Newsom threatens California counties that defy coronavirus rules as cases spikeSan Francisco Chronicle, by Alexei Koseff June 24, 2020
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom could withhold financial relief from local governments in the upcoming state budget if they do not follow guidelines that he says are necessary to tamp down the spike in coronavirus cases in California.
The budget deal with legislative leaders announced this week ties $750 million in funding to replace lost tax revenue for county services, as well as $1.3 billion for counties and $500 million for cities from the federal bailout package, to local governments’ compliance with the stay-at-home order and other state requirements on the coronavirus response.
Newsom, through his Department of Finance, could order state officials not to send local governments their portion of the money if they do not certify they are following the rules, which include a new mandate for Californians to wear masks nearly everywhere outside the home.
At a news conference Wednesday, the governor said that authority would give him leverage over those who “simply thumb their nose” at state guidelines. He did not specify how cities and counties would be expected to prove their compliance, though he added that he was trying to encourage good behavior rather than punish bad behavior.
“We give an enormous amount of power, control and authority to local government, but what we’re now looking for is accountability,” Newsom said.
Since the state rolled out its requirement for face coverings last week, county sheriffs and local police chiefs from Orange County to Sacramento have announced that they do not plan to enforce the order. The mayor of Nevada City, in Nevada County, encouraged residents to defy the mandate to “prevent all of us from slipping down the nasty slope of tyranny.”
Newsom, who has previously used state regulatory agencies to pressure businesses and local governments that defied his lockdown measures, said Wednesday that the “power of the purse” would give him another tool.
“If counties that have submitted that they need more state money to address this pandemic but are unwilling to enforce the rules and laws related to mitigate that pandemic, it seems not only counterintuitive that you would continue to provide those resources, but actually harmful to the broader effort,” he said.
California reported a record 7,149 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday, Newsom said, which he attributed not only to an increase in testing but also a rising rate of positive tests. The state has recorded more than 12,000 cases in the past two days.
Hospitalizations of coronavirus patients have grown by 29% over the past two weeks, to 4,095, though the governor noted that is only a fraction of the state’s capacity.
Newsom blamed the spread on more Californians venturing out of their homes to visit family and friends, which he suggested was threatening the ability of the state to continue reopening its economy.
“Many of us, understandably, developed a little cabin fever. Some, I would argue, have developed a little amnesia. Others have just, frankly, taken down their guard,” he said. “It is our behaviors that are leading to these numbers, and we are putting people’s lives at risk.”
Earlier this week, Newsom acknowledged that he might have to shut down businesses again if the state loses control of its coronavirus outbreak. He released a video with former governors Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson encouraging the public to wear masks.
On Wednesday, Newsom pleaded with the public to continue washing their hands, wearing face coverings and avoiding large crowds and intimate gatherings.
“Consider others in your life and strangers. Love thy neighbors like yourself,” he said. “If you cannot practice physical distancing, then are you practicing love?”