To protest COVID mandates, this California city declared itself a “constitutional republic”

About Scott Thompson, Deputy Mayor of Oroville, Father of Two Young Boys, Governor Gavin Newsom Require schoolchildren to be vaccinated Against COVID-19 was the last straw.

He believed that the government had no right to tell him what to put in his corpses or the bodies of his children. Many of his constituents agreed when it came to pandemic mandates.

Thus, he has created a posh, dynamite name that has made headlines for his small town in Northern California.

Oroville declared itself a constitutional republic. A place where local leaders pledge to fight states they say are going too far.

“Any executive orders of the State of California or the federal government of the United States that clearly infringe or infringe our constitutionally protected rights will not be enforced by the City of Oroville against its citizens,” reads: Advertising This month passed by the city council.

“The desire here is dialogue,” Thompson said.

For some, the declaration was a stand for freedom. But others in the city saw a reckless tantrum in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that led to death Over 73,000 Californians.

Butte County, with a population of about 220,000, has one of the state’s counties Lowest vaccination rates. As of Saturday, 47% of its entire population has been vaccinated, compared to 64% of all Californians.

Butte County’s largest hospital, the 298-bed Enloe Medical Center in Chico, has averaged 26 patients from COVID-19 over the past week — More than all but one hospital in Los Angeles County, which is home to 10 million people.

Oroville resident Celia Hirschman has lost her former San Francisco Poet Laureate father Jack Hirschmanto COVID-19 three months ago. She said the decision insults people who have lost loved ones or are immunocompromised, just to score political points.

“She says we’re cowboys, and we’re not going to stick to your rules,” she said. “I don’t think it is about open dialogue at all. I feel it is a dangerous measure that they have no business adding to our charter.”

Joseph Tomlinson, left, and his cousin, Robert Steele, outside a ToGo lunch cart in downtown Oroville.

Joseph Tomlinson, left, and his cousin, Robert Steele, outside a ToGo lunch cart in downtown Oroville. Tomlinson owns the truck, and Steele works for him. “There was no Karen’s” complaining about the mask rules or safety measures against the pandemic, Tomlinson said.

(Healy Branson Potts/Los Angeles Times)

Oroville, a city of 20,000 residents, is now one of a growing number of rural California communities in recent years to call itself a getaway or place excluded from some liberal ideal.

Two years ago, the desert town of Needles became “A City of Sanctuary” for the Second Amendment In rebuke to California’s strict gun control laws. In defiance of orders for an epidemic lockdown, the central valley towns of Atwater and Colenga last year declared themselves, respectively, “Haven city for work“And a city where all business is essential — with both.” Loss of emergency funding for COVID-19 in operation.

Designed to capitalize on the hype of California “sanctuary” labels used in the context of protecting undocumented immigrants, the posters reflect the tensions between rural cities and Newsom management – The general left.

Oroville’s constitutional republican decision is mostly symbolic, with no authority over schools, which are regulated by the state.

The city is the county seat of Butte County – purple county Where 36% of voters are registered Republicans, 35% are registered Democrats, and 20% are independents. By close margins, the county voted for President Trump in 2016 and President Biden last year. Voters are here supported try to summon Newsom.

COVID rates have remained relatively high here, even as they have fallen significantly in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The number of patients infected with coronavirus during the changing delta wave, most of whom were not vaccinated, peaked at Enloe Medical Center On September 23, when there were 95 people in hospital with the virus. Now, a new Omicron variant looms as a potential threat.

“This is a tough place to be, in the winter,” said Marcia Nelson, the hospital’s chief medical officer. “We’re not starting from a baseline of less than 10 patients; we’re starting from a baseline of what we used to feel was a really big number.”

In the Oroville City Council meeting which the decision of the Constitutional Republic has been approved, city ​​employee It should explain to a commentator that the decision was not “the beginning of Oroville’s effort to separate from California and the Union.”

One of the speakers was an older man who compared the decision to decades Jefferson State Movement, which calls for the northern rural and conservative counties of California to secede and form their own state.

“It’s possible that these ‘Constitutional Republicans’ will block mandates for masks,” the man said, referring to the county’s vaccination rate. In other words, they are looking to kill people.

The audience erupted with laughter. When the resolution was passed, they cheered.

Thompson said the impetus for the announcement was vaccine mandates, especially those for schoolchildren, which he opposed Butte County’s multi-school district And sparked protests across the state, including In cities like Los Angeles.

