The Tracy City Council determined on Tuesday that it will do what it can to help businesses through the COVID-19 quarantines, short of defying state quarantine mandates.
In November crowds of local business owners rallied in front of Tracy City Hall during council meetings to insist that Tracy’s civic leaders allow them to reopen, in spite of state orders that many businesses -- such as restaurants, gyms and salons -- remain closed to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
At its previous meeting on Dec. 15 the council approved a $500,000 grant program to help small businesses and quickly found that the demand for that relief was well beyond what the city had offered. At the time, Mayor Nancy Young and Councilwoman Eleassia Davis asked that the council put its handling of the COVID-related business shutdowns on the agenda for the first meeting of 2021.
Though the council had entertained the concept of a “sanctuary city,” where the local government entity would create its own set of rules that would be less restrictive than the state’s rules, City Manager Jenny Haruyama and City Attorney Leticia Ramirez reminded the council that state mandates take priority over city policies.
Ramirez spelled out the legal principles that the state operates under.
“As a city, all of the legal authority the city has stems from the California Constitution, and the California Constitution states that cities and counties can make and enforce all laws dealing with local police, sanitary issues and other ordinances and regulations that do not conflict with general law,” Ramirez told the council. “What the means is that the city and county cannot adopt laws that are in direct contradiction, or that conflict, with the general laws of the state.”
Ramirez added that the city is still reliant on aid from the state and federal governments to get through the COVID crisis. Potential loss of relief funds should the city defy the state in an effort to support businesses that have been sidelined during the pandemic is one possible consequence. She added that businesses could be directly affected as well.
“It could also put those individual business owners at great risk, and they cannot rely on the city’s declaration,” she said, noting that they’re subject to loss of state-issued alcohol or professional licenses, if they’re found to be in defiance of state mandates.
“They could say, ‘Well, the city said I could do it.’ They would still be very much subject to state regulations.”
At the end of the discussion the council agreed that pursuit of assistance from the state is preferable to opposing the state.
“I’m very satisfied with what the council has done thus far in support of our small businesses, but my ask would be that we continue to lobby and continue to advocate for much, much more financial resources while we’re going through this,” Davis said.
“I don’t support the notion that people are out here just wanting to be open and be reckless and not obey safety guidelines,” she added. “At the same time, not being able to provide is an issue when your business is modified to the point where you’re barely making it, and for all of the financial support that we’ve given I just think it’s really challenging to sit here and know that our hands are pretty much tied to what the state mandates tell us we can do.”
Young said that moving forward the council must continue to be mindful of the hardships businesses face.
“On a personal note I feel that we’re under a state of emergency economically, mentally and socially,” Young said. “I really want to push the envelope as much as we can, not going overboard.”
“It’s not just financial. It goes into a whole other category,” Young said, adding that she understands how many could feel that directives from the state level seem oppressive. “I’m frustrated and I’m sure staff already knows I’m frustrated about a lot of things in our community. At this particular point, not just our community but our country.”
Haruyama said she can bring back recommendations for policies that enable the city to help businesses, including engagement with state legislators in an effort to see what further resources are available for cities.
• Contact Bob Brownne at email@example.com, or call 209-830-4227.