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Colusa County Open?

Clarification: In the May 20, story on ‘Colusa County Open..maybe? Sort of…it’s complicated’, there is some confusion by Colusa officials and members of the public as to the role the City of Colusa had in the letter written to Gov. Gavin Newsom. While Colusa Mayor Josh Hill was asked by county staff to sign onto the letter drafted by County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler and Board of Supervisors Chair Denise Carter, the “consternation” by the board was only that the letter did not contain the language directed by unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors following the May 13, meeting. The motion, following two lengthy special meetings of the Board of Supervisors on reopening the economy on May 8, and May 13, was to write to the governor asking that Colusa County be moved to Phase 3. Incidentally, there was no discussion by the Board of Supervisors at either of those meetings that the letter was to be a joint county/city project, nor was the letter brought to the full City Council for endorsement. That was a decision by county staff after the fact.

 Maybe? Sort of…it’s complicated…

Kaela Mercado of Market Street Grill serves dine-in customers on Friday, but the restaurant quickly returned to take-out only after deciding the state mandates for reopening would be too costly until normal operations can resume. (Photo by: Susan Meeker)

Tension between Colusa County Board of Supervisors, local public health officials, county staff, and Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to brew as the state’s lockdown takes a further toll on individuals and local businesses.

The Board of Supervisors said May 13, that the governor’s one-size-fits-all lockdown has created a far bigger public health and safety risk in the community than the novel coronavirus.

Colusa County has had a total of just three confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no deaths. More than 197 people tested for the virus are negative, and the county has made tests available to anyone who wants one.

While the governor last week approved Colusa County’s reopening of some businesses and worksites, the Board of Supervisors on May 13, said the lockdown was still too restrictive.

The board voted 5-0 on May 13, to send a letter to the governor and state Public Health Officer asking for permission to enter Phase 3, which would allow greater flexibility in the type of businesses that could open – with protocols in place – or they would make the decision on their own on Tuesday.

The board’s process, however, was hijacked by County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler, Public Health Director Elizabeth Kelly, and Board of Supervisors Chair Denise Carter, after they decided the county should not risk $2.2 million dollars that funds Public Health Programs and jobs if they don’t follow the state guidelines.

Tyler said she fashioned the letter after several other counties’ request – not asking for Phase 3 – but for permission to move some businesses from Phase 3 to Phase 2.

“So that is the letter we sent,” Tyler said. “I know there was consternation among board members for that. I will tell that our choice was to call another special meeting with the board chair, and we decided to send a letter that other counties have sent, because they wanted to do what other counties did.”

Tyler said she and Carter discussed the matter and went ahead with the letter they penned to try to get additional businesses open, but without openly defying the governor’s order.

Meanwhile, Colusa County was approved last week to enter Phase 2. The governor expanded Phase 2 to more Califorrnia’s counties on Monday.

Phase 2 allows dine-in restaurants to only open at half capacity and retail shops to open with just curbside pickup, but many businesses remain closed, including hair and nail salons, gyms, and drinking establishments.

Even with some sectors allowed to reopen, business owners said the requirements are too onerous and costly.

Market Street Grill, in Colusa, was one of the first restaurants to reopen to dine-in customers on Friday, but by Sunday had resumed to take-out only when they realized they could not cover the mitigation costs until business are allowed to resume normal operations.

Phase 3 would have allowed restaurants to operate at increased capacity, bars to open to limited capacity, and gyms, personal care salons, and pools to open with protocols in place. Phase 3 would also allow people to resume most of their normal activities, with the exception of going to church.

“It is my opinion, that we – as well as the governor – have no constitutional right to keep businesses from doing their jobs,” said Supervisor Gary Evans, on May 13, after affirming a number of constitutional protections upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding personal property rights have been violated by the shelter-in-place order.

In last week’s letter to the governor, Board Chairwoman Denise Carter (and also signed by Colusa Mayor Josh Hill), instead of asking for Phase 3 reopening as directed, asked the state to create a hybrid of Phase 2 and Phase 3, because not to do so would lose sight of other threats to public health and safety in Colusa County, resulting from an extended lockdown.

