A note to Temecula

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People often speak of the small town feel in Temecula. The mostly idyllic community embraces family values above all else and reveres annual parades, countless community events, schools, military families and a reputation as one of America’s safest cities. Residents enjoy gathering as a community in the gorgeous parks, places of worship and bustling downtown. On the surface, one would think that Temecula is the perfect city. Taking an evening neighborhood stroll will only solidify this belief. One would see American flags proudly flying on countless front porches, children riding bikes in the street and neighbors sharing stories as the sun sets on another beautiful day in Temecula. It’s quite easy to love Temecula.

When Temecula and the rest of California was asked to stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19, most people did their part and stayed home. They trusted in the science and belief that they needed to act selflessly and in the spirit of togetherness to bend the curve. They wouldn’t fully understand COVID-19 and the impacts that would ultimately descend on Temecula for many months.

It didn’t take long for the community’s pristine surface to show distress. Perhaps the financial stress started to impact people. Many nonessential businesses shuttered their doors. The stress that many children were missing critical time in school was devastating. Families were unsure if their children would even return to school for the remainder of the school year.

How would people care for their children’s daily needs and go to work? Would the federal, state and local government step in and help? The answer was yes. The CARES Act was a $2.2 trillion economic relief package which included direct payments to families. Many California businesses received relief in the form of paycheck protection loans, sales tax deferrals and grant assistance from local governments. Temecula committed $500,000 in grants to support local businesses through the Temecula Assist program. However, all this governmental support wasn’t enough. Their daily lives were upended and people started to push back against the stay-at-home orders.

As a community, residents barely made it six weeks before they started demanding the economy reopen. The common refrain was all businesses are essential. Some citizens threatened civil disobedience if business would not open. Several rallies to “open Temecula” or declare Temecula as a “sanctuary city for businesses” followed. Email campaigns were started, and public comments were submitted to be read at public meetings. At this point, it became clear that the community was in uncharted waters. It’s not that they haven’t experienced trying times before. After all, Temecula battled the Liberty Quarry project and won. The difference today is that people are fighting amongst themselves.

The response to COVID-19 quickly turned from a public health issue to a political issue. The vitriol spewed online was, and is, deafening. It is nearly impossible to have a productive conversation without someone calling into question decisions made to support public safety. Some residents quickly decried masks as an affront to their freedom. Emails and public comments flew in by the hundreds opining that health orders were unconstitutional. The city is diverse, and all residents should feel valued. Most residents are concerned with public safety and maintaining roads, parks and public facilities. These issues are not red versus blue or right versus left. Partisan politics divides the community. Everyone needs to remember that local elected positions are nonpartisan.

I am not a scientist, epidemiologist or health officer. I am an elected official. Not having an educational background in pandemics, I listened and learned as much as possible in a short amount of time. The public’s health and trust is at stake. I value the direction of our public health officials. I trust in science. I lead with reason and a belief that we must care for our most vulnerable, not sacrifice them for the sake of our economy. I have never lived through a global pandemic before, so I proceeded with caution.

Now is the time to rebuild our community and reconnect with our neighbors. I removed myself from countless social media groups and limit my time online. I spend more time walking, hiking, cooking and enjoying our family. I am listening, reading and learning as much as I can about current events. It is extremely important to stay engaged and form opinions based on reason and facts.

Right now, your community needs you. I encourage you to volunteer. Connect with community members and share support of a common interest. A community is more than a group of people living in the same area. It is a connection we share with other people. Let us get back to the root of what makes our community a wonderful place to live. We need to stand behind our first responders, our essential workers, our teachers and the many families that are struggling with the pressures of this global pandemic. For our community to once again thrive we need to acknowledge that we are complex and want to be valued. It’s cliche, but we are all in this together. We need you; I need you and your community needs you.

Zak Schwank

Temecula city councilmember