Merced County Times Newspaper
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City of Atwater stands firm over ‘sanctuary’ status

Mayor to Govenor: 'Look our residents in the eye and tell them you are not picking pandemic winners and losers'

They have tried to put a gun to our head to make us fold.
They want our citizens to feel scared and vulnerable; don’t be.
They want to increase political heat or we become the next victim
in today’s long line of victims in today’s cancel culture.

Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton

 

Leaders in Atwater this week declared they will defend the city’s so-called “sanctuary” status and allow all businesses to open and congregations to practice faith-based worship within churches. Their stance against state regulations during the current COVID-19 pandemic was met with thunderous applause during Monday night’s City Council meeting.

In recent days, California’s Office of Emergency Services pulled back about $300,000 worth of potential relief funding destined for Atwater, apparently as a response to the city’s defiance to state-ordered shutdowns.

Flanked by his fellow city leaders, Mayor Paul Creighton on Monday appeared undaunted and defiant with regard to the repercussions from the state and Govenor Gavin Newsom.

“Just last September, in a lawsuit filled against the Trump Administration, the governor argued that it was illegal to withhold funds because California’s policies conflicted with the federal government,” Creighton told residents. “They argued that the conditions on funding by Trump, and I quote, ‘part of the administration’s attempt to bully, cajole, and coerce state and local governments to follow the Trump Administration’s immigration policies’ … Fast forward 10 months to just last Thursday. We received a letter from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services attempting to do the very same thing he has accused the Trump administration of. Namely, unless we rescind our Sanctuary City resolution, we will be denied coronavirus relief funding. A big difference here; however, is that it was never California’s money to begin with.”

Creighton explained that seven members of Congress wrote a letter to Governor Newsom stating that he has “No authority to hijack federal funds in this way and any effort to add California specific conditions to prevent that money flowing down to local governments would be illegal and defy Congress’ intent.”

The mayor described Newsom’s “attempt to deny funding to our city” as having nothing to do with public health, but rather an attempt to get the political last word in, if not an act of political reprisal and revenge.

“They have tried to put a gun to our head to make us fold,” Mayor Creighton said. “They want our citizens to feel scared and vulnerable; don’t be. They want to increase political heat or we become the next victim in today’s long line of victims in today’s cancel culture.”

The mayor pointed out that Atwater was the first city in Merced County to declare a state of emergency, and that move was followed by the appointment of a local health official for COVID-19 response planning. He said the state has overlooked the city’s proactive steps.

“In hindsight, if we had told our police to stand down from mass protests instead of small business, the governor would have accepted, excused, and even celebrated that. After all, many Californian mayors who welcome mass protests in flagrant violation of the shelter in place orders have absolutely no fear of loss of funding, but lil’ ol’ Atwater does. Apparently Atwater’s problem is that it hitched its wagon to the wrong political horse.”

Creighton said the city has also balanced its budget without the additional relief funding —something they knew would be cut.

“If they are really looking for us to recant, here it goes,” the mayor said. “We apologize for declaring ourselves a sanctuary city for business. We are sorry that this is what it takes or costs in 2020 to think for yourself in the face of the regime that exploits public health to advance their own agenda. We just hope that some may start to see the glaring double standards and the arbitrarily decided winners and losers of this pandemic,” said Mayor Creighton. “So I ask the governor to come to Atwater and listen to our people, hear our concerns, see the work ethic and patriotism, and the public safety we continue to take seriously. Look the people of Atwater in the eye and explain why mass protests of a political persuasion are OK, but they cannot worship or be responsible business owners. Look them in the eye and tell them you are not picking pandemic winners and losers.”

Finally, Creighton asked local residents to continue to “stand firm with us again today, because rescinding and recanting will surely cost us more than we could ever hope to gain by it now.”

Prior to the mayor’s statement, numerous residents spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting, and some 29 emails were received by city staff members. About 250 people watched the council meeting outside on the steps of City Hall due to COVID-19 restrictions put in place.

Some speakers implored the council to revoke the “sanctuary” decision in the name of public health, and they pointed to what they viewed as they city putting “profits over people.” Other residents, such as Desmarie Jackson, questioned the intention of the resolution, labeling it a political stunt made by the Atwater City Council and citing the need for relief funding due the rising number of cases and continued spread of the virus.

I am a lifetime resident of Atwater, California and since my return home
I have been absolutely appalled at the way our officials have handled the response to COVID-19. Despite being a small community with low numbers in March and April, the rate of spread,
lack of access to adequate health care and testing services, and general attitude that
COVID-19 is a hoax or just the flu has proved detrimental to our communities.

– Desmarie Jackson

“I am a lifetime resident of Atwater, California and since my return home I have been absolutely appalled at the way our officials have handled the response to COVID-19,” Jackson said. “Despite being a small community with low numbers in March and April, the rate of spread, lack of access to adequate health care and testing services, and general attitude that COVID-19 is a hoax or just the flu has proved detrimental to our communities. Our numbers, both in Atwater and throughout Merced County, continue to rise at alarming rates, and is only bound to get worse in time. This shows in how the Public Health Department has ordered the reclosing of many recently opened establishments, and proves our inability to both financially and structurally reopen in any way that is truly safe and keeps those most vulnerable in our community at the forefront.”

Jackson went on to say that in light of the “large population of low-income working class families without access to government aid in Atwater and Winton in particular,” she feels Atwater “can neither afford to lose any government funding we have the opportunity to receive nor can we pretend we have the adequate infrastructure to ensure that all families and communities, especially black, indigenous, Latino, Hmong and other people of color who are to be supported during this pandemic and devastating aftermath to come.”

Those speaking in support of Atwater’s “business sanctuary” praised efforts to “combat the tyrannical nature” of Governor Newsom. Local business owner Danelle Hull, who oversees the operation of Fitness Addiction on Broadway Avenue, noted that it was particularly frustrating to continue to comply with orders and effectively ensure that no cases had originated from her gym’s property, only to be shut down indefinitely later on.

“My training studio suffered through eight weeks of closure due to the initial shelter-in-place order issued by our governor,” Hull said. “The government told us to stay home and we obeyed, and then they told us we could reopen without precautions and we obeyed. My facility has implemented rigorous cleaning procedures and stringent social distancing protocols. We’ve had three members who had contracted COVID-19 while in other places, but we have had zero transmission to other members. What this tells us is that by utilizing good hygiene and common sense we can operate safely. Gyms should be deemed an essential business. A business that is keeping people well and healthy is more important now than ever.”

Hull went on to say that the studio acts as a way to allow their members to stay active and healthy, while maintaining some semblance of a normal life.

“Take this opportunity to thank the mayor and City Council members for taking a stand for the good people of our city,” she told her fellow residents. “Thank them for keeping [her] dream alive and continuing to help others improve their lives.”

Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton speaks to residents gathered outside City Hall on Monday.
Atwater residents showed up on Monday night to speak out on recent actions concerning Atwater’s status as a ‘sanctuary for business’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atwater residents gather outside of City Hall before Monday night’s City Council meeting.
A citizen speaks up during public comment at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton and City Manager Lori Waterman during the City Council meeting on Monday night.
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