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Public Health
Napa County's new reentry facility to be available for COVID-19 isolation

Napa County is ready to open its new reentry facility, not as a place to rehabilitate low-risk inmates as intended, but as a COVID-19 isolation-and-quarantine center.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the move during a special meeting last week. The state, which helped pay for the facility, granted permission for the temporary use through June, 2021.

“Putting it to this use at this time seems like a great example of government pivoting to do what’s needed in a financially responsible and morally responsible way,” Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon said.

People who go to the facility to quarantine or isolate would do so voluntarily, County Executive Officer Minh Tran said. The county issues isolation orders to people with COVID-19 and quarantine orders to those exposed to the virus.

“Most people do so at their own homes,” Tran said. “But for those who cannot comply with the order because they have no good place to go to do so, this facility will be available for them.”

Possible users include those residing in long-term care facilities, the homeless and residents whose crowded homes don’t allow for isolation or quarantine, a county report said.

The county’s $23.4 million, 72-bed reentry facility is along Highway 221 near Syar quarry. It was built as a place for low-risk inmates to learn career and life skills prior to release.

After a year’s delay because of construction problems, the reentry facility was to open this spring. Then COVID-19 hit, requiring social distancing. The county released low-risk offenders in jail who might have qualified for the reentry program and the reentry facility sits empty.

Resident James Hinton questioned using a “criminal facility” as a quarantine-and-isolation center. He would rather have someone in his family be housed by the county in a hotel, he told supervisors during public comments.

“Raise your hand if you would rather spend tonight in a brand-new dorm out near Syar quarry,” he said during the meeting. “Now raise your hand if you’d rather stay at the Archer hotel tonight?”

Resident Wendell Coleman criticized having poverty- stricken residents quarantine and isolate in “a jail.”

Tran stressed that the reentry facility doesn’t look like a jail and doesn’t have cells.

“This is not being used as a jail. This is a brand-new dormitory. There are no bars,” he said.

Napa County two months ago opened a quarantine-and-isolation facility at the county airport with cots.

“This will replace that,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “This is a couple steps up from the (airport) respite center.”

Supervisor Ryan Gregory said he’s rather have his parents stay at the brand-new reentry facility than the airport shelter or at some hotels he’s seen.

“It’s a new, modern facility, yet to be used,” Dillon said.

That airport shelter was staffed by the National Guard, which is no longer able to provide staffing. The reentry facility will require less supervision and staffing, county spokesperson Elizabeth Scott said.

“For example, the facility near the airport did not have individual bathrooms and patients who were quarantined there needed escorts to and from the facilities,” she said in an email. “The reentry facility provides individual bathrooms and no need for staff escort.”

Renting a hotel to be available for quarantine and isolation could cost the county $100,000 a month, Tran said. Using the reentry facility saves the county this expense.

As of Thursday, the county had fewer than 10 people being placed in hotels for isolation, he told supervisors.

The county budgeted $4.3 million from reserve savings for COVID-19 emergency operations, which began in early February. It has spent about $3 million, and the response will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, Scott said.

“We are reevaluating our current contracts to look for cost savings to ensure that our response continues to protect the community from the consequences of the pandemic,” she said in a Friday email.

NAPA Pride
Supporters of equality for LGBTQ, minority communities join forces in Napa march

June is when LGBTQ people across the globe celebrate their hard-won civil rights and their decades-long battle against discrimination. But on Sunday, a swelling wave of protests against police violence against people of color caused advocates for sexual and racial minorities to join forces and demonstrate in downtown Napa, together.

Holding aloft rainbow flags and Black Lives Matter signboards – and sometimes placards combining the two symbols of equality – more than 120 chanting marchers took part in Pride Is a Protest, a procession from Napa City Hall through downtown streets to Veterans Memorial Park and back again.

The now-familiar sounds of anti-racist protest rang out as demonstrators strode down School, First and Main streets, but with an added twist resulting from the partnership of the local groups who had put together the march in barely a week – the Rainbow Action Network and the People’s Collective for Change, a grassroots group that has led weekend protests against police brutality and is pushing for law-enforcement reforms in Napa.

“Black lives matter!” organizer Gabriela Fernandez yelled into a microphone, coaxing an answering echo from marchers before she and they changed the slogan to “Black trans lives matter!”, “Black queer lives matter!” and then “Black lesbian lives matter!”

Sprinkled among the dozens of signs in the procession were visual symbols of this partnership against intolerance, including an upraised brown fist superimposed on the six-color rainbow logo. Accompanying the LGBTQ banners of various sizes were versions with black and brown chevrons added to one side.

The march placed an exclamation point on a month that had been marked for an annual slate of celebrations of Napa County’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York, which is credited with kick-starting the modern gay-rights movement. Many of the festivities, however, never got off the ground after the coronavirus pandemic led the county to shut down virtually all scheduled public gatherings starting in mid-March.

Instead of large-scale LGBTQ celebrations, central Napa has instead seen a succession of protest marches inspired by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during an arrest by Minneapolis police May 25. When it came time for the Rainbow Action Network to mark Pride month, acknowledging the renewed push for racial equality became the natural thing to do, according to Anne Sutkowi-Hemstreet, co-founder and director of the network.

