Tracy city officials are eager to speed up the reopening of the city after more than two months of the COVID-19 quarantine, but the City Council stopped short of endorsing a resolution that could let San Joaquin County lift its restrictions at a faster pace than the rest of the state.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the resolution at its May 19 meeting, effectively stating that the county is well ahead of the state when it comes to meeting the criteria for reopening businesses, workplaces and public spaces. Those criteria include a leveling off of new COVID-19 cases reported each day along with increased testing and contact tracing, plus assurance that hospitals and care facilities can effectively respond to any future outbreaks.
The resolution is a petition to California Gov. Gavin Newsom stating that the county, along with its cities, under the direction of the county health officer, Dr. Maggie Park, should develop its own directives regarding when it’s safe to reopen. Tracy City Manager Jenny Haruyama told the council that, as of Tuesday, the cities of Lodi, Escalon, Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop had signed onto the resolution, but the city of Stockton had not.
Newsom’s four-stage reopening plan spells out the type of statistical data counties need to show in order to end their COVID-19 closures. San Joaquin County is in Stage 2, meaning that certain businesses, including restaurants, retailers, hair salons and barbershops, and offices, can reopen, and religious services can resume with social distancing restrictions.
Stage 3 will be the reopening of public spaces that tend to draw bigger crowds, such as movie theaters, and unrestricted religious services. Stage 4 will be the lifting of all restrictions.
Haruyama told the council that the city had opened some parts of city parks, including tennis, handball and volleyball courts, with plans to open skate parks and the city’s dog park this week and also to offer senior meals in a group setting. The city is also working on plans to open the Joe Wilson Pool for the summer, restart youth sports and reopen the local library.
On Tuesday, the Tracy council considered signing onto the county’s petition but rejected the resolution on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Robert Rickman endorsed the resolution and Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young also voted in favor, but council members Dan Arriola, Rhodesia Ransom and Veronica Vargas opposed it.
Arriola said the county’s petition lacked a clear plan showing how the county’s approach would differ from the state’s.
“I do find it a bit problematic that there are no draft directives to evaluate in making this decision,” Arriola said. “Now we’re being asked to implement a petition to allow the county to draft ordinances and directions for our city where the county has already failed, and these directives have not even been drafted.
“If this plan isn’t written now, are they going to start writing it tomorrow if this is approved, and then send it to the governor, and then hope that something comes back, and then thereafter create a plan? By then, everything’s going to already be open.”
Vargas agreed that the lack of a plan made it difficult to support the county’s resolution.
“I don’t feel it’s prudent to approve something without draft documentation, and they’re not doing, from what I understand, anything different than the state is advising,” she said.
She added later that while the state does have a system to allow counties to relax their quarantines once they meet certain criteria, the county’s resolution doesn’t spell out how it would move local cities closer to a more widespread reopening of business and public spaces.
Ransom said the cities that signed the petition would be giving the county extra authority at a time when they should be more critical of the county’s actions.
“There are just so many different things that we really need to be able to hold this county accountable for, that I really don’t want to give a blank check to the county,” she said. “We’ve gotten everything the governor said we should get in Stage 2 … because we actually did follow through on every category on the plan.”
Ransom added that the county government was responsible for administering a big portion of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act from March, a $2 trillion relief package that included $150 billion for local governments. San Joaquin County got nearly $133 million of that, but Ransom said that cities had not seen any of that money. Haruyama had told the council earlier that the only portion handed out so far was $3 million to each of the county’s five supervisorial districts for small-business support.
Rickman endorsed the petition as a way to emphasize local control.
“We talk about giving the county a blank check; what we’re doing, we’re giving the state a blank check to determine when the counties or cities can open their businesses,” he said, adding that the rate of new COVID-19 infections and deaths appeared to be leveling off locally.
“We’ve done a good job at the city of Tracy, protecting our citizens and flattening the curve. Our hospital is in good shape. It’s not overrun, and I think we are in a position that we can protect our citizens and at the same time protect our small businesses and employees, getting them back to work, and protect our vulnerable population.”
Young agreed with Rickman.
“From the beginning, I feel like we’ve had no choice but to give a blank check to the state, to say, ‘Everything is going to be locked down until, virtually, I say so,’” Young said. “It’s felt very arbitrary, the way that information has come down and decisions have been made.”
“A united front is very important,” she added. “I wish there was more local control, as far as the city of Tracy has, for how we do things.”
After the 3-2 vote rejecting the resolution, the council then voted unanimously to ask for an audit on how the county has spent, or plans to spend, the $133 million that came from the federal CARES Act.