King City Council
Margarita Lopez comments as a community member about the abusive situation field workers find themselves within, where employers pack them into buses with no regard for social distancing. (Photos by Sean Roney)

KING CITY — With proclamations of local emergency having been issued last week by King City, Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales, their city councils scheduled emergency meetings to ratify those proclamations.

Each council also discussed how to move forward with the state directive to shelter in place and how each community could work toward slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“There are two primary purposes of the proclamation of local emergency,” said Steven Adams, city manager for King City. “One is to establish additional powers in authority if it becomes necessary in an outbreak. We’ll take actions quickly. But the most immediate purpose is to qualify for reimbursement of FEMA funds.”

Council members in King City listened to public comment and shared their own thoughts during the March 20 emergency meeting. The issues ranged from price gouging, to packed lines at stores, to general public irresponsibility against the advice of social distancing. They even quelled rumors that military police were operating in the city, which they said turned out to be 15 cruisers from Fort Hunter Liggett washing their cars on First Street. There are no military operations within the city, Adams clarified.

“There are some limitations on what we can enforce and what we can’t enforce,” Adams said. “We’re trying to initially take a soft approach, and we’ve had pretty good cooperation from everybody.”

The question, he noted, is what authority for enforcement the city has.

In that regard, Council Member Carlos DeLeon said gatherings in his district have been close to the Leo Meyer Senior Center. Council Member Rob Cullen also brought up lines outside stores.

“I drove through downtown and I was shocked at how many businesses were open, how many people were walking and going into businesses,” Cullen said. “It was probably more than on a normal evening.”

Cullen added, “I am deeply concerned that our residents do not understand the gravity of this situation. These retail stores with people congregating, people touching things, that is going to really help spread the virus.”

“We’re working on some guidelines that we can provide those stores,” Adams said.

The city has taken measures to reduce infection, as reported by Adams, which include closing City Hall to the public but retaining phone and email communications to make sure community needs can be met, and shutting down the parks and playgrounds. In addition, the code enforcement officer is checking stores for price gouging.

Mayor Mike LeBarre said reports of price gouging need to be detailed so they can be investigated.

“We can’t do anything without specific information, it’s very important,” he said.

Community member Margarita Lopez said agricultural workers are at risk, especially by employers who pack them into buses.

“There is no 5 feet, 6 feet distance when you’re riding a bus of 50 or more,” Lopez said, adding that the education, responsibility and liability need to be with the employers.

“There is a natural response of panic, and as leaders, we need to have a calming effect as well,” said Council Member Darlene Acosta. “I’m asking that we find a way to balance things where we’re not fear-mongering.” She urged education and information.

“A lot of people think the shelter in place is a full quarantine, so they’re coming into the stores to stock up for what they need to be sheltered in place,” DeLeon said. “The problem is they’re buying everything all at once.”

LeBarre also had advice for the community, saying, “Please watch out for your neighbors, especially if you have elderly neighbors or those who are sick or have been sick recently. See if there’s any way you can help them buy their groceries to alleviate some of their concerns.”

LeBarre noted that even with social distancing in place, people still have a need to connect with family and friends.

“If you’re all alone, it can be very hard mentally, so if you do know people who live alone, connect with them, drop them a letter,” LeBarre said. “You don’t have to go to their house. Knock on the door and stand 6 feet back. Those are the things we can do to protect ourselves and keep a strong community.”

Overall, LeBarre said the response to the situation should not be panic.

“This is a virus that will get passed, but you don’t take things like this lightly,” he said. “There are precautions that we can take that are extremely effective for this virus as well as other viruses and colds. The things that we’re doing now will also protect us from other types of viral infections.”

Before closing the meeting, LeBarre requested all future council meetings for the time being be done over teleconference. LeBarre and DeLeon, along with Mayor Pro Tem Carlos Victoria, were the only council members physically present at the emergency meeting, while Cullen and Acosta were already attending through teleconference technology.

Citizens were advised to keep in touch with their city for information or if they have questions. They can access the city’s website or call city hall, which has a full staff on duty.

King City Council
A speakerphone stands in for Council Members Robert Cullen and Darlene Acosta to be present via teleconferencing as Mayor Mike LeBarre begins the emergency council meeting March 20. LeBarre requested all future council meetings take place with all members by phone.
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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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