Less than an hour before President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Carmel City Council voted 4-0 on March 13, to approve an emergency proclamation signed the day before by City Administrator Chip Rerig. The five-member council was missing one—Jan Reimers—who was not feeling well, Rerig said.
In a sign of the times, the special meeting on Friday morning included a container of disinfectant wipes at the public podium. Mayor Dave Potter opened the meeting telling speakers to wipe down the mic stand and podium after speaking. Some forgot and were quickly reminded.
Business owner and Carmel native Neal Kruse pulled a wipe before he even started speaking, joking, “I just want to confess I touched my face 27 times when you told me not to.” Members of the audience practiced social distancing by sitting a few chairs apart from each other.
The council’s vote affirms that Rerig will be the city’s director of emergency services for 60 days, at which time the council can reevaluate the situation. It allows Rerig to be “more nimble” in taking actions to protect the city during the emergency, said Assistant City Attorney Samantha Zutler.
Declaring emergencies also allows municipalities—like the proclamation issued by Monterey County Administrator Charles McKee and approved by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on March 10—to apply for state and federal disaster funds should they be made available.
As the Carmel City Council was meeting, Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar announced he too was issuing an emergency proclamation to slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s scheduled to go before the Monterey City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, March 17.
Uslar said he was issuing the proclamation despite no confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date in Monterey County as a way to “flatten the curve” of cases of the virus now growing rapidly in the U.S.
The proclamation was combined with a long list of closures of city facilities and services—including the Monterey Public Library the Monterey Sports Center, museums and many others—as well as postponements of events and programs, from March 14 to “at least March 31, 2020.” Some services will be online like e-books on the library’s website and free streaming fitness classes beginning in late March. (See the city's announcement, below.)
“Our priority, first and foremost, is the health and welfare of the Monterey community. While our community centers, library, museums, and sports center are valued by residents, visitors, and the public, we know that social distancing works and that these closures will help slow the spread of coronavirus in our community,” Uslar said. “The Monterey community is compassionate, caring, and resilient. Together, the city of Monterey and its residents, businesses and neighbors, will persevere through this epidemic and protect our community.”
Just before 2pm, Pacific Grove City Manager Ben Harvey announced that city is also now under an emergency proclamation, to be voted on by the City Council on March 18. (See the announcement below, with list of closures.)
In Carmel the council heard from Rerig that the city will have to watch its finances as business slows significantly, meaning a loss of sales taxes and transient-occupancy taxes earned through hotel visits. Rerig said even before the COVID-19 crisis the TOT for the first three periods of the 2019-20 budget year was down almost 12 percent. The third-quarter sales tax report was “beyond anemic, it’s bleeding out.” Projects will be postponed and hiring delayed but for now current employees have jobs, he said.
Councilmember Carrie Theis, who owns the Hofsas House Hotel, said guests visits were down 50 percent. “It’s hard to know what to say and do,” she said of the crunch faced by business owners.
Mayor Dave Potter said that the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey—the hotel his wife, Janine Chicourrat, manages—only had 20 percent occupancy the night before, meaning there are 60 people staying in a hotel that holds about 300.
Kruse told the councilmembers that restaurant owners in Carmel are nervous about continuing to cover their overhead while the emergency continues. He said many are pivoting to take out and deliveries to stay in business.
For more stories and information about COVID-19 see the Weekly's collection of stories at montereycountyweekly.com/coronavirus.