“By the start of June, what we’d planned for Pride in a celebratory tone just didn’t feel appropriate for this year,” Sutkowi-Hemstreet, a community programs manager for First 5 Napa, said before the Sunday event.

Sprinkled in the crowd were marchers who chose to share the experience with their children to impress lessons of tolerance. “This is an opportunity to engage with the broader community, getting to be with many others who want the same thing,” said Lilea Heine, a Napa mother who arrived with a signboard proclaiming “Pride against Prejudice.” “I want my kids to grow up in a space that feels safe and celebrates everyone in the community.”

When the marchers reached Veterans Memorial Park shortly before noon, the cobblestone median of nearby Main Street became a speaking platform for protest leaders as well as a variety of audience members, including several teenagers discussing their experiences as LGBTQ people.

Theirs and other testimonies were periodically interrupted by passing drivers honking their horns in support, and in one case inching past with a wind-whipped rainbow flag hoisted through the sunroof to the cheers of demonstrators.

Others took the megaphone to urge protesters to turn their support into action, by registering to vote or keeping up pressure on cities to ban dangerous and abusive law enforcement practices. (In addition to pursuing local police reform, Napa protest organizers have supported petitions to reallocate the city police budget, increase awareness of the Juneteenth holiday and remove images of the Ku Klux Klan from mural at Napa’s Riverfront.)

“Every single one of you can make a difference – today, tomorrow, 10 years, 20 years from now,” Elba Gonzalez-Mares, a member of the Napa Valley Unified School District board, told the audience. “People are looking for role models. People are looking for someone who will look out for them.”

Fernandez, a member of the People’s Collective for Change that has organized Napa’s anti-racism protests since May 31, thanked the mask-wearing participants for joining in despite virus-related restrictions that have entered their fourth month.

“You’re all here in the middle of a pandemic,” she told marchers. “People are telling me they still won’t go to restaurants and when I ask why they’ll go to a protest, they say, ‘This is damn important!’ If we don’t show up, people will thing we don’t matter and things will go back to the way it was before.”

Miss. lawmakers vote to remove emblem from flag

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to surrender the Confederate battle emblem from their state flag, triggering raucous applause and cheers more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War.

Mississippi’s House and Senate voted in succession Sunday afternoon to retire the flag, each chamber drawing broad bipartisan support for the historic decision. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure. He did not immediately signal when the signing would take place.

The state had faced mounting pressure to change its flag during the past month amid international protests against racial injustice in the United States. Cheering and applause erupted as lawmakers hugged each other in the Senate with final passage. Even those on the opposite side of the issue also hugged as an emotional day of debate drew to a close. Bells also could be heard ringing in the state capital city as passage of the measure was announced.

A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.” Voters will be asked to approve the new design in the Nov. 3 election. If they reject it, the commission will set a different design using the same guidelines, and that would be sent to voters later.

Mississippi has a 38% Black population — and the last state flag that incorporates the emblem widely seen as racist.

Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who is white, has pushed for five years to change the flag, saying that the Confederate symbol is offensive. The House passed the bill 91-23 Sunday afternoon, and the Senate passed it 37-14 later.

“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” Gunn said. “Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”

Debate over changing the flag has arisen before, and in recent years an increasing number of cities and all the state’s public universities have taken it down on their own. But the issue has never garnered enough support in the conservative Republican-dominated Legislature or with recent governors.

That dynamic changed in a matter of weeks as an extraordinary and diverse coalition of political, business, religious groups and sports leaders pushed to change the flag.

At a Black Lives Matter protest outside the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion in early June, thousands cheered as an organizer said the state needs to divorce itself from all Confederate symbols.

Religious groups — including the large and influential Mississippi Baptist Convention — said erasing the rebel emblem from the state flag is a moral imperative.

Business groups said the banner hinders economic development in one of the poorest states in the nation.

In a sports-crazy culture, the biggest blow might have happened when college sports leagues said Mississippi could lose postseason events if it continued flying the Confederate-themed flag. Nearly four dozen of Mississippi’s university athletic directors and coaches came to the Capitol to lobby for change.

“We need something that fulfills the purpose of being a state flag and that everybody in the state has a reason to be proud of,” said Mike Leach, football coach at Mississippi State University.

Many people who wanted to keep the emblem on the Mississippi flag said they see it as a symbol of heritage.

Legislators put the Confederate emblem on the upper left corner of Mississippi flag in 1894, as whites were squelching political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

Democratic state Sen. Derrick Simmons of Greenville, who is African American, said the state deserves a flag that will make all people proud. “Today is a history-making day in the state of Mississippi,” Simmons told colleagues before the Senate voted for passage. “Let’s vote today for the Mississippi of tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted approvingly of a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power,” a racist slogan associated with white supremacists. He later deleted the tweet and the White House said the president had not heard “the one statement” on the video.

The video appeared to have been taken at The Villages, a Florida retirement community, and showed dueling demonstrations between Trump supporters and opponents.

