By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Governor Gavin Newsom is using new powers to withhold money from two Central Valley cities of California that violate its health regulations by allowing all businesses to open during the pandemic.
Newsom blocked nearly $ 65,000 from Atwater in Merced County and more than $ 35,000 from Coalinga in Fresno County.
The state emergency services office sent letters to cities last week informing officials that they risk losing more money if they do not withdraw decisions that contradict state orders. The city councils of both cities met on Monday and stuck to their decisions.
“We have chosen our path and prepared for it.” So said the Mayor of Atwater, Paul Creighton.
Creighton said the governor was leaving the small town despite spending more resources and federal money fighting a virus surge in the Central Valley. Creighton said the mood in his town of 29,000 appears to be somewhere between 80 and 20 despite the governor.
Newsom was given the authority to freeze the money in the new state budget, which went into effect earlier this month. Cities have lost the first sixth of their money but can get the rest if they overturn their resolutions, said Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services.
Atwater is entitled to $ 389,000 and Coalinga to $ 216,000 in assistance from the state coronavirus relief fund.
On Monday, Newsom announced it would be spending $ 52 million in the Central Valley to improve virus tests and provide other assistance to those living in the high-populated agricultural region of Hispanics, a group disproportionately damaged by the virus. The state is also sending health workers strike teams to help hospitals deal with the additional cases.
California Minister of Health and Welfare Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday that the rate of hospital admissions is slowing and even flattening in some parts across the country.
“We don’t see that in the Central Valley,” he said.
Merced County reported the highest number of virus hospital admissions on Monday, while Fresno County is just below its highest. The health authorities in the two counties did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comments on the cities’ resistance.
Virus cases in California began to rise in early June, and in early July Newsom re-imposed shutdown orders for many companies, while also banning indoor religious services and school classes in most parts of the state.
Atwater City Council declared itself the Sanctuary City for Business and made it clear that it will not enforce the state’s public health policy. Coalinga City Council approved a resolution calling all businesses “essential” and allowing them to remain open despite government orders.
“It’s just politics that we have the word ‘haven’ for corporations and religious (organizations),” Creighton said, adding, “We support ‘open and safe’ – masks, social distancing.”
The sovereign wealth fund money would have been used to help local businesses hit hard during the pandemic, buy more personal protective equipment and do more education and outreach, he said.
“Everything we need this money for, we won’t be able to do now,” said Creighton.
City officials would like to sue the state, he said, but they cannot afford to fight this fight.
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