Dear Governor Newsom: We’ve Got Trouble, Right Here in River City

Sacramento River photo by Doni Chamberlain

Dear Governor Newsom,

I know you’re busy, but we’ve got a situation up here in Shasta County that is in dire need of your attention during this pandemic. We’ve got trouble, right here in river city, along the Northern California Sacramento River corridor.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been up this way to visit, but perhaps sometime soon, before (if) the kids start school, your family could take a trip and you could see for yourself.

Yes, I’m aware you’ve said non-essential travel is discouraged during the pandemic, but I’d say your trip to Shasta County would be essential, for the sake of our citizens’ health and well-being.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Shasta County, it’s located in a blood-red conservative portion of Northern California where, yes, it is quite warm in summer, and by warm, I mean we hit 111 last week, and yet we citizens didn’t lose any sleep about it. We’re used to it. However, springtime and fall are both gorgeous, and our winters are fairly mild.

The city of Redding is our county seat; our modest hub with rusty spokes that point elsewhere. Redding proper is not brag-worthy, even though we have potential galore and a river runs through the heart of our city.

However, there’s no denying that we are surrounded by stunning natural beauty that attracts scores of outsiders to our region to enjoy all kinds of activities, like hiking, swimming, biking, camping, boating and yes, hunting. Did I mention that more than 11,000 Shasta County citizens are CCW permit-holders? True.

Our area is attractive for other reasons, such as the fact that Redding is home to Bethel Church, one of the most influential mega churches in the world that lures thousands of people here to experience “signs and wonders” and, well, I’ll just leave it at that. Google it if you’re curious.

We have an enviable recreational trail system, much of which winds along the majestic Sacramento River. But perhaps the biggest feather in our cap of all is the Sundial Bridge in Redding, designed by the world-famous Santiago Calatrava. Surely you’ve heard of this magnificent pedestrian bridge.

Sundial Bridge photo from turtlebay.org.

I could go on and on extolling Shasta County’s myriad virtues and all the reasons why the place I call home is worthy of your visit, but I’ll just cut to the chase, because, Governor Newsom, time is of the essence. With all that’s so good about Shasta County, right now one of the worst things about our region is we have two top law enforcement officials who refuse to enforce your COVID-19 executive orders.

What good are executive orders during a pandemic if law enforcement leaders refuse to enforce COVID-19 rules put in place to keep us safe?

In my dreams you have some kind of a replacement program, similar to a substitute teacher situation, where the principal can send in a couple of fresh, competent teachers when the current teachers are clearly incapacitated and failing to do their duties.

The top offender is the unbelievable Sheriff Eric Magrini. His name may ring a bell. Perhaps you recall the kerfuffle here in Shasta County with the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo that happened relatively early on in the shutdown. Magrini gave a green light for the rodeo to occur.

Of course later, he said he did no such thing, but all one has to do is watch this clip of Magrini talking about his decision the day before the rodeo to a TV reporter, and clearly, the blame stopped squarely with Magrini.

Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini

Mind you, this was a time when graduations, weddings and funerals weren’t allowed, but Magrini gave the A-OK for a rodeo.

The next law enforcement official who refuses to enforce your most recent COVID-19 orders is Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller.

Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller

Up until recently, Schueller has been more passive about his failure to enforce your orders than Magrini. That changed when you ordered all of California to take a giant step backward. Schueller in a television interview said he would not enforce the orders, particularly with regard to restaurants remaining open for indoor dining. Rather, he’d focus on “education” which sounds good in theory, but it basically boils down to the fact that some businesses are following your orders, while others are not.

While I’m a fan of education, here in Shasta County, since the pandemic, when law enforcement folks speak of “education” with regard to COVID-19 restrictions and orders, it’s code for: Carry on folks, do what you want, break the rules. We will look the other way.

District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh gets a haircut during the pandemic shutdown by Cottonwood barber Woody Clendenen, the head of the Cottonwood Militia.

We also have some elected officials who share the same non-enforcement mindset as Sheriff Magrini and RPD Chief Schueller, such as District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh, who pulled a stupid stunt at the beginning of the shutdown by making a big show of getting a haircut back when barber shops were closed.

Here in Shasta County, you have to follow the dots because so much is connected by people and politics. Les Baugh’s haircut was in Cottonwood by his Cottonwood barber, the same town as the Mother’s Day Rodeo, the event given the pass by Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini.

