Atwater City Hall: Sanctuary of deplorables


For two weeks it's been clear to people who follow the pandemic that the San Joaquin Valley has become a new epicenter for its spread. It is agreed among rational American citizens that for lack of miracle drugs or vaccines, sheltering in place, locking down non-essential businesses, wearing masks, washing hands and observing social distance are the best ways to combat the lethal spread now gathering steam. These municipal and personal precautions help protect both the people who follow them and the others that come in contact with them.

Now, we come to Atwater, a city which seems to have lost its way since Castle Air Force Base closed in 1995. At least that’s the charitable explanation for the toxic political mix of municipal self-pity, racism, and grudge against any other governmental jurisdiction from the City of Merced to the federal government. This official attitude has plunged the City of Atwater into conflict after conflict, near and far.

So, defying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order to close non-essential businesses, wear masks and take other precautions against the virus as the number of its victims in California increases exponentially because of the scofflaw attitudes of many Southern Californians, Atwater took a $400,000 loss in state funds to keep its restaurants, small businesses and its churches open. We hope the taxes the city will collect from these struggling businesses will cover the losses.

And --as she whined in the meeting -- God forbid that City Councilwoman Cindy Vierra should be denied the privilege of raising her voice in song to the Lord in church. No socialite Democrat governor from San Francisco is going to stand in this mortgage lender’s obviously sanctified path.

The first half of the council’s meeting included covered a speech by the mayor, a nearly incomprehensible recitation of about 30 emails about the council’s decision, a parade of speakers, and commentary by the council.

Most of the time we were spellbound and speechless, shocked by sheer selfishness, thoughtlessness, self-righteousness, stupidity, and beneath it all, the cowardice of the council and of the people behind the council who have the members’ attention. These local politicians are faithfully reproducing a blend of humors fashioned by the rightwing radio jocks, which is very fashionable among white people who believe they are privileged by race and sanctified by the Lord in ways which at least the Badlands Journal editorial board are not nor wish to be at the expense of other members of our community and of humanity.

But wrong doctrine will find cowering hearts. And it is hard to help frightened people to become brave again when perhaps they have never felt brave in their entire lives but always the victims of powerful forces like the US  Air Force, the state of California, Merced County, cops and taxes -- not to mention the manifold threats residents of Atwater face from all the other different kinds of people who, so believe the residents, are swarming at the city limits to invade and “take over Atwater.” Atwater, “a sanctuary city” (for small business and landlords) says, “This is America.”

The “America” the Atwater City Council brays  in loud, self-righteous tones, is a cruel, selfish place that hates any government but Atwater’s. .

The City Council pretends to the public that it is reflecting the majority opinionof the town and creating unity, when actually it is setting small business people and property owners against public health. Dr. Edward Vanek, medical advisor to the City Council, was absent from the meeting.

When the Council took a break, Badlands board conferred. We noticed:

  • A “don’t Touch:” sign on the podium, which all the speakers ignored;
  • That most of the speakers fiddled with the microphone and spread themselves out on the podium and not using a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting on the podium;
  • That the Council members weren’t sitting six feet apart;
  • That the audience wasn’t sitting six feet apart;
  • Three Council members weren’t wearing masks;
  • The City Manager’s mask didn’t cover her nose;
  • And Councilman Brian Raymond continually fiddled with his mask until the intermission and disappeared after it,

When the meeting restarted after the break, only one council member had a mask on, and the Mayor, the City Manager and the City Attorney had no masks.

During the proceedings we were particularly impressed by the Freedom-Angel spokeswomen. The Freedom Angels are an anti-vaccination group who, having lost that battle at least in California, are rebranding themselves as anti-lockdowners and ardent supporters of the US Constitution and the God-given right of their children to get measles, chicken pox, mumps, polio and smallpox.

One member of the Badlands editorial board branded them, “Sex Kittens for the American Way.” One Freedom Angel appeared in three different papers, the Merced Sun-Star, the Modesto Bee, and a Sierra Foothills paper. Apparently, however, there is a sinister side to the Angels.(1)

The Atwater public needed City Attorney Frank Splendorio  to inform the City Council on the limits of “Constitutional liberty” during a pandemic with appropriate citations. (2)

Instead, he wandered around the crowd during the break twilling his mask on his finger, not observing social distance. Splendorio belongs to Meyers Nave, a law firm with five offices in the state. But he wasn’t there to inform the Council on the limitations on its liberty to endanger the health of others. He was there to advise the Council how to evade Prop. 218 and get a special tax passed in an election with a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote. The Mayor thought that was just a dandy idea.



Julie Bosman; "Health officials had to face a pandemic. Then came the death threats;" Boston Globe, June 23, 2020

In California, angry protesters have tracked down addresses of public health officers and gathered outside their homes, chanting and holding signs. Last week, a group called the Freedom Angels did just that in Contra Costa County, California, filming themselves and posting the videos on Facebook.
“We came today to protest in front of our county public health officer’s house, and some people might have issues with that, that we took it to their house,” one woman said in a video. “But I have to tell you guys, they’re coming to our houses. Their agenda is contact tracing, testing, mandatory masks and ultimately an injection that has not been tested,” she said, apparently referring to a vaccine even though none have been approved.


2. Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law;  "Op.Ed: Yes the government can restrict your liberty to protect public health;" Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2020. This article contains a number of citations of cases on the point of liberty vs. protection of public health. – blj