City council agrees all San Jacinto businesses can open with COVID-19 safety precautions

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The San Jacinto City Council, after a sometimes-angry discussion, voted to have the city manager inform all city businesses they can be open at their own discretion, still maintaining 6-foot social distancing and using face masks and other coronavirus recommended precautions.

The unanimous 5-0 vote, May 5, followed a discussion spurred on by city manager Rob Johnson’s COVID-19 update.

“Based on the data and information that we now have, it is my assertion that it is time for the city to begin taking the initial steps toward economic and social recovery – gradually, incrementally, thoughtfully and safely,” Johnson said. “Essentially, I believe we are ready to start taking ‘small steps.’

“However, the city does not currently have this authority. I remain hopeful that the governor and/or the county will soon provide flexibility to the city to implement its own strategy in the near future, and I anticipate that some form of adjustments are forthcoming in late April or early May.”

The discussion online began with Councilmember Russ Utz saying, “This is a delicate topic for all of us. Everyone who owns businesses is terrified. We have lost over 100 jobs in San Jacinto. Those jobs are lost… The business owners are losing everything.”

Mayor Pro Tem Crystal Ruiz strongly voiced her opinion about the nonessential business closures, which have covered the last almost eight weeks as ordered by the state and the county medical officer.

“This is absolutely beyond ridiculous. People should be allowed to go to church,” she said.

She expressed her greatest concern about churches being termed “nonessential.”

Then she turned her attention to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, who only two hours before the city council meeting began, tabled a six-hour hearing on whether or not all county businesses should be allowed to open.

“The county supervisors were cowards today,” she said. “They should have had the courage to do what the people wanted.”

Most of the county and city residents appearing before the board of supervisors wanted the ordered business closures opened again with the proper COVID-19 safety precautions taken.

The board was to resume their special meeting Thursday, May 7, after Gov. Gavin Newson’s COVID-19 update on television.

Mayor Andrew Kotyuk urged the area business owners and others to look at the most recent data on the coronavirus pandemic and make their choices on what they can do to keep it under control.

“Then you have the freedom to do what you want.” He said, “I support the orders to be more relaxed and let the community do as they choose.

“We should not stand in the way of our citizens,” Utz said.

“They (the business owners) can use common sense,” Ruiz said. “The city would love to see them open up.”

Councilmember Alonso Ledezma, who after having some difficulty unmuting his mobile line to the meeting, said. “I am a business owner myself, and I know businesses are really getting hurt. Everybody is suffering. At least let them open. Let’s get our life back. We need to get going here.”

Councilmember Joel Lopez, who also came into the discussion late, said, “I totally agree with lifting the restrictions, but we should still be careful what we are doing.”

Following the discussion, Ruiz made a motion to refer the council decision to the city manager with Ledezma making the second.

Kotyuk clarified the council’s direction Thursday, May 6, in a Facebook statement, saying “The city council of San Jacinto was clear to state that it has not issued a stay at home order and supports being open for all businesses.”

The direction to the city manager included these five statements: the enforcement of state and county orders is not a local priority; through the month of May, safety standards of wearing a face mask, washing hands and social distancing are required and will be revisited at the end of the month; those with compromised immune systems and/or underlying conditions should remain at home and continue to shelter in place; those businesses with state license or certification requirements should carefully consider the ramifications of opening and operating a business and make their own decisions and those businesses and places of worship that choose to gather in large groups or plan to open indoor eating areas should understand the current state and county orders remain in place.

The order said that the city’s nonessential businesses have complied with the national, state and county mandates to flatten the curve with the city’s curve being flat since testing began in April, citing the day’s current coronavirus infection rate at only one-tenth of 1%, or 0.158%, of the population being infected.

The remainder of the meeting saw the approval of eight consent items including one a letter being sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, advising him of the city’s economic and financial difficulties being caused by the coronavirus shelter in place orders and requesting some compensation for the city’s serious revenue shortfalls. The contents of the letter were also approved by many of the southwest Riverside County city mayors.

Tony Ault can be reached by tault@reedermedia.com.