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What the city council must do in the face of coronavirus

What the city council must do in the face of coronavirus

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To the Napa City Council: You do not need me to tell you that Napa along with the world faces an enormous challenge, the magnitude of which none of us really know or are fully prepared for. We can, however, prepare and act now to avoid a long-term catastrophic economic decline in Napa. As the city’s decision-makers, the decisions you have to make now will be the most important decisions you likely will ever be asked to make. I understand if you feel like you might not be ready. None of us are.

First, in the midst of the stress and emotion of this public health crisis, you must trust that the medical professionals will handle this crisis as best they can. Hopefully, they will limit the nation’s casualties to thousands rather than millions. Locally, let’s hope they can limit our tragedies to less than a hundred.

While the public health officials focus on the public health issues, I earnestly suggest you continue to turn the city’s energies to our local needs and our economy. To be clear, I am not suggesting you tell the community to go back to work before we get the all clear from health officials. What I am suggesting is you do everything in your power now to get everyone back to work once health officials say we are safe to do so. If the city does not act boldly, it may mean the difference between Napa bouncing back in a year or two, or it may take a decade or more to get back to the thriving town we had a couple of weeks ago.

The COVID-19 crisis and the economic crash is the biggest challenge and threat to our community our lifetimes. The Great Depression and World War II were the last times the world, the nation and Napa faced a challenge as big as the one before us now.

At the time of the Great Depression, classic economic models and policies failed. The collapsed economy and fate of the country required a new approach. Much like now, at that time there was widespread job loss and almost all economic activity contracted severely.

In response, new economic theory pushed for government to dramatically increase spending to accelerate demand for goods and services. This was meant to induce the private sector to increase employment, investment and output. This was contrary to all the economic thinking and policies at the time. This led to the recovery of the America economies and stimulated American productivity for decades, and created the greatest middle class in the history of the world. This fiscal policy also created an extremely skilled and productive workforce.

Now that 2020 looks a lot like 1929, it is time for government at every level to once again take action to provide stimulus in an effort to increase employment, investment and output. To save our community, our local businesses, and our local workforce, we need to look to construction, like the nation did in the 1930s. Once construction workers and support industries are working, those workers have money to spend on restaurants, stores for everyday goods and services. Money starts flowing upward through our economy, getting all segments functioning again. At the same time the economy is getting this jump start, the public will get long-term value from what will be built or created.

What the City Council can do immediately is do not employ austerity measures or delay taking any steps to get and keep any business in the city from moving ahead. More economic contraction is not the answer to economic contraction. The city must look to what new or existing local public or private projects need to or could get built in the near future. We also have to look at what other tools you have or what new tools we can think of to make this happen. We have to do this now so that we have every tool available to start and continue bouncing back.

We can also use this time in history to set a course to improve our community. For example, in response to our housing needs, we can explore sustainable new ideas for housing projects that can better meet long-term community needs. This applies to any project, a park, a street, a municipal or commercial development, or housing. Taking these bold steps now will serve our community for years to come. Like the decades after the Great Depression and World War II, we not only get our economy rolling and community back on track, we can create an even better Napa for our and the next generations’ future.

Getting through this crisis will take leadership. You are often asked to delay decisions or are told you are moving too fast. In this case, history will look back and ask whether we did everything we could do to minimize all the harm from the current crisis. This means you will have to resist the requests to delay while we are sheltering in place, and instead be prepared to act. That will not be easy, but it is necessary. Not every decision will be perfect or right. Failure to boldly act will be catastrophic.

Kevin Teague

Napa

Editor's note: this is an abridged version of a longer letter submitted to the city council. A full copy of that letter is attached to this item online at NapaValleyRegister.com.

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