“Now that the mandates have gone from not just putting something on the outside of your body or modifying the way you run your business, but now pushing something inside your body that no one knows the long-term effects of, that’s just like, well, now,” Thompson said.

Thompson, a pastor of an Assembly of God church, said he’s not anti-mask or against a vaccine for people who want it. He said he and his sons have not been vaccinated but now have antibodies after a mild bout with COVID-19 in August.

“There are people out there who are like, ‘This whole thing is a hoax,'” Thompson said. “We’re not, just being reckless.”

He said unvaccinated city employees are being tested weekly for COVID-19 at the city’s expense. His church has distributed hundreds of masks to worshippers.

Council members said they were inundated with calls and emails about the decision – both positive and negative – from across the country.

“There were a lot of swearing,” said Eric Smith, council member and president of the Oroville Chamber of Commerce.

Smith said that most local business owners support the advertisement. He said the widespread shutdown of the epidemic was a hard pill to swallow because it came amid a local “financial renaissance” and a growing population in recent years.

Brian Wong and his wife Louisa Lowe at Union Bar and Grill, one of two restaurants they own in Oroville.

Brian Wong and his wife Louisa Lowe at Union Bar and Grill, one of two restaurants they own in Oroville. Wong said he was brave from the city to make a statement about COVID mandates and that local businesses have been engaged in politics and divided over how to operate during the pandemic.

(Healy Branson Potts/Los Angeles Times)

It was a “tightrope”, he said, to have a “balanced approach to concerns about disease, its spread and people’s livelihoods”.

Councilwoman Chrissy Riggs said she cast her only vote against the declaration because she believes the best way for city leaders to resist the mandates is through the judicial system, not through a resolution. But she said she understood the frustration with the states.

“We’ve been in this situation for 20 months, and I think the general feeling is exhaustion,” she said. “When does this end? Yes, there are some lights at the end of the tunnel, but those that come are accompanied by doubts and risks as well.”

The pandemic added to what had already been five years of disaster for Oroville, she added. There was 2017 Drainage failure at the Oroville Dam that led to mass evacuations; 2018 camp fire in neighboring paradise; Drought who forced Closure From a major hydroelectric power plant in Lake Oroville in August.

When the forest fires broke out Across Poti County last summerRiggs said the smoked air in Oroville was toxic — but indoor dining has been banned across the state due to the virus, leaving local restaurants in limbo.

“It was a good idea of ​​what was acceptable and what was not,” she said.

Brian Wong, who opened Union Bar and Grill in Oroville in the fall of 2019, said he thought the city’s statement on the states was “quite brave.”

As a small business owner, Wong said he felt he had to deal with the country’s complex and ever-changing rules on his own.

I felt angry, and I felt weak. For an entire year, it was nothing but fear and anger going through this entire system. “Seeing politics creep into all of that, I felt like they weren’t honest about health and safety.”

Wong, who also owns 109-year-old Tong Fong Lo Chinese Restaurant, said he spent a lot of money building an outdoor dining patio and required dozens of his employees to wear masks for more than a year, until vaccinations became more widespread. Available.

He has heard all the opinions about the pandemic from his clients and said he welcomes diverse perspectives. That’s why he called his restaurant Union, because it’s his vision of California: “Come together all these different people to make a whole.”

A summer 2021 view of a house burned in the North Pool fire in 2020, towards a boat ramp on Lake Oroville.

Summer 2021 view of a house burned in the North Pool fire in 2020, towards a boat ramp on Lake Oroville, exhausted by drought.

(Brian van der Brugg/Los Angeles Times)

Parked down the street from Union, Joseph Tomlinson, a 24-year-old chef, said he opened his van, Joe’s Lunch ToGo, in March 2020, around the time the pandemic began.

Tomlinson hadn’t heard much about declaring a constitutional republic, but thought it wouldn’t hurt if he pushed for more local control. He said that when he and his staff went into hiding and asked for social distancing, he did not receive any harassment from customers.

“We’ve never had any Karen’s,” he said. “We are a small town, and we support each other.”

But sitting outside the downtown antique store, Gold City Mercantile, Michael Sublita laughed and rolled his eyes when asked about Oroville being a constitutional republic. He replied with the perfect “dad” joke: “As far as I’m concerned, a mandate is when two men go out to dinner.”

As for the advertisement?

“It’s all just talk,” Sublita said. “We’re the new city that says, ‘We don’t have to do what you say.’ Absolutely OK.”

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