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By Shawn Raymundo

A council majority voted on Tuesday, Aug. 17, to rescind the city’s coronavirus emergency declaration that had been enacted exactly 17 months ago—on March 17, 2020.

In a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Kathy Ward and Councilmember Chris Duncan opposed, the council approved a resolution officially putting an end to the local emergency proclamation.

The decision comes about two months after the state on June 15 lifted several of its pandemic-related restrictions and reopened the economy. The move also follows the nationwide rise in new COVID-19 cases because of the more contagious Delta variant.

“There is always going to be a different variant on the horizon,” Mayor Pro Tem Gene James stated on Tuesday night, before also pushing back on those downplaying the death rate of COVID-19. “This virus has long-standing—long-standing—applications to your life; it attacks your lungs, it attacks your heart, so we do have to be careful … there are serious effects.”

Pictured is the socially distanced council chambers from the March 17, 2020 meeting, when councilmembers voted to declare a local emergency because of the rise in COVID-19 cases. Photo: Shawn Raymundo

Explaining his support for ending the local emergency, James said it was time for the city to “come together, and understand that we need to have some sort of normalcy in our life while taking precaution.”

According to City Manager Erik Sund, the city is already fully operational at its sites. While that does include city hall, he explained that he’s maintained appointment-only visits out of an abundance of caution for his staff.

When James asked Sund whether ending the emergency declaration would fully open city hall, the city manager expressed concern for city employees, about 13 of whom are currently in quarantine because they’ve either tested positive for COVID-19 or were exposed to it.

“By opening up the doors, my only want would be to control the numbers coming into city hall so that we don’t have a large group gathering,” he said, adding: “We’re a little bit (short-staffed), so having a large crowd could create some frustration because there’s not enough staff there to assist them.”

Councilmember Laura Ferguson, a staunch advocate for reopening and ending the local emergency, said city hall needs to reopen, stating that plexiglass could be used to separate staff from residents.

“You said tons of people coming in there—it’s not going to happen,” Ferguson said, while claiming San Clemente’s COVID-19 case numbers have been low and that other city halls in nearby towns are fully open. “I don’t’ know what you’re afraid of.”

Sund quickly fired back, stating that he wasn’t afraid of anything.

“I appreciate what the other cities are doing, but my responsibility is San Clemente,” he said. 

Continuing to argue against the need for an emergency proclamation, Ferguson explained that “a local emergency is declared because you’re in a state of peril or a state of disaster; that’s simply put, and we’re simply not experiencing that here in San Clemente.”

According to the county health office’s latest data on Wednesday morning, Aug. 18, San Clemente’s cumulative case total was 3,541, including 40 total deaths. Countywide, the cumulative case total has reached 276,632, with the death toll at 5,161.

During the debate, Ward proposed that the council again table a decision on dropping the emergency order, just as it had done last month. That motion died in a 3-2 vote, with only Ward and Duncan supporting it.

Afterward, James proposed that the council approve the resolution to end the declaration, which simultaneously maintained that Sund would be the city’s director of emergency services. That motion received the 3-2 vote, passing the resolution.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.

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