The Buzz: Two leaders speak out on politically-charged COVID debate; old Redding building getting new life

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Does nearly everybody in Shasta County think the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown, want to defy state health guidelines and allow businesses, schools and churches to open without restrictions?

Reading about or watching recent Board of Supervisors meetings this summer you’d certainly think so.

Supervisors for weeks now have been inundated by residents urging them to call off the local health emergency, overrule the state mask mandate and allow things to get back to normal. Some have been more forceful than others, sometimes putting pressure on supervisors with everything from threatening to recall them to making a citizen’s arrest if they ignore the will of the people.

“So, where’s the emergency? Where is the public health risk? Don’t get me wrong, we do have a local emergency and that is to reopen our economy. We are in a desperate emergency to get our economy open,” a speaker said at Tuesday’s meeting.

But as supervisors discussed a $22.7 million COVID-19 relief fund package at the same meeting — money that nearly everybody who spoke said should be turned down — District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty said he hears a lot about “we the people.”

RELATED STORY: Shasta County businesses to get up to $3 million in COVID aid. Here’s how

“It would be really easy to listen to half the people, but we are required to represent all of the people, and there are different points of view,” Moty told me on Thursday.

Moty agreed that people who watch video of their meetings may come away thinking that practically the whole county wants to defy Sacramento.

“I get easily as many emails, text messages, calls or I bump into somebody that says not to open up. They are concerned about the pandemic and the virus and they want us to be safe,” he said.

Another seven coronavirus cases were reported Friday in Shasta County, bringing the total since the pandemic started to 668. Fourteen people have died from the virus, health officials have said.

District 1 Supervisor Joe Chimenti told me it’s important to listen to the experts and follow the guidelines because that’s “good governance for everybody.”

Both Chimenti and Moty said the pandemic has been politicized like nothing they have ever seen.

Moty offered that this “my way or the highway” mentality makes it difficult to have a “middle-ground” discussion.

“This is my first pandemic,” Chimenti said. “And as bad as a fire is — you can smell it, you can see it and you know what to do after it stops. You don’t have that luxury with this.”

He echoed Moty.

“Obviously, as you know, we represent everybody in the county and we hear a lot of people who want to open and get back to normal, and I don’t think there is anybody on the board who doesn’t feel that way. But we hear from as many, if not more people who tell us to go slow,” Chimenti said. “There are a lot on the other side of the equation, they are just not as vocal.”

What’s more, Moty says, defying state orders and opening the county could put businesses at risk of losing any state licensing they have, like liquor, or create issues with their insurance company.

“I had a conversation with a business owner that told me he heard from his insurance company that if you’re in conflict with state requirements, if you are not following the rules, we are not going to cover you,” Moty said.

For the record, businesses are open in Shasta County with restrictions, and indoor dining at restaurants is allowed, with restrictions.

RELATED STORY: ‘We’re getting closer and closer to civil unrest’: Shasta County lobbies state for more local control amid pandemic

Schools can do in-person instruction if they follow the guidelines. But each district, not the county, makes that call.

Churches also can open with restrictions.

“I also think it’s important to know that our Health Officer (Dr. Karen Ramstrom) has not done anything that’s more restrictive than the state,” Moty said.

Moty and Chimenti said most residents who come to speak at meetings are reasonable and offer some constructive arguments.

“I certainly appreciate the level of stress and anxiety that this creates and that manifests itself in many different ways and some people react more verbally and more emotionally and maybe more angrily,” Chimenti said. “I don’t think they are attacking me. They are attacking the situation. They feel a little helpless. We all feel that way.”

Stay tuned.

Market Street Cottages taking shape

A drive on North Market Street near Caldwell Park reveals a new sign announcing more redevelopment in Redding.

Market Street Cottages, on the northwest corner of North Market Street and Quartz Hill Road, are the former Manhattan Apartments, formerly known as the Manhattan Motel — a long-ago popular stop for motorists traveling on Highway 99 through Redding.

RELATED STORY: Plans to redevelop former Manhattan Motel

Todd Jones is the property manager and Jamie Lynn is the general contractor. Lynn in recent years has overseen many redevelopment projects, including repurposing the old Americana Lodge into the Americana Modern Hotel.

“We were grateful to get him because he is able to understand how those projects work with those old buildings,” Jones said. “Most (of the work) has been cosmetic issues, some stucco and we will be redoing the parking lot next week. That will be the last big push.”

Jones estimates work will be done and the apartments will be move-in ready by Nov. 1. There are some previous tenants who still live there while the work goes on.

“Our intent was not to displace people unless we had to,” Jones said.  

Jones is president of the Shasta Economic Development Corp., but he said this is not an EDC project.

His father-in-law, Dan Morrow, purchased the Manhattan Apartments in 2016 for $525,000, Shasta County property records show.

In 2015, Morrow bought the former KMS building in the Mountain Lakes Industrial Park, rebranded it “The Commons” and moved his Opt-Test and Soft-Tek companies there.

“It’s a family project, a family real estate investment with Dan’s company, Dan’s the owner,” Jones said.

The cottage units are approximately 400 square feet with one bedroom and one bath.

Jones hasn’t determined rents.

“We are not quite sure yet, but we are really looking at the market,” he said. “We see rents increasing throughout the community, and quite honestly, we will need to increase rents from what they used to be based on the money we have put in to the project.”

Startup camp looking for business ideas

Startup Redding and the Small Business Development Center have created Venture Camp, a free four-week course designed to help get business ideas launched.

The top applications will compete in a “pitch-off” at noon Oct. 9 and six finalists will be chosen to move on for the four-week camp.

Entrepreneurs can apply by going to https://www.startupredding.com/camp. The deadline to apply is Sept. 30.

David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly “Buzz on the Street” column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.

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