“Isolation, along with reduced in-person physical and mental health services, have significant public health and safety implications,” the letter states. “In an attempt to protect people from a virus that might make them extremely ill, or potentially kill them, we may be subjecting them to different public health threats that could have the same negative results.”

Officials said that since the lockdown, Colusa County has experienced increased reports of domestic violence and child abuse, and an observed spike in 911 calls from people with chorionic health conditions who are afraid to go to the doctor, hospital, or emergency room, and therefore exacerbate their health conditions to a level where emergency response and or death occurs, officials said.

Colusa County has also had its share of disasters and economic hardship over the past two years, and had an already fragile economy and high unemployment rate before the virus struck.

Supervisor Kent Boes, who made the motion to move forward into Phase 3 on May 13, said Colusa County could not sustain the shutdown any longer.

“Our businesses are dying on the vine,” Boes said. “I realize that reopening the economy is second to the cost of lives, but the data is not there. We don’t have the cases; we don’t have the same situation that other counties have. But not having our economy open, and by not having our businesses open, we now have multiple businesses gone forever because they could not weather this storm as a small business. And that has a much longer and much more lasting detrimental effect than the data has shown the last couple of months in Colusa County.”

By Tuesday, however, Supervisors were fuming about not having the opportunity to vote on whether to enter Phase 3 without the governor’s permission, because the decision to have the matter placed on the agenda was also usurped by county staff and the board chairwoman.

Evans called the decision by county staff to usurp their decisions solely on the basis of money “immorale,” and said the Public Health Department’s words of concern for the health and safety of the public regarding COVID-19 were “hollow.”

Carter suggested Colusa County just “stay the course” but work collaboratively with other Northern California counties to pressure the governor for a variance that would allow the county to move into Phase 3, at which time Public Health would tighten restrictions only if a “problematic outbreak from a particular sector” occurs.

“If we maintain where we are, we will definitely move to Phase 3,” Tyler told the board. “But I publicly wanted to state that we did send a letter, and I will live with the consequences of that choice as you see fit.”

Kelly said she wanted the public to understand that her department worked very hard with state officials last week in trying to get the state to explain their reasoning why Colusa County gyms could not open, given their ability to put COVID-19 protocols in place, but the state in firm in their decision that gyms may not open.

“But as you can see with the second attestation (on Monday), they are looking at it,” Kelly said. “We are getting there. They realize we are different and that we are not in LA.”

Kelly said that she believes the state is paying attention and that movement into the next phases may go quickly.

Supervisor Merced Corona, however, said he was surprised his staff went against the board’s decision and did not send the letter as requested, but Carter again said the state has specifically written in its order that if they do not stay in compliance with the state’s order, “you can say goodbye to those funds.”

Evans had fewer words to express his anger at the process, but said the matter continues to be about “power and control” by the state.

Corona also expressed his disappointment at not being able to move forward into Phase 3.

“I think prolonging it even two weeks is further damaging our economy,” Corona said, adding that he has listened to both sides of the argument about opening up. “But anything short of Phase 3 at this point is not good.”

Boes, who had made the original motion to move forward, was absent Tuesday due to a family emergency.

Carter, however, maintained that moving only into Phase 2 was a positive first step.

“I think having a reasonable time for that to sink in, is OK before we move into phase 3,” she said. “I think two weeks is good.”

Under Phase 2, county office buildings are expected to open to the public today. All branches of the Library, however, will remain open for curbside pickup.

Gatherings of people are still limited to 10. Travel can resume as normal.


To view the letter sent to the Governor Newsom, click here.

To listen to the meetings, use the player below:

  • Colusa County Board of Supervisors 05/13/2020 features making the motion to send a ‘letter to the state requesting to move into phase 3’ starting at 01:55:00.
  • Colusa County Board of Supervisors 05/19/2020 features the discussion and statements regarding the letter sent to Governor Newsom starting at 00:14:30.

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