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GUEST OPINION: Three concerns with COVID-19 response in Citrus Heights

Guest Opinion by David Warren–
Data from the Sacramento County Public Health department shows the number of deaths associated with COVID-19 is among the highest in Citrus Heights, only surpassed by the City and County of Sacramento. 

While entering a store to shop for groceries, an angry customer yelled at a store employee that his civil rights were being denied because he was not allowed to enter the store with his own grocery bags.

Another customer in the same store screamed at another employee that she knew her rights and the store could not stop her from purchasing more of an item for which the store had set a limit per purchase. The store refused to allow her to make the purchase. 

In another store that required customers to wear masks, a customer told a teenage employee that she would not allow a Nazi state to tell her what to do, and then wore the mask under her chin, exposing her nose and mouth, defeating the purpose of the mask. 

The statement: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins,” is attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes almost 100 years ago.  Justice Holmes was attempting to make clear that Constitutional rights must be mutually applied, both as to the individual who claims them, as well as for the person for whose rights are being impinged upon by the former’s exercise — the classic example being there is no freedom of speech to “yell fire in a darkened theater” because of the danger it creates to others.

Every Citrus Heights resident has a moral, ethical and constitutional duty to consider their exercise of freedom’s impact upon other Citrus Heights residents. By way of example, although wearing a mask over one’s mouth and nose may not protect the wearer from infection, it does reduce the risk to other shoppers. 

Wearing a mask should not and is not a political statement; it is a common-sense public health policy, to reduce the spread of the pandemic.  There is no constitutional right to endanger the health and welfare of others.

No one should forget, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  Matthew 16:26. 

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While the focus of attention seems to be placed upon “reopening the economy,” the City of Citrus Heights has failed to address one challenge created by the pandemic: testing for infection.  At the very same time that testing locations have been established in the County and City of Sacramento for COVID-19, funded by state and federal CARES Act funds, Citrus Heights has none.

Citrus Heights has a medical office building sited within yards of the Police Department and City Hall, all three with large parking lots which would accommodate testing sites, as well as parking at three shopping centers with large but unoccupied spaces located at Sunrise and Greenback, San Juan and Greenback, and Zenith and Antelope. 

Why hasn’t the city opened, as the City of Stockton demanded, a testing site for Northeast County residents at any of the three locations, especially in light of the fact that Dignity Health occupies a large medical office building in our community?

As important as the COVID-19 health issues are, they pale in comparison to the real violation of constitutional rights: Citrus Heights’ limitation of residents’ rights to address the City Council on matters of civic import.  Prior to reverting to televised council meetings, any individual, based upon the limitation of the number of speakers, were typically allowed five minutes to speak to the council. 

The council has now limited presentations to 250 words per individual when submitting a statement to be read for broadcast, which makes it impossible to present complex arguments to important municipal issues.  Although the councilmembers will have the full text of longer statements to review, those residents viewing the council meeting are denied the full statement offered by a speaker, which is one of the purposes of speaking at a public forum.

Placing unreasonable word limitations upon speakers petitioning their government representatives violates Section 3(a) of the California Constitution which provides that, “The people have the right to instruct their representatives, petition government for redress of grievances, and assemble freely to consult for the common good.” 

Establishing an unreasonable word limit on presentations to the City Council on matters of general civic interest creates a greater danger to “Constitutional Rights” than limiting quantities for purchase or banning use of previously used shopping bags. 

As John Adams said in 1775 during the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, “When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.” 

David Warren

During this time of fear over economic and health issues, it is not the time to lose one of our most important constitutional rights: to petition our government. 

David Warren is a Citrus Heights resident and legislative advocate at the State Capitol with Taxpayers for Public Safety, and can be reached at David@forpublicsafety.com.

*Publisher’s Note: As part of our commitment to fair treatment, The Sentinel gave the city an opportunity to respond to comments made about available funds and testing. Police Chief Ron Lawrence issued the following response:

“[T]he City does not have access to state or federal funding for testing COVID-19. However, anyone 18 years or older, may register online and obtain free testing at the local Sacramento testing-site at Cal-Expo. This has been widely advertised (including promotion on the City’s social channels and website) and information is available on the Sacramento County website.

The City has been following strict guidelines for testing of COVID-19, and referring individuals to the Sacramento County Public Health Officer and website for instructions on how to get tested, for both individuals who have symptoms, and those who do not have symptoms.

The State of California has worked to set up testing sites throughout the State, and additional sites are being considered, but this has nothing to do with the City, nor would the City be able to dictate where these sites are set up.”

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