Are SLO County leaders attempting to politicize the coronavirus?

April 29, 2020

Richard Schmidt


The most bizarre recent SLO Covid-19 moment came one day last week when we San Luis Obispo County people, listening to Gov. Newsom’s daily noon briefing, learned through this state-wide discussion that SLO County’s “elected leaders” had asked him to let them “reopen” the SLO County economy right then.


Where did this come from? We the people were certainly in the dark. There’d been no public disclosure here. There’d been no public discussion either. We were not only excluded from whatever process had led to this letter, we didn’t even know there was a process.

Then before we the people had half of the story on this, our “leaders” were talking to out-of-town media, getting their names and quotes into big city dailies as progressive geniuses who’d got so far ahead of the corona virus they deserved virtuous special treatment from the governor. Wow, this was truly news. SLO County was being publicized as “safe,” so big city people from pandemic central, please come on up and bring us your virus.

On the home media front, within days the Tribune blessed us with yet another of Mayor Heidi Harmon’s op-eds, best characterized as persiflage, just more of the meaningless banter for which Harmon is famous.

Like many among us, I was shocked when I heard “our leaders” had opened this untimely Pandora’s box. What were they thinking? True, our numbers thus far had been pretty good. But we’d not reached a peak. Were they assuming that meant we’d never have one?

Meanwhile, in New York, thousands were dying of the virus. To our immediate south, a short drive away, hundreds were dying. Sickness and death were prevalent, and gave no sign of going away anytime soon. Contagion respects no county lines, so it was insane to suppose Santa Maria’s outbreak would stop at the Santa Maria River if normal social/commercial intercourse with that nearby city were to resume.

Why did our county supervisors, mayors and assemblyman imagine this was the time to stop staying home? It made no sense. Every credible Covid-19 expert has warned against relaxing prophylactic efforts too soon lest we induce an even bigger epidemic that negates all our sacrifices to date. Were our SLO County “leaders” thumbing their noses at expertise and science just like somebody bigger who’s in the news a lot for doing that?

I had no idea. I decided to fire off a note to our SLO City Council expressing my concerns, and asking them to rein in the mayor:

“We are far from being out of this mess,” I wrote them. “Reopening now is sure to mean before long we have to shut down again, after more victims have piled up. It is in every sense counter-productive.

“There is a smugness abroad in certain segments of our community that we are exceptional because our official numbers are so low. Smugness is not fact, and pridefulness goes before a fall. We don’t know what our actual numbers may be, between lack of tests and the acknowledged inaccuracy of the tests. If we do have low numbers, it’s pure luck. Look what’s happening to our south, with 81 deaths per day in LA just two days ago. Look at what’s happening in NY where they’re “happy” to have only 500 deaths per day.

“This is far from over. Now is not the time to relax containment.”

I got only one council response, from Andy Pease. Thank you Andy for always acknowledging your constituents’ communications. I gather that Andy, whose husband is a very fine doctor, shares my misgivings. I have no clue whether the remaining Silent Four do or don’t.

My letter to the council also produced a response from City Manager Derek Johnson. He said this decision is up to the governor and county. If that’s so, I wanted to ask, why’s our mayor mixed up in it? Johnson’s reply felt like a friendly brush-off. He suggested I listen to the governor’s briefings.

I wrote back that I do listen, and that very day the SLO County leaders’ letter was discussed.

“Today,” I wrote, “there was a press question about a letter sent to [Newsom] from San Luis Obispo asking for ‘reopening.’ If such a letter has been sent to the governor, why do we have to learn about it in such a roundabout way, and why are its contents not posted for all to see, including the signators’ signatures? Just wondering about what seems like a less-than-open move.”

Johnson replied: “The norms of public engagement are obviously difficult to achieve during isolation and a pandemic . . . and we have operated within the guidelines for . . . governance under the revised Brown Act rules (though not applicable in this instance) and the need for public officials to collectively work on efforts for which they believe are in the best interests of our county.  The letter hit the press literally after the last signature was obtained.”

Which is interesting in that I didn’t raise the Brown Act, but I did question the lack of public openness which he seems to suggest was OK since there was some rush to get the letter to Newsom. I do not find this reassuring.

But we did establish, apparently, that the county is the leader in this pandemic mischief. That suggests the seven mayors signing onto the Newsom letter was more decoration than substance.

As for why we the people knew nothing, here is an excerpt from the county’s “reopening” action plan issued at about the same time as the Newsom letter:

“A broad cross-section of stakeholders ⎯ including representatives from education, tourism and hospitality, building and design, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, community group [sic] and others ⎯ will review medical guidelines for a phased reopening and will provide feedback on how the guidelines would affect their operations. The County team will use this input to develop the draft plan and will present to the community next week.”

