Lake County COVID-19 and The Code of the West

ABOUT THIS ESSAY:  In our very rural, very parochial, and very disconnected county, the world-wide pandemic known as COVID-19 has been a struggle to adapt to, for thousands of vulnerable people carefully “sheltering-in-place” and maintaining “social distancing” when they must go out.  Recent Public Health Orders mandating “facial coverings” at re-opened restaurants and personal care businesses have been met with uncooperative (i.e., “defiant”) operators and some of their care-free customers.  Open disagreement with Public Health restrictions, by the local elected Sheriff and a lame duck County Supervisor, embody a long-standing cultural attitude that is bedrock to the character of this outback territory. . . .

The roots of contemporary Lake County culture began with the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, “officially titled the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic,” which ended the Mexican-American War on July 4, 1848. [1]

The treaty briefly protected the property rights of Mexican land barons, the Californios, who were unable to claim their lands under new US laws, and helpless to stop the “flood of immigrants beginning with the Gold Rush,” which left them “outnumbered and unable to protect their political power.” [2]

Between the completion of the Treaty with the US and the formation of a new State, newly arrived “European settlers” — who claimed ownership of northern coastal and inland mountainous territories, and enslaved or slaughtered indigenous populations in their way — fought for recognition of a new “California Republic” in what became known as the “Bear Flag Rebellion.” [3]

[Today, one rural road and one residential street in the town of Upper Lake are named for the leaders of the “Bear Flag Rebellion,” Benjamin Dewell and his wife, Celia Elliot.  (Wikipedia describes Dewell as the “first white settler of Lake County, California.”)  Mr. Dewell acquired his land from Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who was the Comandante General of the “Free State of Alta California” before the State of California was formed in 1850.] [4]

The general ruggedness of the terrain and its distance from more civilized territories (Sonoma, Napa, Solano to the south, Sacramento to the east) forged a sense of unchallenged independence and reliance on local self-determination for creation of enterprises regulated wholly by local power brokers.  

The entrepreneurial “pioneers” who established fledgling towns in Lower and Upper Lake, and eventually fought bitterly over which would become the county seat, yielded bitterly to the better organized founders of the City of Lakeport after many electoral battles.  As the “county seat,” Lakeport houses the headquarters of the county’s principal municipality (the “County of Lake”) and its elected officials, many of whom achieved maturity during the earliest days of natural resource regulations introduced by the State in the 1970s.

Resistance to “outsider” influences energized the County’s response to federal and state mandates for ensuring protection of natural resources, using the County’s “Home Rule” rule-making powers to create its own “Environmental Protection Guidelines” in the 70s and 80s, followed by establishing a series of ordinances protecting “the public peace, general welfare, health and safety of the citizens and the governments of Lake County from economic and financial damage.” [5]

More importantly, the County’s top authority for land use and zoning of private property — now called the Community Development Department — liberally applies its own adopted “ministerial” authority in granting raw land conversions to lucrative agricultural operations that largely ignore the need to preserve finite groundwater supplies for pre-existing (and badly designed) housing subdivisions in the uplands, the foothills, and the floodplains surrounding the second oldest natural lake in the world, the largest natural lake in the state, and the 3rd most popular bass fishing lake in the US. [6]

Forced by law to provide public health and safety services to a poverty-stricken cluster of “severely economically disadvantaged” communities — former resort and recreation havens for working class retirees from the Central Valley and San Francisco Bay Area — the state-mandated County departments and agencies are housed within the principal municipality, but have limited influence on local decision-making bodies (Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and Board-created advisory boards, committees, and commissions), who focus on the economic engines that keep its machinery oiled:  Real estate, banking, insurance, construction, and light industry (including commercial agriculture operations, water and sanitation systems, “solid” waste disposal).

Secondary to the ever-industrious land-use enterprises are the retail businesses that provide both residents and visitors with goods and services of everyday life, many of which have been inoperable this year due to the worldwide health crisis (COVID-19) under State and local Public Health Orders.

