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Napa County pleads with residents to stay in COVID-19 protection bubbles

With COVID-19 cases surging, Napa County is concerned that too many residents are bursting their bubbles.

Those are the household ‘bubbles’ that consist of people who live under the same roof. County officials said the possible consequence of people mingling up-close with other family members and friends is another economic shutdown.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors, Dr. Karen Relucio, county public health officer, urged residents to keep following COVID-19 social distancing rules.

“You want to keep the economy open,” Relucio said Thursday. “You want to keep people in jobs. And you’re doing it for the whole community. This is where it takes a village.”

The county over the past month has gone from 112 COVID-19 cases to 310 cases as of Monday’s report. By comparison, it took more than two months to reach the first 112 cases.

The county reported 40 new cases on Monday, nearly equal the previous week’s total of 46 cases.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said the county isn’t yet at the point of needing to tighten the shelter-at-home order.

“But I really think it’s important for our community to understand the severity of the trends we’re seeing and what that’s attributable to, especially family gatherings,” he said.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said one of the hardest things to do is not hug a son or daughter who visits from out of town. But that’s where transmission of the virus can happen.

“Understanding what a bubble is important,” Wagenknecht said. “My wife and I live at my little house, that’s my bubble. It’s not the extended family.”

Relucio agreed. Her bubble is her husband and herself. If they eat out, it’s just the two of them. She had to refuse when her sister-in-law wanted to have dinner together, she said.

Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon said if she sees her brother-in-law, they can talk while staying apart and wearing masks. They can’t embrace or have dinner.

“I think that’s where people are really having a difficult time,” Dillon said. “But unfortunately, we all need to do that if we want folks at work, if we don’t want to be shutting things down.”

Napa County’s reopened economy allows everything from retail stores to restaurants to hair salons to hotels to tasting rooms, with social distancing and hygiene requirements. Still prohibited are nightclubs, concerts and gatherings other than religious services and protests.

Relucio said re-closing businesses would result in more people facing food and housing problems.

“The last resort is tightening up shelter-at-home,” Relucio said. “We want to do everything else we can to make sure physical distancing is adhered to.”

For the first two weeks of June, an uptick in coroanrivus transmission was largely linked to large family clusters that had gatherings between households, Relucio said. Since then, there’s been an uptick in person-to-person transmissions.

A few cases are linked to Napa County residents who work at San Quentin State Prison, she said. The prison in Marin County has seen an outbreak of more than 1,000 cases.

Ten case clusters involve vineyard management workers, though most are not Napa County residents. These outbreaks are not necessarily attributable to the workplace. Some workers have crowded households and commute together from Lake, Solano, Sonoma and San Joaquin counties, she said.

Napa County’s coronavirus news has some positive aspects. The county’s positive testing rate as of last week was 1.5%. Relucio said that’s well below the 8% that the state considers as a warning sign.

Napa County Grand Jury
City of Napa and Grand Jury in sync on garbage rate increases

The Napa City Council agrees with all but one of the Napa County Grand Jury’s findings following its investigation into the reasons behind the garbage rate hike last August and whether it was adequately presented to ratepayers.

City Council approved the 36% garbage price hike, applied incrementally over three and a half years, for the roughly 23,000 residential and commercial customers who receive curbside pick-up. It was intended to address a $3.3 million shortfall in the 2020 Solid Waste and Recycling program’s budget.

The Grand Jury concluded the rate increases were “justified and timely,” but said the city could have communicated more transparently with residents about the department’s finances.

Required by state law to respond to the Grand Jury, city staff concurred with three of the jury’s four findings, and presented its written response to council at Tuesday’s public hearing for approval.

The Utilities Department oversees the Solid Waste and Materials Diversion Fund whose revenues come directly from ratepayers and whose expenditures go to service those ratepayers.

Local officials estimate the average cost of trash, recycling and compost collection – which ultimately diverts about 69% of materials from the landfill – is about $33.5 million annually. But 2018 saw a significant increase in costs due to the need for capital improvements and a renegotiation of the contract with the primary service provider, Napa Recycling & Waste Services, and declining revenue as the global markets for recyclable materials plunged.

The revenue shortfall compelled the department to increase the price to avoid sacrificing on the scope and scale of the service provided to customers, a rationale the Grand Jury endorsed in its report.

However, the Grand Jury called on the Utilities Department to better educate the public on the specifics of the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund’s finances.

It dedicated much of its scrutiny to the rate notice — the packet sent to ratepayers ahead of the City Council meeting last year to decide the rate hike.

According to the Grand Jury, the budget pie chart didn’t provide enough granular detail on two items: the cost of repairs to city streets caused by the weight of garbage trucks and the cost of the 2001 Coombsville dump lawsuit liability debt.

The city conceded it could have pulled out the approximately $1.1 million use for mitigating street repairs as a separate budget item within the pie chart. Instead, it was lumped into the $1.5 million “transfers and contributions” category since it was provided directly to Public Works to handle the damages.

However, it disagreed with the Grand Jury’s finding regarding Coombsville Dump liability, saying to get too “granular” wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

The Grand Jury report provided two recommendations for the city, both of which staff said it has already implemented or would implement by Dec. 31.

To account for the steady decline in revenues as the global demand for recyclables drops, the Grand Jury recommended the city “explore new sources of revenue” to offset any future shortfall.

In its response, staff said the recommendation has already been implemented and they’re creating new sources of revenue. It pointed to City Council’s approval in April of the adjusted gate fees to the processing facilities that will generate an estimated $794,000 in additional revenue for the upcoming fiscal year as an example of this kind of work.

