The Newport Beach City Council unanimously decided this week to end our year-long COVID-related state of emergency. We invite other cities to do the same – to restore their citizens with the rights and powers that are withdrawn from emergency operations.
Last year, a majority of Orange County’s cities, including ours, declared local emergencies by identifying COVID-19 as an extreme hazard that would likely overwhelm state resources without acting quickly. “Extreme Danger” is the legal standard for giving unelected employees decision-making powers normally reserved for elected city officials.
But the danger is no longer extreme. Indeed, the greater danger today is that politicians will become too comfortable with increased government power and that people will lose the practical habits of freedom.
Today is the time for all cities to reconsider their emergency declarations. The vast majority – perhaps all – of Orange County’s cities will not be able to justify their current situation as an emergency.
For the past two weeks, the oft-quoted epidemiologist Andrew Noymer of UC Irvine told the Orange County Register, âThe numbers are looking good. COVID isn’t a big deal in California right now. “
In Orange County in particular, fewer than 60 out of 3.2 million people are hospitalized with COVID. The most critical cases – those in intensive care units – have been in the high single-digit range for weeks. The county adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 and test positivity rates were less than 1.
Then how can councilors honestly say that their residents are in “extreme danger” as the movies in the park and the July 4th parades progress? Politicians faced legitimate criticism in their handling of public news during the pandemic. Failure to withdraw their emergency powers now when they are no longer justified will further undermine future emergency response measures.
Officials in other communities will find the decision to end the emergency, as in Newport Beach, is widespread. The only public opposition so far has come from officials concerned about cutting off the unprecedented wave of financial payments from Sacramento or Washington, DC – money based on the fiction that the emergency is ongoing.
But to claim that an emergency exists when it clearly does not is illegal. Demanding state or federal reimbursement for a lie is fraud. It’s criminal. No mayor should be enabled to sign such an application.
In Newport Beach, we recall Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Government does not exist by, by, and for the government itself. We welcome the review of their own declarations of emergency by other cities, which we expect will lead to our same conclusion.
Will O’Neill is a member of Newport Beach City Council and served as Mayor in 2020.