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A New Kind of Sanctuary: Protecting Small Businesses

Atwater, California will not enforce the state’s forced closing of businesses.

By:  |  May 24, 2020  |    486 Words

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

When we hear the term sanctuary city, we think of illegal immigration. But that’s not the case in California’s newest sanctuary city, Atwater. The pandemic hasn’t been nearly as hard on the city as the state’s shutdown has, and the city council decided it was time to do something about that. On Friday, May 15, they made Atwater a sanctuary city for businesses. The mayor, Paul Creighton, highlighted the council’s reasoning behind the decision:

“This is America. You have the choice. It’s time for the government to stop dictating another month, another three months, you know, six months. When’s it going to end? When everyone is bankrupt?”

The decision was met with applause from a full council room. And it’s not just businesses that can reopen; nonprofits such as churches can also resume activities. However, there is a catch – isn’t there always?

The city cannot protect its citizens from the state and can only offer city-wide protection, meaning they will not enforce California’s stay-at-home demands. “We’re not looking to jeopardize anyone’s business,” Creighton said. “That’s a license you hold with the state of California. So, we don’t want to cause any harm there, use your best judgment.”

Bar, restaurant, and nail salon owners face losing their state licenses should California lawmakers choose to punish them for reopening before the governor gives the go-ahead. But at least business owners who decide to take advantage of the sanctuary status won’t have to worry about pressure or fines from local authorities.

Business owner Chris Coffelt took copies of the Bill of Rights and Constitution to give to each council member during the town meeting and then instructed:

“We have to base our decisions on the Constitution. If you receive an order from the governor telling us we can’t open our business, that’s an illegal order. It’s unconstitutional.”

The brains behind this city-wide act of defiance, Councilmember Brian Raymond, got the idea from the city of Coalinga, which, on May 11, declared all businesses essential. Atwater’s proclamation takes it in another direction by claiming it as a sanctuary city for all businesses.

While many residents are happy about the ability to reopen the town, some still caution that doing so too soon may have repercussions, such as not getting financial support from the state. The mayor pointed out the state’s projected $54.2 billion budget deficit and argued, “There’s never gonna be any money coming from the governor. I say we focus on ourselves.”

Whether it’s declaring all businesses essential or establishing a sanctuary city for businesses, it looks like the small towns in the Golden State are standing up to the big bad wolf and trying to take back their independence. Will this become a trend? Will more towns, cities, or counties stand up for their rights and defy their lawmakers?

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