City council declares Atwater sanctuary for businesses

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ATWATER, Calif. (KTXL) — With a standing ovation and the bang of a gavel, the Atwater City Council unanimously declared itself a sanctuary city for businesses.

“We stand with our businesses. We stand with our residents,” said Councilman Brian Raymond, mayor pro tem.

That sanctuary status does not just apply to businesses. Nonprofit organizations and churches can now reopen too. 

“This is an attempt to show that these people can’t go one more day without being open. They need to be open,” said Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton.

The move is in open defiance of the governor’s stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic. The state has warned they could potentially revoked licenses. If businesses choose to reopen, it would be at their own risk. 

“With the salons, barbershops, things like that, they are regulated by the state, not by the city,” Raymond said. “So, unfortunately, we don’t have the authority to block or protect that.”

But not everyone in attendance was on board with reopening.

“The conversations that I’ve heard here are that we should just trust small businesses to do that on their own, small or large businesses. And I do not think that that adequately takes into account the health and safety of the people of Atwater,” said Caleb Hampton. 

Mayor Creighton said while the city strongly recommends businesses follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening, he admits they won’t be checking if they are.

For small business owners, like Christina de los Reyes, the sanctuary declaration does not just save her business, it saves her family. 

“The state does not give us enough money to care for our home on top of our business,” de los Reyes said. “We pay two rents, two businesses, two PG&Es, two waters, two insurances. The state is not giving us enough money.”

Atwater is in Merced County, which to date has had 189 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and four deaths.

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