Les Baugh’s barber is Woody Clendenen, who also happens to be the head of the Cottonwood Militia.

The militia groups gathered for a photo-op break as the George Floyd protesters headed toward Shasta Street on Tues., June 2, before creating a sort of protester sandwich, with protesters in the middle, RPD in riot gear at the north side of Court Street, and the militia on the south end of Court Street. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

Yes, we have militia up here, whose members see it as their responsibility to help out our paid law enforcement.

Speaking of paid law enforcement, overall, we’re big on “backing the blue” which sounds lovely, and who doesn’t want to celebrate the good men and women in uniform who protect and serve? But in Shasta County, backing the blue is also all wrapped up in citizens’ appreciation for law enforcement like Magrini and Schueller who refuse your executive orders regarding COVID-19. The expectation is that if citizens back the blue, then the blue will back the citizens by not enforcing state COVID-19 orders. It’s a kind of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours mentality.

It’s all so tied up with politics, because here, Republicans are the majority, so, for example, at the recent “Back the Blue” event in Redding, it also doubled as a de facto Trump rally where  mask-wearers were in the minority.

“Back the Blue” event last week in Redding. Photo from Facebook screen grab.

Speaking of masks, here in the North State, many people do not believe in wearing masks or social distancing because they don’t believe the ‘rona is real. They believe it’s all a big conspiracy, and “fake media” is publishing fake information about this virus, something that is no worse than the common flu. To their way of thinking, it’s all something Democrats have cooked up to make President Trump look bad and lose the election.

Which reminds me, no offense, but it’s safe to say that the majority of voters up here hate you. Go outside Walmart in Redding any day and you’ll see the people with their petitions whose goal is to remove you from office.

But, Governor Newsom, you’re not alone, because there’s enough hatred to spread around. Right now some of the most unfairly reviled human beings in the North State are leaders in Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency and Shasta Community Health. Perhaps you can relate when I tell you that some of these dedicated professionals have suffered threats, both publicly on social media, as well as privately via personal emails.

Day in, day out, week after week and now month after month, these stellar public health servants are your dependable messengers, delivering the bad news that nobody wants to hear. Unfortunately, it’s as if they’re in this alone, as we lack law enforcement willing to support them and go to bat for them, on behalf of you and your decisions intended to keep a lid on COVID-19.

Look, if I can be frank, I was not a fan of when you turned the dimmer switch way down low, back to our previous restrictions after California’s COVID-19 numbers started to rise. No deaths are acceptable, and the ultimate goal is zero new cases. Even so, to date, we’ve officially had 7 deaths out of 250 overall cases, and we presently have just 30 active cases. What might have been needed in Southern California wasn’t necessary up here in Northern California. We’re a depressed area in so many ways, and businesses are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

Consequently, it’s no wonder that considering the sorry state of our North State economy, and the suspicious collective state of mind that rejects the notion of a real and present COVID-19 danger, many of the businesses you ordered closed have remained open. And the more that the compliant business owners see the non-compliant business owners operating without consequences, the more we’ll see increasing numbers of business owners joining their non-compliant colleagues. How could COVID cases not increase under those circumstances?

The good news is that some of the businesses that ignored your orders have voluntarily maintained the same safety measures that you recommended before this most recent shutdown. The result? Some rule-breaking hybrids: ignore your order, yet comply with the former CDC guidelines.

Maybe, with any luck, this time of disobedience by desperate businesses won’t result in an explosion of Shasta County COVID-19 cases. This time. But what about the next executive order, perhaps if COVID-19 worsens as travelers flock to our region this summer, leaving a trail of infection behind them?

By then, I fear it will be too late for law enforcement revelations, corrections and re-calibrations. Much like President Trump finally donning a mask in the 11th hour, 140,000+ COVID-19 deaths later.

We’re in the Wild West up here. You can issue all the orders you want, but up here in Shasta County, for the majority of people, each new order is met with further rage, suspicion and resentment.

Meanwhile, our defiant law enforcement leaders continue to drive full speed ahead under the influence of bravado and ego, careening  down their well-intentioned path of resistance with a busload of adoring passengers; citizens who put their faith in their law enforcement, following their trusted leaders. Right over the cliff.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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