Also, the Grand Jury suggested the Utilities Department directly inform ratepayers of where they can “locate information explaining how all revenues and expenditures are allocated and spent” each year. It recommended doing so through the monthly bill.

The city’s written response acknowledged its routine budget reports to City Council are insufficient, especially for those ratepayers unfamiliar with the public hearing process, and it committed to enhance its outreach to ratepayers through clear directions on the monthly bill, per the Grand Jury’s recommendation.

Justices strike down abortion law

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that a law that requires doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The outcome is far from the last word on the decades-long fight over abortion with dozens of state-imposed restrictions winding their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who thought that a new conservative majority with two of President Donald Trump’s appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.

The key vote belonged to Roberts, who always voted against abortion rights before, including in a 2016 case in which the court struck down a Texas law that was virtually identical to the one in Louisiana. The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided, but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.

“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote. He did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday’s decision.

The case was t he third in two weeks in which Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the court’s liberals in the majority. One of the earlier decisions preserved the legal protections and work authorization for 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The other extended federal employment-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans, a decision that Justice Neil Gorsuch also joined and wrote.

Trump’s two high-court picks, Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what had fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.

The Trump administration sided with Louisiana in urging the court to uphold the law. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany criticized the decision. “In an unfortunate ruling today, the Supreme Court devalued both the health of mothers and the lives of unborn children by gutting Louisiana’s policy that required all abortion procedures be performed by individuals with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital,” McEnany said.

On the other side, support for the decision mixed with a wariness that the future of abortion rights appears to rest with Roberts.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts.

“We’re relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we’re concerned about tomorrow. With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state. But the Court’s decision could embolden states to pass even more restrictive laws when clarity is needed if abortion rights are to be protected,” Northup said.

In other rulings Monday:

The court refused to block the execution of four federal prison inmates who are scheduled to be put to death in July and August. The executions would mark the first use of the death penalty on the federal level since 2003. The court’s action leaves no obstacles standing in the way of the executions, the first of which is scheduled for July 13.

Justices made it easier for the president to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The court’s five conservative justices agreed that restrictions Congress imposed on when the president can fire the agency’s director violated the Constitution. The decision doesn’t have a big impact on the current head of the agency. Kathy Kraninger, who was nominated to her post by the president in 2018, said she believed the president could fire her at any time.

The court left in place a decision that rejected environmental groups’ challenge to sections of wall the Trump administration is building along the U.S. border with Mexico. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Southwest Environmental Center challenged a federal law that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive any laws necessary to allow the quick construction of border fencing. The groups argued that violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. But a lower court dismissed the case and justices agreed.

The Supreme Court upheld a provision of federal law that requires foreign affiliates of U.S.-based health organizations to denounce prostitution as a condition of receiving taxpayer money to fight AIDS around the world. Kavanaugh wrote for the court’s conservatives that “plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates are foreign organizations, and foreign organizations operating abroad possess no rights under the U. S. Constitution.”

American Canyon moves closer to hosting cannabis cultivation, manufacturing

American Canyon wants to be clear that up to six cannabis businesses can come to its Green Island industrial area for indoor cultivation, manufacturing and delivery, but not retail sales.

That hadn’t been so clear before. The city’s 2018 law allows for up to six commercial cannabis permits. But a single business might need several state permits, such as one for indoor cultivation, another for manufacturing, another for delivery.

Given that, two businesses needing three state permits apiece could take up all of American Canyon’s commercial cannabis slots.

“It can be really confusing,” Community Development Director Brent Cooper said.

That confusion is not what the City Council intended. When it said six permits, it meant six businesses, officials said.

On June 16, the City Council began the rule changes to clarify the situation. It will continue taking the necessary votes in July.

“We seem to be in the process of building a better airplane while we’re flying,” Mayor Leon Garcia said.

American Canyon applicants

Element 7 and Reesan Live applied in 2019 to bring commercial cannabis businesses to American Canyon, though they have yet to open. Napa Valley Fume recently applied.

Currently, the city of Napa has the county’s only cannabis retail business, Harvest of Napa, for people with a doctor’s recommendation.

Yountville is planning to ask town voters in November if they want to approve cannabis retail without the medical requirement.

Eric Sklar of Napa Valley Fume has tried unsuccessfully to convince the county Board of Supervisors to allow commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. Napa Valley Vintners at Board meetings has voiced concerns that a wine country cannabis industry might hurt the Napa wine brand.

But the Board of Supervisors has land-use jurisdiction only over the unincorporated county, not within the boundaries of cities such as American Canyon.

During the American City Council meeting, Sklar commended Garcia and Vice Mayor David Oro “for not letting the Vintners bully you folks the way they have the county. They’ve kind of shut down everything there because they don’t want competition.”

American Canyon Chamber of Commerce CEO Valerie Zizak-Morais reminded the City Council that most city voters favored legalizing cannabis in the statewide 2016 Proposition 64 election.

“Now more than ever the city needs to diversify and expand its revenue base,” she said in written remarks. “Your actions tonight will further this goal by allowing new businesses to open in American Canyon.”

The City Council voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance to clarify limits on the number of cannabis businesses. Passing an ordinance is usually done at two separate meetings.

The council adopted its original commercial cannabis ordinance on Sept. 18, 2018 and on Dec. 18, 2018 adopted a resolution that implemented the law. Cannabis businesses are limited to 686 acres in the industrial area.