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump tweeted. Moments into the video clip he shared, a man driving a golf cart displaying pro-Trump signs and flags shouts ‘white power.” The video also shows anti-Trump protesters shouting “Nazi,” “racist,” and profanities at the Trump backers.

“There’s no question’’ that Trump should not have retweeted the video and “he should just take it down,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told CNN’s “State of the Union.” Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate.

“I think it’s indefensible,” he added.

Shortly afterward, Trump deleted the tweet that shared the video. White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that “President Trump is a big fan of The Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”

Napa doubles down on street and sidewalk program, opting for neighborhood-by-neighborhood strategy over piecemeal approach

Napa’s Public Works Department says it can do better to communicate its framework for prioritizing certain projects and its progress to the public, as suggested by the Napa County Grand Jury in May.

The department rejects, however, Grand Jury findings that the sidewalk repair program is subjective, inconsistent, disorganized and slow to respond to requests.

Of the Grand Jury’s 10 findings, Public Works Director Julie Lucido told City Council recently that staff “agreed” with two, “disagreed” with two and “partially disagreed” with six. Lucido added state law mandates the city’s position on each of the jury’s findings fall into one of these three “prescriptive” buckets.

The Grand Jury report directed its probe into the Napa Neighborhood Streets and Sidewalks Program, a long-term plan to pave 10 miles of residential streets every year and overhaul the accompanying sidewalks, and the priority areas, repairs to higher-risk damages that require attention outside this larger plan.

Grand Jury critiques center on two primary themes: Public Works’ programming and written plan detailing that procedure and the communication of those programs with the public.

Most damning was its assertion that the Public Works Department puts resources towards the neighborhood streets program rather than addressing the individual segments of walkways that “present the most serious tripping risks” throughout the city.

Lucido emphatically denied this claim. “We are constantly making repairs and those are mitigating risk,” she said of the suggestion that the department spends valuable money and person-power on any projects that don’t remove serious tripping risks.

Though most of the sidewalk repair budget does go toward repairs that are part of the larger repaving program, Lucido said the “neighborhood-by-neighborhood level” approach allows the city to tackle five times the number of sidewalk displacements as it would with a piecemeal approach, more efficiently allocate resources and simultaneously install handicap-accessible curb ramps and restore gutters and drains to avoid necessary fixes after new streets are paved.

Other findings from the Grand Jury involved what it deemed to be inconsistent verbiage used throughout agency-issued information, the lack of a written policy for determining which priority projects – those that aren’t part of the broader neighborhood streets and sidewalks plan – are to be undertaken, and poor communication with residents about project status and schedule.

The city partially disagreed with all of these conclusions, other than the claim the department doesn’t “adequately inform residents” of the sidewalk repair schedule, with which it disagreed outright.

Lucido conceded Public Works has, to date, lacked a written plan for scheduling priority sidewalk repairs, but clarified how locations are selected based on a set of criteria including the severity of the displacement, anticipated pedestrian volumes and coordination with other ongoing city projects.

She told City Council her team is currently preparing a written department policy that will “be used in prioritizing limited resources to address high-priority repair projects” by Dec. 31 and that they will continue to aim to complete 50 of these repairs each year. It also plans to roll out a new software that helps to analyze potential repair impact, automate work orders and manage project status.

Lucido also emphasized that no repairs are considered “one-offs,” though she acknowledged some staff members likely used this term to describe certain undertakings in conversations with members of the Grand Jury.

“To me, ‘one-off’ sounds like it’s not part of a program,” Lucido said, clarifying that every repair is carefully evaluated against the aforementioned criteria and considered as part of the larger efforts of Public Works to address Napa’s sidewalk needs.

City officials and grand jury members did agree the existing cost-share program intended to offset the cost for homeowners who want to spearhead their own sidewalk repair isn’t keeping pace with the cost of construction. They also shared the belief that there needs to be a better way to assess how the work order assets management system is assisting staff in managing project requests.

The Grand Jury report included a series of recommendations for the Public Works Department to address some of the concerns it raised as a result of its investigation. Of those eight, the city agreed to implement six of them.

It agreed to clear up vocabulary, provide a written department policy governing how priority projects are ordered, create an interactive digital map to display locations of sidewalk repairs, establish performance metrics for the new work order system and make sidewalk repair schedules more readily accessible on the city’s website. All will be implemented by year’s end.

City staff said it would not comply with two of the recommendations put forth by the Grand Jury. First, a specific policy ensuring timing accountability for priority repair projects, which Lucido said is already addressed through the existing performance goal of 50 priority repairs each year, the roll-out of citywide temporary repairs and the cost-sharing program.

Second, the development of a five-year plan to fix all sidewalk displacements of four inches or more. There are more than 1,000 locations that meet this mark in the city’s backlog, according to Lucido, and diverting already-limited resources to this goal would essentially gut all other efforts made through the strategic neighborhood approach.

She estimated the city would be able to repair the majority of the locations in the database within 10 years, though she cautioned that the projected revenue reduction over the next two years could “impact our progress.”

A written response encapsulating the presentation’s contents will be sent to the Grand Jury, stamped with the unanimous endorsement of City Council.