Open Letter to the Supervisors of Santa Clara Countypublished in San Jose Mercury News June 11, 2020, on back page of Local section
Supervisors, Do Your Duty
Open Letter to Supervisors of Santa Clara County
Dear Supervisors Wasserman, Chavez, Simitian, Cortese, and Ellenberg,
As financial distress from the economic shutdown reached crisis levels Gov. Newsom responded and created a thoughtful approach to safely reopen California’s economy. The detailed plan was published on May 18. Counties can reopen in accordance with CA’s safety rules for each sector, provided they meet certain health metrics.
Santa Clara County (SCC) easily and consistently meets the required health metrics:
7-day case positivity rate
Less than 8%
Consistently below - usually 1.5% or less
7-day daily average of hospitalization change
Less than 5%
Consistently below - usually below 2%
Other counties moved swiftly, and, within days of Newsom’s announcement, reopened to the full extent permitted.
But it took 3 weeks for SCC to move beyond a token curbside retail change. This is not an isolated example. SCC’s pandemic response has placed an enormous and unnecessary burden on struggling workers and small businesses, despite our excellent health metrics.
· Office re-openings were permitted by CA on May 8. There is still no date in SCC, despite the hardship inflicted.
· In-restaurant dining is permitted in 40+ counties today. There is still no date in SCC, despite the impact on workers and businesses.
· SCC’s safety rules to reopen various sectors are far more onerous in many cases than CA’s,
which significantly hurts already-struggling businesses. For instance, CA requires 6 ft of distancing for manufacturing, but SCC in addition imposes a requirement of 300 sq ft per person.
· Equity and fairness are lacking. Emergency authority has been ruthlessly wielded for months, which has bankrupted small businesses and sent tens of thousands of economically vulnerable workers to the unemployment line. Yet as of May 26, ‘non-essential’ county employees, fully paid and idle at home, had still not been required to sign up for the critical contact tracing work necessary for reopening.
Underlying these issues is a highly dysfunctional governing modus operandi that you have permitted to take root:
· Your evidence-free decision-making that imposes enormous burdens on others
SCC has consistently refused to align with State guidelines for reopening its economy, despite the economic damage. But you have not required Health Officer Cody and County Exec Smith to provide any hard evidence to justify this refusal. They have offered only personal opinions, isolated anecdotes, and discredited models to justify their alarmist positions. Evidence at scale is available from jurisdictions that have reopened, which has been ignored by them, and by you.
Responsible county leaders should require a very high evidentiary bar to contravene critical state guidelines created by an elected governor responsible for the health and welfare of the people and accountable to them. Instead, you have permitted a unilateral, evidence-free regimen to be imposed on the County by two unelected and unaccountable employees.
Cody and Smith have also made it clear that they plan to continue this regimen far into the future.
The consequence is that tens of thousands of workers and thousands of businesses are needlessly suffering extreme hardship, and will continue to do so, unless you change course, or are compelled to do so by the courts. And voters will not forget.
· Your claim of powerlessness despite the authority granted to Supervisors in the County Charter.
You insist that you are powerless to prevent these destructive actions by County employees. That is not true – you are fully empowered.
You have exactly the same power all elected leaders have over the employees hired into the organizations they lead – the authority to remove them if they unilaterally refuse to act in accordance with elected leaders’ well-considered direction. Our County Charter is clear that management personnel, such as the Health Officer, can be removed by the County Executive, and equally clear that the County Executive himself serves only “at the pleasure” of the board.
All elected leaders are vested with this essential power, which is their sole means of ensuring that the employees within their administrations operate in alignment with their decisions, for which they are accountable to voters.
It is only when elected leaders choose to stand by passively, as you have, that unelected and unaccountable government employees can impose their own agendas on the people.
So you may not evade accountability by claiming you are powerless. You have all the authority you need to act in the best interests of the County, and in accordance with Gov. Newsom’s Reopening plan, created in consultation with the State Public Health Department. You bear responsibility for SCC’s destructive and evidence-free divergence from it.
· Your abdication of your Constitutional role as our elected County leaders.
You have effectively abdicated, and ceded your authority to unelected county employees, who are making wide-ranging policy decisions that you alone are authorized to make. Their evidence-free, blinkered approach is doing severe and permanent harm to workers, businesses, and county governance, while you stand by.
Our County is in crisis. Every day, the distress of the economically vulnerable increases, and more small business owners lose their livelihoods. The long-term well-being of our County is at stake. It is past time you reclaim your role as our elected leaders. You have the authority to act. You need only summon the courage and the will to lead. It is your duty to do so.
On Behalf of the Suffering Residents of Santa Clara County