The Riverside City Council voted 5-2 Monday to submit a letter to the county Board of Supervisors urging caution going forward on the issue of lifting coronavirus-related restrictions.
The vote came after a special session was convened to gather consensus on Mayor Rusty Bailey’s call for a reduction in measures to permit the private sector to return to normalcy.
“Any business openings will happen responsibly,” the mayor said during the meeting, in which he and council members were transmitting from different locations under social distancing protocols. “We’re in a marathon to recover from this pandemic. We’re all eagerly awaiting to restart Riverside’s economy. We’re in this together.”
Bailey said there had been no “surge” in COVID-19 cases, as county Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser and other Riverside University Health System officials had predicted in the first half of April, and noted that without a thriving local economy, city finances would continue edging toward dire straits.
The council heard from staff in the city manager’s office, who outlined Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Monday regarding moving the state’s economy into phase two of a post-coronavirus recovery plan, which will permit some retailers to reopen as early as this week.
Florists, sporting goods shops and clothing merchants could be among those outlets that resume operations by Friday, according to officials.
“I believe it’s important that we do everything with caution,” Councilman Andy Melendrez said. “We’re good now, but we do not want to go backwards as we move into phase two. We need to be vigilant and move forward incrementally.”
Councilman Chuck Conder agreed with the mayor that rolling back restrictions on the private sector is vital.
“If people want to be afraid of the big bad bug and stay home, then it’s OK for them to do that,” Conder said. “Fifty percent of us want to go back to work. We don’t believe the hype of COVID-19. But the other side is dictating that we can’t do it. The overwhelming of hospitals didn’t happen. In fact, at Kaiser (Permanente Medical Center), the place is damn near empty. Dr. Kaiser’s prediction of 50,000 infections and 1,000 deaths in the county by April 30 didn’t happen. We’re holding our entire economy hostage. It’s nuts that we aren’t getting our economy back up again.”
The councilman said it should be at the discretion of businesses to decide how to resume operations, and said he was confident they would put appropriate safeguards in place for the benefit of “employees and customers.”
Councilman Jim Perry leaned toward a conservative approach to slackening regulations, agreeing that it was time for “the economy to rebound,” but emphasizing the need to “keep people safe as we transition.”
Melendrez, along with Councilwomen Erin Edwards and Gaby Plascencia, introduced a motion for the council to submit a letter asking the county to take a slow approach to removing virus-related restrictions, and there were five votes in favor, but the exact contents of the letter were not expected to be formalized until Monday evening.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider nullifying all of Kaiser’s remaining public health orders, including the requirement to wear face masks and practice social distancing, which he unilaterally re-implemented last week.
Board Chairman Manuel Perez and Supervisor Karen Spiegel are arguing for the abolition of the regulations, with both supervisors stating in documents posted to the board agenda that the impacts of COVID-19 are waning and the need to revive the regional business sector is paramount.
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