On Monday, two Central Valley cities confirmed that they would be going against lockdown orders from Governor Gavin Newsom and allow all businesses within their cities to remain open, costing the cities over $600,000 in state relief aid.
Atwater, Coalinga confirm resolutions marking all businesses as essential
Atwater, a city in Merced County with a population of 29,000, and Coalinga, a city in Fresno County with a population of 17,000, had issued measures last week against the Governor’s lockdown orders. Atwater had issued a resolution earlier this month marking down all businesses within the city as essential, declaring itself a “sanctuary city” against lockdown orders. Coalinga, meanwhile, issued a similar resolution, with the Coalinga City Council voting 4 to 1 to reaffirm the city’s order.
Governor Newsom subsequently blocked the first round of the $2.5 billion in federal funds received by the state to disperse to cities for COVID-19 pandemic spending from the two cities. Atwater lost $65,000 while Coalinga lost $35,000. Governor Newsom had previously threatened withholding federal funds from other cities, most notably the entire county of Tulare earlier this year when they voted to reopen during the first lockdown, but had yet to actually do it until Atwater and Coalinga refused to comply earlier this month.
State officials from the Office of Emergency Services sent letters to the mayors last week warning them that they would lose all incoming COVID-19 and state help should they continue to ignore orders, noting that the Governor had been given the authority to do so. However, both city councils met Monday night and confirmed that they would stick to their resolutions, leading to cheering from many in attendance.
“We chose our path and we prepared for it,” said Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton after the confirmation of the resolution. “It’s just politics, that we have the word ‘sanctuary’ for businesses and faith-based groups. We support open and safe masks [and] social distancing.”
Both cities now stand to lose the rest of the roughly $5000,000 in projected emergency funding in future disbursements should they continue to refuse to abide by the state lockdown and business orders. However, both cities had also planned ahead, shifting their budgets earlier in expectance of lost funding from the state.
Defiance in Atwater and Coalinga
“They’re definitely in the minority here,” said Coalinga resident and resolution supporter Nadine Pole. “Everyone knows what we are giving up, but when you look at the budget, money we save from installing coronavirus things around town don’t eat up the budget.
“Shop owners here are especially thankful. Go into any one and they’re so happy that they’re still open and not losing any money over this.
“That’s what everyone up in Sacramento are forgetting. What we and Atwater are doing are saving people’s small businesses by being open as normal. We’re still following health guidelines, and through that, we found a good middle point in helping economically and helping health-wise. The state wants to take that away.”
Mayor Creighton also noted that Atwater is at about an 80-20 split in favor of the resolution.
However, both cities may be potentially losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of even more funding due to the Central Valley receiving a large $52 million COVID-19 relief package from Governor Newsom. While details aren’t clear on the division of funds, due to Governor Newsom’s involvement officials have suggested that any defiant cities may lose out on this block of funding as well.
As of Tuesday, both Atwater and Coalinga have continued to refuse to comply despite more potential funding losses, with Mayor Creighton even noting that the city would like to sue the state but can’t due to the tighter budget.
“Everything we need that money to do, we’re not going to be able to do now,” added Mayor Creighton.
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