CALIFORNIA CITY – Cal City MX Park may be allowed to reopen this weekend and other businesses may be allowed to open sooner rather than later, following direction given by City Council to City Manager Anna Linn April 28. Businesses are being encouraged to develop plans to reopen while still maintaining social distance guidelines and submit them to Linn via email to email@example.com. Meanwhile, Kern County officials say cities must continue to abide by California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay at home orders.
As reported by the Taft Midway Driller, on April 27 the city of Taft City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting Monday night to send a letter from Taft Mayor Dave Noerr to Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine asking for his assistance in coming up with safety guidelines for barber shops, hair salons, flower shops, gyms and other small businesses to reopen on May 4. On April 29, the Kern County Public Health Services Department, as reported in the Bakersfield Californian, said the city of Taft does not have the authority to let nonessential businesses open to the public, opening the door to a conflict if the city goes through with its plans.
California City Council Member Ron Smith read a letter sent to him by CCMX Owner John Elmes during a discussion item about when and how to reopen the city. Due to social distancing guidelines, a video of the meeting was streamed online, with comments through the city’s Granicus eComment system.
According to the letter, Elmes estimates he’s lost $35,400 in revenue or potential revenue over the previous three weeks. He also wrote that several motocross parks in Riverside and Los Angeles counties have reopened.
“The sport is unique in that it is outdoors and every rider wears safety gear,” he wrote. “I’m willing to continue operate with all the social distancing rules – such as 10-feet apart, no congregating, supplying a hand wash station, gloves and hand sanitizer at signups and no sharing of pens. All food will be to go and the motoshop will be drop off only.”
Council directed Linn to take interim steps and evaluate whether the interim steps make sense.
“If you listen to Mr. Elme’s plan and you visit him on Saturday and he’s implementing it and it looks safe, go for it,” said Council Member Nick Lessenevitch.
“Let’s lead instead of follow,” said Mayor Chuck McGuire.
Kern County Public Health issued a followup statement via email April 29 regarding cities attempting to reopen businesses.
“The Governor’s March 19, 2020 stay at home order requires Californian’s to stay at home unless obtaining essential services,” wrote Kern County Public Health Services Department Public Relations Officer Michelle Corson. “This order requires non-essential businesses to close. Opening these businesses is not a decision that can be made by the County or the individual cities. The Governor will need to lift or amend his order for these businesses to be able to open back up.
“The County has established an ad hoc committee to review and interpret the Governor’s list of essential businesses and to develop best practices and recommendations for the safe and responsible reopening of Kern County businesses once the Governor lifts or amends his stay at home order. We welcome representatives from all Kern County jurisdictions to participate and provide guidance during this process.
“We are sympathetic to our businesses and look forward to their reopening as soon as it is safe to do so. It is the responsibility of a business to abide by the Governor’s order.”
Council members said the situation in California City was unique and excessive restrictions were not needed. Council Member Ron Smith said council should also repeal the emergency declaration issued in support of the initial order from the state of California.
“We don’t want to put our citizens in danger, but we are no longer in the emergency that we thought we were going to be in,” he said.
As a business owner himself, Lessenevitch said he did have a vested interest in allowing businesses to open, but was optimistic about the community’s ability to follow guidelines.
“I think the city itself can be very responsible in developing a plan and allowing the businesses say how they will comfortably protect their customers,” he said. “I think that we’re seeing the problem as not being the problem that we were led to believe. I think that we should encourage the city manager to take action plans from the businesses that want to reopen and, if it sounds reasonable, let them reopen. We want to take care of our businesses, we want to stop feeling like the bottom of the barrel, I think it’s time to open.”
Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris said he believed the city should immediately open up the desert areas and golf course.
“Not necessarily put people on the golf course to work it, but allow our citizens to go and play golf and get out,” he said. “We’ve got the desert, we’ve got the MX park, we’ve got the golf course, let’s open them up tonight as a test. See what happens.”
McGuire said he had some concerns, but counted on businesses and residents to protect themselves.
“If business can come up with a plan that is acceptable and safe, let the businesses govern themselves,” he said. “But, the city is still going to have to have the ultimate say so.”
California City Fire Chief Jeremy Kosick, however, cautioned the council against moving too quickly.
“I do think that the city should encourage people to voluntarily protect each other by doing what that are currently doing,” he said. “To say that the virus isn’t here, I don’t think is an accurate statement. I do think that it is already here, but is it to the point of what they initially said, I don’t know.”
He noted that there were three self-reported cases of the virus in the city and reminded that a repeal of the city’s state of emergency declaration could be problematic.
“The state of emergency is what allows us to request reimbursement funding, if available, from the government,” he said. “I would suggest maintaining our state of emergency until the government says otherwise. But perhaps it would be in the Council’s purview to ease restrictions within our city to allow businesses to reopen with those business plans. Using common sense, social distancing, mask, hand washing, that sort of issue.”
Kosick noted that the city does not currently have any COVID-19 test kits for first responders and that there was a small number of first responders responsible for the community.
“Our mandate is actually to work until we are symptomatic and if we are symptomatic, to go home until we feel better,” he said. “Because we have so few paramedics and so few EMTs in our city, having to quarantine would quickly decimate all first responders. There simply is not enough resources and we will not be tested unless we are symptomatic.”
City Attorney Baron Bettenhausen said there is some guidance from the state about allowing businesses to open.
“You do have discretion to modify that to some extent, but certainly there is guidance out there,” he said. “I’m also seeing in some other counties the specific guidelines for businesses on how to go about opening up. There are definitely options.”
McGuire said businesses should put together a plan at get it to Linn as soon as possible.
“The ball’s in your court folks,” he said. “Get your business plan to the city manager ASAP.”
The business plans will be accepted through the weekend, evaluated by Linn, Kosick and others and an action item will be on the agenda for the May 5 meeting.
Additional coverage in the May 7 issue of Mojave Desert News.