On Wednesday, July 8, the Wildomar city council walked back language in a resolution they passed back in May indicating that the enforcement of orders and mandates handed down by county and state health officials were not a priority for the city as far as funding goes.
Ultimately, the council repealed Resolution 2020-33 adopted on May 13 that said the city would not be enforcing any of the mandates handed down county and state health officials. Mayor Dustin Nigg was the sole no vote.
The council did vote unanimously to change the language in Resolution 2020-34 by a similar 4-1 vote.
The repeal and language changes come as the county of Riverside undergoes a surge in new COVID-19 related cases with more mandates and closures coming down from California State Governor Gavin Newsom.
The new mandates were similar to the ones that Newsom and his health department ordered back in late March to help slow the spread of the virus.
In response to those orders, back on May 13, the Wildomar council passed a resolution recognizing the continued existence of an emergency situation and local emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while also ratifying an order handed down by the city’s Director of Emergency Services, Gary Nordquist, saying the enforcement of state and county COVID-19-related mandates were not a city funding priority.
Nordquist identified police and fire emergency core service levels; building, safety and code enforcement services; road repair; quality of life services; animal control; and the 20% general fund reserve as high priority items for General Fund revenue.
“I think the six items that we have in priority, those are our priorities,” councilmember Marsha Swanson said at the time. “We can’t go around and enforce and make everybody put on a mask, take off a mask, stay home, not stay home, the people are doing what they do.”
Mayor Dustin Nigg, at the time, said the city was under “an overlord,” referring to rules set forth by Newsom that he portrayed as “unobtainable.”
Over the course of the next two months, the state and county gradually lifted some of the closures and mandates it had in place. The recent uptick in new cases had at least some of the council changing its stance on the resolutions passed back in May.
In the general business during the Wednesday, July 8 virtual meeting of the council, they approved the continuance of the temporary suspension of code enforcement so cities could expand signage and other business generating actions and then had a lengthy discussion about the city’s funding priorities resolution from May.
Nigg said he was still in favor of the resolution, though he said staff has expressed concerns about CARES Act funding reimbursement being lost.
“Which is about $460,000 money that will be sent from the state for the reimbursement of COVID-related cost the city has expensed,” Nigg said. “I’m still of the mindset that we have priorities regardless. And I still think we can enforce these rules by having our code enforcement go out and start with the educational approach. Because we’re not trying to be mask police or anything else. If they go out there and we document it in our database, it shows that we are enforcing, so we’re not, in my eyes, putting that funding at risk.
“Is there a level of risk by keeping it in place? Yes. When we get audited, when they see the resolution and they don’t buy the fact that we have a database full of code complaints and everything else, is there a possibility that we’d have to pay it back for something? Yeah, there’s a possibility. I’m still in support of it, I think it’s a good message to the community.”
Councilmember Ben Benoit expressed his reasoning for wearing a mask and why he thinks it’s an important message to put forth to the community.
“I wear a mask because I care about my family, I care about my mom and sister who I go out and buy food for and then take to them in the Coachella Valley so they don’t have to go out and buy food,” he said. “I care about the people I walk by in the aisle at Costco, I care about our citizens that I see on the street. I care about the people that I see and know.
“I believe that resolution still rings some truth as far as our priorities, but I think that some caveat that, maybe not enforcement but just an understanding that we do encourage because we care.”
Benoit said he recognizes that the mandates and regulations surrounding the issue have become political issues and he will likely receive some emails for what he said.
“I don’t care,” he said. “Because you know what? I care about our citizens, I care about our neighbors, I care about our families. I feel like as much as it’s not about enforcement, it’s as much about putting a message out that we do care. I think Wildomar cares and I think that’s something we need to pivot towards and that changes some of our resolutions a little bit.”
Benoit and councilmember Joseph Morabito suggested repealing the resolution, but Nigg and councilmember Swanson resisted that idea.
“It felt good at the time, hey Mr. Governor, this is what we think,” Morabito said. “Even if there’s a remote chance that we could end up having some funding at stake, I don’t see at this point any moral victory by keeping that going.”
Nigg compared the wearing of seatbelts to mask requirement mandates.
“I just don’t like any port of government telling you (that) you have to do it,” Nigg said. “I know that sounds weird … I think it’s a good idea, the seatbelts, don’t sit in the car without it, but ….”
Nigg said he thought the council could go through and adjust some of the text in the resolution to update it because back when the original resolution was adopted, he said, projections and models presented by county health officials weren’t coming to fruition.
“I think we all thought it was going to be over soon and it changed,” Swanson said during the July 8 meeting.
“The models weren’t matching reality, not even by a little bit,” Nigg said. “At least now, those previous models are at least matching, hence the completely Zoom meeting tonight.”
Nigg said that he was confident city staff would go out and educate violators of the mandates, even going so far as to say they could impose a fine on repeat offenders, but said “Nobody wants to be mask police.”
He said he wanted to be sure that the business community in the city knows that the city council supports local businesses.
Benoit reiterated that while he realized that enforcement wasn’t what the city was prioritizing, he said it was important for the city to encourage residents and businesses to comply.
“I think it would be helpful if they got a message from their city, look, we all care and we care about each other enough to say wear a mask,” he said. “I think that’s something we need to put out.”
Councilmember Bridgette Moore made a motion to reword Resolution 2020-34.
In the end, the resolution was revamped to read: “Now, therefore, be it resolved the City Council of the City of Wildomar, therefore, will be pursuing all avenues available and within our jurisdiction to help our residents and businesses return to a pre-COVID-19 normal lifestyle while in the meantime also strongly recommending that we follow state orders and county guidelines, including wearing face coverings because we care about our residents.”
The council also approved Nordquist to submit the certification form to the state for reimbursement for money already spent enforcing the COVID-19 mandates.
“I take that letter won’t mention what we had in the past?” Benoit asked.
“No, come on man, we’re smarter than that,” Nigg said.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.