So look who will be consulted: a list of vested-interest “stakeholders.” Look at who’s missing and not consulted: we the people. This is a basic problem with local government today – it doesn’t even occur to those running things that we live in a democracy. They serve and include only vested interests, not we the people.

A second mind-boggling aspect of this vested input is that these medical amateurs “will review medical guidelines for a phased reopening.” That is truly crazy if this policy-making is allegedly based on science not politics. If science rules, why are developers and hotel owners reviewing medical guidelines?

Getting ahold of the actual Newsom letter, as opposed to quotes from it in the press, was a bit challenging. When I finally got it, I did a double-take.

I had expected to see a letter on plain paper befitting communication from an ad hoc bi-partisan group. But no, this was no plain paper. It was Republican Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham’s official blue-ink Assembly letterhead, with its rustic picture of the state capitol, his office addresses and phones, and a list of all the Assembly committees on which he serves.

Up to the letter’s fourth windy paragraph, one would assume this letter is from Cunningham to Newsom. Only then do we learn of a “bipartisan group of local elected leaders.”

After two windy pages of self-congratulation for doing such a good job defeating the virus, we get to the signature page.

Cunningham is first. County Supervisor John Peschong is second, and Supervisor Debbie Arnold is third, followed by seven mayors sequenced alphabetically by city.

Wait a minute: three north county Republican heavies, apparently the real authors of this request, with seven mayors added for bi-partisan legitimacy. Newsom a Democratic governor. The Republican party openly stirring up opposition for political purposes to Newsom’s brilliant handling of a horrible health crisis. You don’t suppose this letter is just politics and our “progressive” mayoral signators, too nice to understand that, stepped into a well-laid elephant trap?

And here’s the kicker: the letter resides on the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County’s website.

The letter may be nothing more than a disingenuous effort by a political party to further politicize the pandemic.


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This whole health emergency has been politicized by people on both sides. The “crisis” has gotten the ball rolling on the expansion of social programs and government spending. Health nurses are being escorted by deputies into hobo camps to take the temperatures of the hobos to see if they are ill. The hobos are demonstrating more commonsense than our leaders by self quarantining in their camps and refusing to interact with health nurses who might expose them to the virus. However, if we ever find a hobo with Covid-19 the county will put them up in a hotel room with cable tv and delivered meals all courtesy of the taxpayers. Of course if they are suffering from the plain old flu, or any other malady, the offer does not apply.

The food bank has burned through over $500K of county money in the last five weeks buying food for anyone who asks, no means testing, just get on the list and county workers deliver food to your door. Some of the workers report delivering food to homes in some of our wealthier neighborhoods.

The County Emergency Operations Center has been spending $1800 a day on catered lunches for county employees. $1800 a day for 45+ days! Have these people never heard of brown bagging it?

An 800 bed “field” hospital set up at Cal Poly at the cost of $3.8M and it hasn’t had a single patient. The medical staff spend their days taking each other’s temperature and repeating a joke about “if this were an actual emergency patients would be made available for med staff to care for”.

The health emergency has prompted the state judicial council to enact $0 bail for all crimes, except violent felonies because prisoners might get Covid-19 while in jail (yeah I’m sure they are social distancing when they are buying dope and stealing anything that isn’t nailed down) One local crook was released from jail where he was serving time for a property crime and then got himself arrested two days in a row for committing more thefts. What’s wrong with that picture?

“Never let a crisis go to waste”.

They are using this one to further social agendas and spend money like crazy. I hope when the county admits it is over $30M in the hole somebody will ask whose bright idea was it to go on a spending spree and WHAT exactly did our money buy us?



You apparently have a lot of time on your hands, because you sure used a lot of Huge words in your


Open this State up!

The Economy dictates it,

Your 180 degrees out of what most of us see,

Y2K bring back any memories ?

Everything thing about this Pandemic is so unamerican.

Wearing masks to the Banks?

When i was a kid, my Grandmother said, salt kills everything,

But i can’t sit on the Beach in Bright Sunlight wihout the Rangers saying, move along,

Just stay home!

Your a part of the Problem,

Not not one of the Solutions,


Get a job. Then report back with your opinion –


I have to wonder if CalPoly terminated pensions due to revenue shortfalls Mr. Schmidt might have a different opinion on the matter.

This is devolving into the haves vs. the have nots.


I do agree that the “worst” is yet to come…if businesses aren’t able to open and people return

to work! Without paychecks and a substantial reason to “hope”, families will be suffering much worse consequences than a virus!

Mr. Schmidt, I had to read your opinion three times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Based on my read, you are quite frightened by the virus killing you and those you love. You appear to feel this virus is lethal at a very high level. I suspect you, like I, have a sensitivity to the virus making us exceedingly vulnerable. Luckily for me, it’s asthma, for which I have carried inhalers my whole life. I was hospitalized when I was 8 years old and watch my environment carefully. My health choices are not my government’s responsibility, but mine.

