As we posted last night, Governor Newsom yesterday issued what is basically a "Stay at Home order" to all citizens of the State. The order directs all Californians to stay at home except when making outside trips for “essential purposes.” The order is intended to slow down the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading and to try to avoid overwhelming our hospital and medical systems. This is a critically important effort, supported wholeheartedly by the City of Indio and our Mayor and City Council. I am writing today on their behalf.
We are encouraged today by what we see as a very supportive response to the Governor’s call by Indio residents and businesses. Governor Newsom, when asked, said he was confident that enforcement of this order would be achieved primarily by the “social compact” among the citizens of the State that binds us all to care for our families and for one another in times of emergency. We applaud that sensible philosophy.
While we are pleased by the responses of our local business community, we have had a number of calls today asking why certain businesses are open, apparently considering themselves to be “essential.” We are asked, for instance, are hair salons and barber shops essential? Why are golf courses open in some communities? What makes one business essential and not another?
This is a very difficult question that all cities are grappling with under this order. The order defines “essential” by giving a few examples, but no general criteria. We are told that the following uses may remain open as essential:
• Gas stations
• Food: grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, take-out and delivery restaurants
• Laundromats/laundry services
• Essential government functions
Forbidden uses include:
• Dine-in restaurants
• Bars & nightclubs
• Entertainment venues, including movie theaters
• Gyms and fitness studios
• Public events and gatherings
• Convention centers
Beyond this, the Governor indicated that allowable uses would include those that support 16 "critical federal infrastructure sectors.” Among these 16 are sectors that support Public Works and Commercial Facilities. As of today, we have no further definition to go by.
I suspect that if the Governor were available to answer the question, he would say that it is impossible to define every use in every town. He would say to us that for the health of our own families, we should only leave our homes if we are leaving to pursue an essential need of our own. If buying a new watch is not an essential need, do not do it. We have to accept personal responsibility and count on one another to do the same.
The other side of this complicated equation relates to enforcement of such a broad, statewide order. No one expects a Police Department to be able to stop every speeder. Nor do we have the capacity to monitor the coming and going of every citizen. There is no curfew. Right now, we are trusted to only do what we need to do. If our Police Department finds a business open that is on the prohibited use list (a gym, for instance), they will ask them to close. If they fail, they will likely be cited. But we do not have the capacity to do enforcement that falls between the lines. Nor are the courts open to seek injunctions on illegal retail activity. Law enforcement agencies throughout the county will be doing their best to encourage good citizenship and will enforce the law where the law is clear. But please do not expect us to make on the spot moral judgments on prohibitions that have not been spelled out by the Governor or County Public Health Director.
Could a city establish its own prohibitions? Perhaps, by formal City Council action and after determining that there is a proper purpose that is being equitably applied. But as of today, very few cities have taken that kind of action.
Again, it is incumbent on all of us to do our best for our families and community. As additional coronavirus testing is done, it is highly likely that additional positive test results will occur. It is very plausible that over the next week or two many of us will know people who have tested positive and been quarantined. As people get sicker, it is also possible our hospital system will be stressed. Please try to stay home!
Meanwhile, the City will continue to provide the community with clean water, reliable Police protection, responsive emergency medical/paramedic services, professional building/construction services, and fully functional streets and public works facilities. We also know that we have community members who are very badly affected right now by loss of employment and loss of business viability. We know there are people in town who are looking for shelter and their next meal. The City will work with the amazing partnerships within this community that focus on those needs. We want to do our best to point people to the resources they need to get by at this tough time.
Those are our primary purposes, and I am proud to work with a team that is very devoted to that mission. This is a difficult time with daily changes in conditions and the type of challenges we face. We may not be able to address every question about non-essential uses, but we will focus clearly on this primary mission.