On Friday, the Atwater City Council voted to declare itself a ‘sanctuary city’ from the statewide lockdown order, allowing all businesses in the city to reopen.
Atwater, a Merced County city of 30,000 people located 8 miles away from the city of Merced, will also allow all non-profits, such as places of worship, to open as well.
The City Council passed the sanctuary city declaration as a way for the economy to start up again, a gesture of defiance to Governor Gavin Newsom’s order, and to affirm ‘the city’s commitment to fundamental constitutional rights.’
“This is America,” noted Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton on Friday. “You have the choice. It’s time for the government to stop dictating another month, another three months, six months. When is it going to end? When everyone is bankrupt?”
However, despite the city giving the green light for all city businesses being allowed to open, state law is still in effect here in many ways. Atwater businesses that have state licenses, such as restaurants, bars, and salons, could be punished by the state before the state allows their businesses to open. If they open without state approval, California may take away their respective licenses.
“We’re not looking to jeopardize anyone’s business,” added Mayor Creighton. “That’s a license you hold with the state of California. So, we don’t want to cause any harm there, use your best judgment.
If you do have a state license, that’s between you and the state of California.”
Atwater also puts itself at greater risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“Even smaller towns get a huge jump in risk by not following health guidelines and orders,” noted Fresno area nurse Jennifer Graham. “A lot of people who had coronavirus here have gone out to parks and things in more rural areas. Through all the small stores and gas stations and everything, it can spread.
California is already being very cautious. Atwater just declaring itself open like that, well, it’s potentially very dangerous for peoples health.”
Detractors have been the minority in Atwater however. At the Friday meeting, most people coming up to speak were for the sanctuary city reopening, not to mention members of the City Council and the Mayor voicing approval as well.
Councilman Brian Raymond, who proposed the sanctuary city declaration, noted that some Californian cities, such as Coalinga, have simply declared that all businesses as being essential. But Raymond also noted that no city had declared itself a sanctuary city for businesses until Atwater.
Merced County health officials have noted that, in addition to the health and safety risks, that Atwater’s defiance could lead to the state not giving some funding to the city and the county post-coronavirus and could also possibly lead to a lawsuit with the state. As of Saturday, the state has not taken any action against Atwater.