Outright opposition from some local business owners to the perceived “infringement” of individual Constitutional rights began when the County Sheriff announced that he would not enforce state/county Public Health Orders for prevention of “community spread” of the COVID-19 pandemic virus, on May 1. [7]

Careful management of “non-essential” business and recreational venue re-opening — overseen by the California Governor’s Emergency Management and Public Health agencies — started coming unravelled when a renegate member of the Board of Supervisors declared his opposition to mandatory “facial coverings” required of all business operations, and stood in defiant opposition to the proposal to add modest enforcement options (such as administrative fines) for non-compliant enterprises. [8]

Implicitly invoking the authority of its self-defined ordinance for protection of “the public peace, general welfare, health and safety of the citizens of Lake County from violations of the constitutional rights of the citizens and reaffirming the protections for private property as provided in the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitition and the Civil Rights Act” (excerpted from Ordinance No. 2267, December 20, 1994), a lone belligerent official and the “independent” county sheriff aroused otherwise docile local residents whose lives have been severely circumscribed by the pandemic’s management strategy:  “Sheltering in Place,” prohibited “Social Gatherings,” and prescribed “Social Distancing.” [9]

The battle rages in public hearings and “social media,” and has pitted special interest groups against the vocal majority in favor of conservative health protection strategies, even as national levels of confirmed cases and rising death tolls indicate that protective measures are both effective and necessary.  Beyond the petty dispute over the “rights” of small business owners and customers to defy government directives, the lack of cooperation among official agencies threatens the burgeoning capacity of Lake County’s emergency response and disaster management systems we will need for foreseeable wildfire threats and added complications of power/communication system shutdowns.

As though there was no “situational awareness” of our very-high-risk natural hazards, long-defined health and safety infrastructure deficiencies, “built in” dangerous conditions in poorly designed (and relatively cheap) subdivisions — lacking fire evacuation routes, adequate fire suppression flows, and sound vegetation management — the County Board of Supervisors on this day “renewed” their allegiance to a “bold” Economic Development Strategy and came up, as always, with the same suggestions for improving its chances that have been standard for the last 20 years:  “streamling” the permitting process, reducing fees, more signage for the public parks. [10]  Back to the future.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Guadalupe_Hidalgo

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariano_Guadalupe_Vallejo (See “Land Holdings”)

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Kelsey#Bear_Flag_Rebellion

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Dewell

[5] Lake County Zoning Ordinances, Article 64, Environmental Protection: http://www.lakecountyca.gov/Assets/Departments/CDD/ZoningOrd/Zoning+Article+64.pdf; Lake County Ordinance No. 2266 (available from Lake County Administrative Services Office on request; not published on county website)

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clear_Lake_(California)

[7] Lake County News, posted on May 2, 2020, “Sheriff weighs in on enforcement of Public Health Orders” and , and County of Lake, California (Facebook post): https://www.facebook.com/lakecountycagov/posts/3141116155951123?__tn__=K-R

[8] Lake County Board of Supervisors regular meeting June 16, 2020, Agenda Item 7.4 (video link): http://lakecounty.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=1&clip_id=399&meta_id=123883

[9] Lake County Ordinance No. 2267 (available from Lake County Administrative Services Office on request; not published on county website)

[10] Lake County Board of Supervisors regular meeting June 23, 2020, Agenda Item 6.4 (Agenda link only, video will be published on line at the main Calendar page tomorrow): https://countyoflake.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=751495&GUID=8ACDEEF9-2DAD-46F1-BD5B-AA2C24640AC9&Options=info|&Search=

2 thoughts on “Lake County COVID-19 and The Code of the West

  1. Dang homegirl! This essay is awesome. I think you should record a YouTube video of this, because you know there are many folk out there that won’t read more than a paragraph. I learned many new things from you today (General Vallejo and the Bear Flag rebellion) and thoroughly enjoyed how you tied your points all together. Thank you for sharing this with us. And thank you for your continued support of the hidden truths and for your continued support of my gente! Big hug to you!

    Like

    1. I don’t know about doing a “YouTube” video, but I will be glad to read it on KPFZ tomorrow afternoon. So grateful to have finally written something meaningful and supportive of “our” cause. Si se puede!!!

      Like

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