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After getting caught in COVID-19 ‘lie’ Manteca is putting SJ County on spot
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For more than a month, City of Manteca officials have clearly stated they lacked the manpower to enforce San Joaquin County imposed COVID-19 shutdown orders.

Complaints, they said, would be referred to the sheriff’s department or the CHP.

At the same time they carefully crafted a detailed game plan on reopening Manteca promising if the county didn’t allow gyms and other concerns to reopen they’d take their case to the governor implying they were willing risk the consequences.

This was all done while the city assured everyone — and especially those with a heightened concern about being exposed to the COVID-19 — they would not allow businesses to reopen until it was safe to do so.

On Friday, their game of walking the political tightrope of public opinion came crashing down when Manteca Police — and not the sheriff’s department or CHP — issued a cease and desist order to the CALFit health club on Friday to close down. They had reopened Wednesday without permission of the San Joaquin County Health Department.

Making it worse, at the June 2 Manteca City Council meeting city officials essentially gave CALFit the green light to reopen when they said it was up to individual gym owners to make the decision to do so and once again stating Manteca would not be enforcing county orders.

Yet on Friday Manteca did enforce the county orders — or did they?

The city contended the official printed order issued  to CALFit that the gym posted on Facebook was just an “educational” thing, stressing that it was information on the rules for businesses to follow much like the police issuing someone a warning by educating them about a law they are breaking without ticketing them or arresting them.

The idea of educating anyone — a speeding motorist or a business not following COVID-19 rules — is to make them comply.

Yet the city contended it was merely educating and not forcing anyone to comply. That despite a police officer serving CALFit with a written notice on city letter head ordering them to cease and desist.

At the same time they said they were not going to ignore a complaint made by a citizen. But instead of referring it to the sheriff’s department or CHP they handled it despite repeatedly saving they wouldn’t.

One of the reasons offered was that they didn’t want to run the risk of not being reimbursed by the state for the costs for any COVID-19 expenses the city incurred regarding enforcement of executive orders dealing with the local public health emergency the city declared.

Now that the curtain has been pulled back, it is clear that all the city has been doing is playing political appeasement. The nice way to say it was they were misleading people. The impolite way is to say they were deliberately lying.

It is clear the council and city management has been getting a lot of heat over the COVID-19 stay at home orders given they are the ones that have to handle the daily wrath of people and not the county or the state. To channel the late President Harry Truman, if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen.

Placating people when they are fearful of losing their livelihood, businesses, and homes is much easier than telling them tough luck and that it is out of your control.

City officials have also made sounds that they would go to bat for businesses if things weren’t allowed to reopen. A clearly frustrated Mayor Ben Cantu at one point in late May implied the city needed to step up and start reopening businesses if the state and county didn’t start doing so by June 1. Several days later, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would allow counties to start reopening on a phased approach.

This does nothing to allay the fears of those who face financial ruin whether it is the loss of their livelihoods and jobs that in turn will undermine efforts to shelter, clothe, and feed their families.

Last week, the COVID-19 rules claimed another fatality — 24 Hour Fitness. They will not be reopening their 100 locations including Manteca due to the economic carnage the stay at home orders have caused.

The question is how many other businesses will go to the wayside including those given false hope the City of Manteca when push came to shove would stand up for them?

It is easy to shut down a serious debate about whether reopening is wise by simply saying those who advocate it are valuing money more than life.

And when it is pointed out much of the country is on the edge of an economic abyss it is easy to imply that is due to their failure to be able to position themselves to survive for more than three months. Funny, but those that argue that point were either never stopped from working under the COVID-19 orders or have secure pensions from a government agency not subject to the whims of the stock market or the ability of a corporation to remain in businesses.

There is no known cure for COVID-19 nor is there a known vaccine. History tells us pandemics end when society becomes comfortable with the death rate.

And now we have the World Health Organization saying spikes we are seeing now is not a second wave per se but the result of lockdown orders being eased.

Given that seems closer to reality, the real question is can a civilized society have the ability for people to shelter, clothe and feed themselves if the economy is locked downed for months or even years?

A sound argument can be made that allowing reopening with all social distancing and COVID-19 cautions in place is the best move to make when all things are taken into consideration.

Perhaps the City of Manteca can redeem itself. If you look at the rules they drafted in a bid to show the county and state they were responsible enough to allow the reopening of barbershops and dining places you will notice they are a tad more stringent than what the state and county went with. The city did not opt to put their rules in place once the county rolled out their own for the sake of uniformity. The same can be said of the rules to reopen gyms are tougher in terms of what Manteca has proposed compared to what the state has set as the bottom line.

The city doesn’t have to do a “full Atwater” like the Merced County city did and declare Manteca a sanctuary city for businesses.

Instead they need to go “rogue” — that’s San Joaquin County bureaucracy talk for the city’s posturing but in a responsible way that reflects the realities of COVID-19. That would mean they’d allow the reopening of businesses under tougher protocols than the county would and then essentially dare the county to play the heavy to force businesses to shut while at the same time the city diligently works to enforce its protocols.

In doing so they may have to kiss $200,000 to $300,000 in COVID-19 emergency reimbursements from the state good-bye. That would prove they were not misleading people and are willing to strike a true balance between all needs.

Such action would be illegal under the governor’s executive order which is why the city going forward on Monday made it clear in a letter to the health department if they want a business closed they will have to do it themselves.