Notwithstanding, I support Assemblyman Cunningham, Supervisors Peschong & Arnold, and all seven of our local mayors for having the moral fortitude and political courage to recognize the even greater threats to all of us. We, all of us, Independent, Republican, Democrat, employed, unemployed, living at home, or homeless are facing not only biological dangers, but economic and criminal threats, any of which can handicap us for the rest of our lives. If you have no way of providing food, clothing, or shelter for your family, THROUGH NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN, do you believe “going on unemployment” is the long term answer? As days pass, children out of school, tensions at home rising, fighting to hold your head above water, depression takes hold. Someone, perhaps your daughter, or son, or parent, says something that sets you off. You respond in frustration and lash out, physically or verbally, but abusively, nonetheless.

ER’s are seeing dramatic increases in child and elder abuse. Domestic violence is rising at an alarming rate. Theft is up, as well as grand theft auto. And our government’s answer is to release criminals back into our neighborhoods, where we are trapped at home, festering in this tension-filled environment, not even able to go to the beach for fear of a lifeguard threatening to take legal action unless you just keep walking. This is a recipe for violence, something this country can not afford.

And what about years passed? September 26, 2018, CDC reported 80,000 flu deaths, the highest level in 40 years. Did the government shut down the country? Did anyone write our government demanding it protect us? A resounding NO to both questions. And America survived, along with millions of American citizens, and illegal aliens, and the government, too.

But we need our economy back, our churches & schools back, our God-given freedoms back. We need to return to normalcy. And, we can do it in phases, but we need to start. And, if your or my time on this earth is up, it’s up. Each of us should be prepared for this eventuality. Having a plan relieves so much fear. In the meantime, let’s give others the opportunities we’ve enjoyed by supporting our clear-thinking electeds and not doom our country unnecessarily.


“And what about years passed? September 26, 2018, CDC reported 80,000 flu deaths, the highest level in 40 years.”

Are we really continuing to compare the flu with COVID-19? 2017-18 was indeed a bad flu year with 80k dying between December and March, four months. COVID-19 has now killed nearly 60k in the LAST SIX WEEKS alone and that is in a country that locked itself down during that time. Do you sincerely believe that if we had not gone to shelter in place we wouldn’t have had a death toll much, much higher? I also don’t recall the flu being as contagious as this disease, so much so that it has spread like wildfire through prisons and meat packing plants where people live or work together in close confines. I also do not remember seeing hospitals in New York being almost overwhelmed with patients or having to use alternative storage for dead bodies.

While I actually agree with your sentiments that we need to get back to work, it has to be done smartly and safely with what can only be labeled as a “new normal.” I think SLO County, and all of California for that matter, has been prudent and wise in their handling of this crisis. If only the federal government had been so capable.

just the facts

The Tribune just posted:

“Nearly 90% of SLO County businesses lost income due to coronavirus, survey shows

More than half of local businesses canceled events and nearly a third closed temporarily, according to an economic survey”. And that means jobs!

Understand you may be retired; and in light of that, most likely have some retirement income/pension fund that can keep you going in light of the Wuhan Virus shutdown!

But again The Tribune reported there are some 19,000 people in SLO County who have lost their jobs. Many are the working poor that depend on the SLO County businesses for jobs and live paycheck to paycheck in order to provide food for their children and a roof over their heads.

There is only so much government at all levels can provide for all! Government revenues come from business and individuals. I ask…where are the revenues going to come from to keep

this county going?

If Cosco, WalMart, grocery stores, pet stores, liquor stores, pot shops can be opened, why not our small businesses? They can also follow the important guidelines such as requiring facial masks and social distancing.

Lastly…stop the partisan politics! The majority of Mayors who signed the letter to the Governor

are registered Democrats. It was great to see a bipartisan effort to help the citizens of this county

who are concerned and worried about the future!


@justthefacts, agree with you – we’ve got to open up our businesses and continue to be innovative in how we social distance. Everyone has to get going with their lives. But there’s one issue I have with your comment: stop the Chinese slur. It’s COVID-19.

Thank you.

Jorge Estrada

The post COVID-19 recovery will most certainly be the reason to re-evaluating essential government employees, you can bet that this concern is starting to soak in. The publicly funded luxury jobs will drop as consequential victims of the virus. It will be very sad for some but easier to stomach than new taxation for a diminished level of government services.


As 8 new cases roll in today. Yeah, we’re struggling with our ton’s of small businesses so they feel the strain (voters) of that but, that doesn’t address the throng of those who’ve yet to come down with this dreaded illness followed by the certain percentage of death that comes with it.

I don’t have the solution but, cracking everything wide open again sure isn’t the answer and not being open with us all is sure stupid on their part!