a chance at being reimbursed for expenses it has incurred as the result of the pandemic emergency.
Brinton added that by not continuing with the emergency declaration the city’s first responders would lose access to personal protection equipment the state purchases as well as initial access to anti-viral vaccines that may be developed.
The council ended up unanimously extending the resolution extending the local COVID-19 emergency.
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